July 8, 2012 at 10:23 pm , by Nick Shell
Today my son Jack asked me to turn on the TV so he could watch Elmo on Netlflix.
By “watch” I mean “point to Elmo when he appears on the screen then let Sesame Street serve as background noise as Jack plays with his toys.”
And by “asked me” I mean he simply pointed at the TV and said “On?”
But his version of “on” was pronounced “own.” Whereas when I say the word to him to teach the difference between off and on, I pronounce it as “ahn.”
We live in Nashville, Tennessee. It assumed that people here speak with a thick Southern accent, if for no other reason, because this is where all the Country music stars live.
But the thing is, most of those Country artists moved here from Oklahoma, Texas, Georgia, or some other state in the South. And if they are actually from Tennessee, they’re from a good hour outside of Nashville.
Visit Nashville and you will find that most people here don’t actually have a thick accent. Instead, you may here some Indiana or Maryland or Colorado in there instead.
Like my wife, for example, who is from Sacramento, California. And even though I was raised in the South, I don’t have the accent to prove it because my mom was raised in Buffalo, New York.
So Jack is being raised in a major Southern city consisting of a very high concentration of transplants and internationals, by two parents who don’t sound like they are part of the cast of The Dukes of Hazzard or The Beverly Hillbillies.
I predict that though he may have some Southern tendencies regarding his accent right now, when it’s all said and done he will talk the way I do. Like he’s from Louisville, Kentucky or Cincinnati, Ohio.
In other words, a virtually untraceable American accent.
On top of all this, have you ever noticed how Southern accents are extremely rare and underrepresented on TV?
When a character on a TV show or movie is from the South, they often embody a negative or theatrical stereotype, like Sawyer onLost.
Or even if the actual actor is from the South, they neutralize their accent to be taken more seriously in the world of entertainment.
NBC’s The Office is a prime example of this. The actors who play Andy, Kevin, and Angela are real-life Southerners who don’t show it in the way they speak.
Based on my own unprofessional (!) Wikipedia research, about 35% of Americans are Southerners speaking with a Southern accent. Population-wise, if my assumptions are correct, more Americans speak in Southern dialect than do Midwestern, Northeastern, Mid-Atlantic, Western, or any other American accent that exists.
So when we watch TV and movies, we are more likely to hear neutralized accents than we are to hear the same accent that the actual slight majority of America actually speaks.
I believe my son’s “own” will eventually become “ahn” when he tries to say “on.” But I guarantee you that, like his parents, he will still use the word “ya’ll.”
He may pronounce it “yahl” as opposed to the true Southern way, which is “yawh,” in which no actual “L” sound is heard, but at least there will be a little proof he is a Southerner based on how he speaks.
Not to mention the whole “yes ma’am” and “no ma’am” thing; which, as his dad, I will make sure he says, ensuring his status as a true Southern gentleman.