01 September 2007


Why doesn't Oprah Winfrey have a Southern accent?

One reason the Deep South feels like "home" to me is that some of the things I love the most are the same things that exasperate me. Items in the "To Keep" basket and the "!@#" basket keep spilling into each other.

1 comment:

  1. Don't know why she doesn't, but as a Southerner whose accent is hard to place, I know what happened to me:

    1. I realized that the spelling of some words didn't match how they sounded. If 'can' isn't pronounced 'cain', then why would 'can't' be pronounced 'cain't'? (Actually many pronounce 'can' as 'kin', for what it's worth.)

    2. Television contributes, too. If you watch a lot of it and patterned your speech after the voices you hear, that would dilute your Southern accent, as most shows and programs were/are based in New York, Los Angeles or the Midwest. Even local news reporters in Southern cities cannot be relied upon to have easily identifiable Southern accents.

    3. She probably had someone coach her away from Southern accents. I know that in choir in high school, we were told to enunciate. 'Yo' for 'your' was fine for on the playground, but on stage and in presentations, it became 'yew-ur'. Still is for me.

    4. Somebody teased her and called her country, and many truly country folk don't want to be called that, and be found lacking and clueless relative to their city-slicker relatives and 'friends'. If one has the capacity to change at all and the peer-pressure is great enough, s/he's likely to choose to assimilate.

    5. She's moved around the country a bit. A lot of accent preservation is staying rooted in places where its patterns and sounds are so common that they become invisible. As you sojourn, you pick up bits and pieces of how others do language. I get a little fearful where I am now, as the woman who does the weekday traffic report on one of the tv stations I watch has an etreeemely nasal tone. I suspect that my voice has also moved that far to the front of my face, but I don't want to believe it. To O's credit, I would say, she still retains an abundance of the bass/gravity in her voice that I associate with Southern blackness.

    After a while, you practice your new pronunciations enough that you lose those ol'-time cadences and tones altogether, becoming more bland and homogenized. I'm pre-charmed now when I hear a stong Southern accent (especially Cajun ... mmm), or a distinctive New York one too. I like them all ... except the ones I think are going to force my voice into my nose.


What do you feel about what you just read?