The Origin of the American Accent

Discussion in 'Linguistics' started by Challenger78, Oct 23, 2007.

  1. Spud Emperor solanaceous common tater Registered Senior Member

    They said inappropriate shit like" Oh! Banks, I say! 'as that chappie, the dark one o'er there not got any undergarments about 'is nethers? I'll be the Guv'ners toady! what!"

    A little later they said much more appropriate shit like " Knock 'e's farkin blark arf Thommo! ya farkin' liddle bewdy!"

    They actually only say shit like G'day when they up for a knighthood!
    " G'deye y'rawl'ighness, it's a fucki'n, ahhhemm!(sorry darlin')..rool pleasurdameetcha!"
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  3. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    Wooch me steek moy thum up thees croks ahss. Heee's reeely peesed off! Hee's a byoot!
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  5. Spud Emperor solanaceous common tater Registered Senior Member

    That's pretty farkin' good...Impressed!

    For off, try awf.

    I'll try to be phonetic.." Warch me steerk me tharm arp the-us croks ahss.
    Hee's rooly pierced awf! 'ee's a bewdy!'
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  7. Pandaemoni Valued Senior Member

    America has several accents and several dialects (which are different things). It's not just Boston and the Southern drawl. Note that Neither of those two pronounces their "r"s properly. "Pak you-a cah in the Havahd yahd" is a classic Bostonian-speak sentence.

    On the East Coast, it was mainly the Pennsylvanians (especially around Philadelphia) who started pronouncing their 'r's, and then that trait spread through what would later become the "standard" American English (sometimes called "General American")

    The major dialects are (very roughly, as many if not most linguists would want to make at least some changes) can be seen here:

    (Though each of those regions has several different "accents." For the americans in the crowd, this quiz is always fun:

    As for where they came from, the U.S. has nothing on Britain, which has a dialect or accent every few miles it seems. When all those Brits moved to America they brought their English with them, mashing them together. As different regions developed, local English took on its own character out of the hodgpodge. Accents and dialects also form on their own as a sort of slow random shift that occurs when a group of speakers interact in relative isolation.
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2007
  8. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    This is a common misconception in the West. See the proper definition of "dialect" in response to Cosmo's post, below. What we call Chinese is an entire language family. Guo yu ("National language" or Mandarin), Tong hua or Guangdong hua ("Tung speech" or Cantonese), Shanghai hua, Fujian hua and quite a few others are distinct languages, each of which cannot be understood by a speaker of any of the others. All of these languages descended from a common ancestor but their phonetics have diverged so greatly that they are no longer mutually intercomprehensible. When you consider that this descendancy goes back several thousand years it starts to make sense that despite being closely related, Mandarin and Cantonese are as different from one another as German and Swedish. For example, "five" is wu in Mandarin but ng in Cantonese.

    The misconception of dialects arises from the powerful influence of the non-phonetic Chinese writing system. All of the languages of China use the same words in the same sequence, to about the 98% level, anyway. But they aren't pronounced the same, not even recognizable as dialects. It would be like expecting an Greek, a Russian and an American to recognize that hekaton, sto and "hundred" are the same word with "only" phonetic shifts.

    There are dialects within some of the Chinese languages, particularly Mandarin, which covers the widest geographic area. I'm familiar with the speech of Sichuan and it is clearly a dialect of Mandarin. Most speakers cannot quite understand each other upon meeting, but given a little time they develop new synapses that map the phonetic shifts and they start to hear their own language with a really peculiar accent. Oddly, since the major differences are in the tones, we foreigners who have studied Beijing hua or standard Mandarin have an easier time understanding Sichuan hua than native northerners do. My Sichuanese girlfriend was carrying on a highly inflammatory phone conversation with her friend and after it was over I asked her why she had told several lies about me. She was aghast to discover that an American who could barely speak Mandarin could understand her so easily, when a person from Beijing would have had to strain to get it. Since tone is not phonemic in English, we can easily separate the tones out of the syllables and drill down to the underlying similarity, something they can't do.
    The Spanish of Latin America is distinctly different from that of Spain. There is one major phonetic difference, Castilian pronounces Z and soft C as English TH. Other than that the differences are in vocabulary and the level of familiarity, e.g. Spaniards use the formal "you" much more rigorously than Latin Americans. Within Latin America the differences are much less than within England, and perhaps even within the USA. Due to the influence of Mexican TV and movies, Mexican Spanish is becoming the broadcast standard and we can expect it to permeate hispanophonic America the same way Midwestern American is permeating the USA. They're already sending actors to dialect coaches so that when a family sits around the table in a telenovela, they actually sound like they're related even if the actors are from eight different countries.
    There is a spectrum with Occitan (once known as Provencal) in the center, Italian to the right and the Iberian languages to the left. (French and Romanian are way off the map because of the respective Germanic and Slavic influences on vocabulary, grammar and phonetics.) A speaker of Portuguese and a speaker of Catalan can struggle to work out a serviceable pidgin, same for a speaker of Catalan and a speaker of Spanish, a speaker of Occitan and a speaker of Italian, etc.
    There are also the influences of neighboring and immigrant languages and the vocabulary needs of the ecosystem and the culture. But some of it is just drift. In general emigres are more conservative with their language than the people they left behind. American English is said to be closer to Elizabethan pronunciation than Oxford English is. And Oxford English AFAIK is practically a made-up dialect to stress social standing.
    This definition has a serious flaw because it overlooks an essential attribute. Dialects are mutually intercomprehensible, albeit sometimes with a bit of effort, whereas languages are not. This makes Flemish a dialect of Dutch, and it's only called a separate language for political reasons. There are of course borderline cases. Czechs and Slovaks can eventually understand each other if they spend enough time together, but then so can Danes and Norwegians if they work at it. It's hard to draw the line. Estonians can understand Finnish because they've been watching Finnish TV for fifty years, but Finns cannot understand Estonian.

    There is also such a thing as a spectrum of dialects, in which two neighbors are intercomprehensible but the ones at the end are not. I've been told that the eastern Dutch and the Western Germans can almost talk to each other, whereas the people of Amsterdam and Berlin couldn't even come close.
    I'd say most of us Americans only really recognize the New England and Southern accents. The rest of us tend to regard each other as speaking the same way. We have to have the differences pointed out between, say, a speaker from upstate New York and one from Los Angeles, before we can consciously notice them.
    I was born in Chicago and I was not aware that the way I was taught to say "fire" as fuh-yer instead of fah-yer is common in Canada. I use that vowel in "write" but the broad AH in "ride." Thus we can distinguish between "writer" and "rider" even though they have the same flapped consonant in American English.
    And thus the dialect spreads. Children hear the people on TV talking that way so the accent they learned from their family is leveled over the generations. Southerners today do not have nearly as heavy an accent as they did when I was a kid fifty years ago.
    Don't forget our third official language: Mandarin.

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    There's also that made-up New England finishing-school accent that many of the "proper" Bostonians affect. It has some of the most striking characteristics of standard British, such as the solid intervocalic T and D, making it easily distinguishable from standard American and making its speakers easily identifiable as "upper class."
    I have some serious disagreements with this paradigm. I'll stick to my own dialect, Western, of which I can speak with more authority. (My family moved to Arizona when I was little and from there I escaped to California.) I do not hear "cot" and "caught" pronounced the same, at least not in the Southwest. And I do not hear the nascent diphthongization of the vowel in "two" into tih-oo.

    There is so much migration within the USA that our dialects are leveling. With the influence of TV on top of that, it's just a matter of time before we all speak the same way. Oddly, the only persistency I observe is the stubborn distinction between the speech of the "white community" and the "black community." I have written at great length elsewhere on my opinion of why, 140 years after Emancipation, the USA remains the only country in the Western Hemisphere (except Haiti) where we aren't all just different shades of brown, so that we even have a black community and a white community with different dialects, music and social customs. So I'll leave that discussion for those other boards.
  9. mikenostic Stop pretending you're smart! Registered Senior Member

    Oh. Ok. I stand corrected. I did not know that they were incomprehensible by the other languages. Thanks for clearing that up for me.
    I guess those are about like Italian, Spanish and Portuguese; all from a common language but more or less non-understandable by each other.
  10. tablariddim forexU2 Valued Senior Member

    I once met a woman from The Angel in London, whose accent was uncannily similar to a typical Aussie accent; it was unlike the typical cockney accent that one expected to hear from her area, which leads me to a suspicion that perhaps most of those original British prisoners that ended up in Australia were actually from that part of London and hence their accent remained and influenced the other immigrants.
  11. iceaura Valued Senior Member

    If you've heard Swedish spoken, you know where a lot of the Northern accent comes from. Also German.

    My guess is that the middle and western Canadian accent is what it is not so much from the French as from the Scots. Fraggle ?

    To my ear, SE US accents sound much different from the Texas and Oklahoma and Colorado ones. I would call five majors: NE, N, SE, W, and Black. All east of the Rockies. The west coast is a soup - they all came from somewhere else anyway.

    An "American" accent? Maybe Ohio's: English with the French and Irish knocked out of it, and no Scando or Black allowed in.
  12. Challenger78 Valued Senior Member

    Thanks for clearing that up, so in theory, states, particularly those with a large latin population could theoretcally have a whole new english accent ? but thats unlikely as you stated with your comment about TV and added to the effects of globalization, not likely.

    Coming from Singapore, and living in Australia, I've seen a whole lot of accents, but never could figure out where they came from.
    I know the UK's more famous accents.. And what is the difference between a scottish and Irish accent. (sorry, but they both sound the same to me.) ...
  13. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    Yes. But remember that in linguistics there's a taxonomy of relationships between language families just like in biology there's a taxonomy of relationships between plant or animal families. Just like canines and felines are closely related to each other, more distantly to turtles and even more distantly to jellyfish. The Romance languages are all descended from Latin. Portuguese, Spanish, Catalan, Occitan, French, Italian and Romanian. But Latin, Greek, Germanic, Celtic and Albanian are all descended from a common ancestor, which is the Western Branch of the Indo-European family. The Eastern Branch includes the Balto-Slavic and and Indo-Iranian subfamilies as well as a number of odds and ends like Armenian.

    Recent research using massively-parallel computing suggests that all languages outside of Africa may have a common ancestor. It's an intriguing possibility that language originated in Africa and may in fact have been the key technology that gave us the ability to plan and communicate well enough to successfully migrate out of that continent.
    Sorry, I don't know much about Canadian English.
    Whereas to us from outside the region, people from Texas and Oklahoma sound very much like Southerners. The same vowels, the same cadence, the same second-person plural pronoun "y'all" which even has a possessive "y'all's". Compared to these striking divergences from Standard American which they share, the differences go unnoticed. But yes, Texas is the gateway to the West and you hear its influences attenuate as you travel west into New Mexico and Arizona and northwest toward Montana. Utah's roots lie in the Mormon migration and they don't talk that way. The Dust Bowl disaster of the 1930s resulted in a diaspora of people from Oklahoma and nearby regions, so you can find communities of Texas/Southern speech in many distant areas now, including the San Joaquin Valley, California's giant agricultural region.
    The West Coast is a microcosm of America, a melting pot. Its population doubles with every generation so most of our people have traces of dialect from somewhere else. It's all leveling toward network-TV-standard American, especially since Hollywood itself is our cultural capital.
    I always notice the "standard" American speech that British actors study. You can spot them in a second because they don't really sound like any of us. But it is basically that Midwestern dialect, overlaid with the peculiarities of a newscaster. John Cleese's waiter in the American restaurant skit in "Monty Python's The Meaning of Life" was the quintessence of this.
    Not accent so much because that changes slowly, but vocabulary. Words like arroyo and mesa are probably recognized by all Americans but they're everyday words for describing the landscape in the West. Newer words like barrio and telenovela are just seeping into the general American vocabulary but they're well integrated in Los Angeles. Slang, particularlly vulgar slang, has spread locally. We all toss around puto, cabrón and cojones. The anti-Bush crowd in California (I guess that's almost all of us) snickered when Chávez called him a pendejo but everyone else in America said, "What does that mean?
    Well that's no surprise. Scotland was settled by Irish immigrants about 1,200 years ago. Gaelic is the "native" language of both peoples and the two dialects have not quite diverged to the point of incomprehensibility. The Picts who populated "Scotia" during the Roman era were remnants of an earlier migration of Homo sapiens into Europe before the Indo-Europeans started coming around 4000BCE. They were marginalized by these Celtic invaders from Ireland and I don't think we've had any success sorting out their DNA, language or culture.
  14. Spud Emperor solanaceous common tater Registered Senior Member

    I find that quite extraordinary and again there are many, many versions of each. I think the difference is as much in the manner and underlying tone as in the actual sounds.
    To me, the Irish sounds a bit sing songy ( bit like the muppets Swedish chef, rising and falling) Scottish can be so broad you really have to tune in to understand a single word.
    I love both of these accents and there is a major propensity for people of these countries(as well as Northern England) to have an extremely well honed sense of humour. It's uncanny, the Irish particularly just seem to be bred with an inate sense of the ridiculous. Whenever I meet someone with an Irish accent, I just start smiling because I know there is mayhem to follow.

    Challenger, can you pick the Kiwi accent when you here it?
    I find this one quite bizarre and have real trouble biting my tongue and trying not to mimic and pisstake ( I often fail at this).
  15. Thiussat Registered Member

    I am no linguist and don't pretend to be, but as for the origin of the "American accent," the question itself is flawed because there is not just a single American accent. It irritates me a bit when Brits or other English speakers talk about the "American accent" as if there is just one.

    I am a southern American and I speak with the southern drawl that one poster here seems to hold in such contempt. However, even being American I can still distinguish differences in the various British accents (although probably not as well as native Britons). The same can be done by Brits when they hear American accents if they listen closely and learn what to listen for.

    Now, I can't speak for most American accents, but being a southerner, I can speak for the south to a degree. There are a lot of misconceptions and stereotypes about the accent here. To exacerbate this, many people who portray the southern accent on TV and films are actors who are not natives. Therefore, they usually butcher the accent using false assumptions about how the typical southerner sounds. Often times these actors go over the top in their portrayal of the accent and it sounds contrived to those of us who actually speak with a southern accent. Also, when these actors portray it they often speak the non-rhotic variation, which is not as common these days. The non-rhotic southern accent is the one portrayed in "Gone With The Wind." It is also the one that was common to the plantation owners and those who were in the upper class of the south. Interestingly, this southern accent is more close to the British sound than any other American accent. It is the only non-rhotic American accent (British English is non-rhotic).

    If I had to classify southern accents as a layman, I would put them into three broad categories:

    Southern "drawl": common in places like Texas

    Southern "twang": common in the Appalachian mountain areas and the central part of the south (I would put north Mississippi, north Alabama, north Georgia, as well as all areas of the Appalachian mountains)

    "Gone With The Wind" antebellum style accent: common in some areas of central and coastal Georgia, Virginia, and other places in the antebellum south (this is the non-rhotic one).

    All that said, there are still variations within each major group. I can tell a difference in someone from Mississippi and Alabama even though I would lump them in the same "twang" category. Further, there are different accents in Northern Mississippi and North Alabama than there are in the southern areas of these states. Northern Alabama is more of a "twang" like TN, and southern Alabama and coastal Mississippi are more antebellum non-rhotic like Virginia or Georgia.

    Illustrations of the various southern accents:

    Gone With the Wind : non-rhotic "upper class" southern accent common to GA, VA, coastal regions etc.. This was more common to the English immigrants who settled the "old" south.

    Cold Mountain (the film): Rene Zellweger does an excellent job with the "twang" variation that is common to the Scots-Irish immigrants who settled in the mountainous regions. However, in the modern era, the twang is not quite as pronounced as what Zellweger portrayed. Nicole Kidman did more of a non-rhotic southern accent, although she did it horribly and it sounded very forced (which is understandable as she is an Aussie).

    Hank Williams Sr: country music singer who also exhibited the "twang" variation. He is of Irish extraction which explains the roots of his "hillbilly" speech.

    As for the southern "drawl," I can't think off my head of any specific movie, but if anyone here watches televised poker, you will often see a Texas hold 'em player named Doyle Brunson. This guy speaks with the perfect deep southern drawl so common to Texas. He is probably the best representation of the baritone Texan drawl that I can think of. (The southern drawl can also be found in other areas east of Texas)

    If you compare all of these movies and people I named, you will see a distinct difference in the various southern accents.

    As for the origins of the accent, which was the original question here, that is complex obviously, but I could take a stab at it. To simplify things greatly, I would say the non-rhotic antebellum accent is a result of the English immigrants who moved south to run plantations. This would be before the Scots-Irish began immigrating south. Once the Scots-Irish moved south, they mostly immigrated to the mountainous regions and are responsible mostly for the "hillbilly" twang. Some experts claim that some of the southern dialects may actually resemble speech in England and Scotland during that time. I have read that the British of the colonial era spoke more like Americans today, and that the modern "non-rhotic" British accent is, well, modern. However, I have also read that other experts do not agree with this. Again, I do not claim to be an academic or a professional linguistics expert, but it seems reasonable to me that many American accents may actually resemble the speech of some areas of England and the British isles during that era.

    Check the Wikipedia page on the southern accent. It has a lot of detailed info. I can't post links yet, but simply type "southern American accent" into Wikipedia, or Google for that matter, and a lot of info will appear.
  16. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    There is no one single American dialect or American accent, but there is a family of them and they are easily distinguished from the family of dialects/accents in England. Let any reasonably cosmopolitan anglophone, which these days for linguistic purposes includes just about anybody with a TV set, hear a speaker from England or the U.S. for the first time, and he'll say, "I don't know exactly where that person is from, but he's English (or American)." I'm leaving the Scots, Aussies, etc. out of this because to many Americans they all sound like Englishmen.

    There are some commonalities within American speech and within British speech that are big telltales.
    • Vowels. America and England have two separate sets. We Americans don't all use exactly the same ones and neither do the English, but our sets don't have a large overlap. I don't think any of us says "hand" or "called" the way any Englishman says them.
    • Intervocalic T and D. Almost all Englishmen pronounce them the way they're spelled, almost all Americans substitute a flapped Spanish R for both.
    • Long U and its impact on dentals. In England it's grad-yoo-ate and tyoon; here it's gra-joo-ate and toon.
    • Elision. In five minutes of speaking, the Englishman will have elided a good number of vowels, such as in ordin'ry and vet'ran, that our guy will have enunciated at least as a schwa.
    Boston dialect is also non-rhotic. "Pahk the cah ovah theah neah the watah." This is fading (I've never heard anyone speak that way on "Boston Legal") but old-timers and snobs still talk that way and most Bostonians did in my youth. The "Boston finishing school" affected accent also uses clear intervocalic D's and T's, and a few British vowels, trying to perpetrate an amusing fantasy that accents are a mark of social class as they are in the U.K., rather than strictly regional as they actually are in America.
    Be careful with singers. They don't always use the same pronunciation in song as in speech. Sometimes the music itself imposes an accent on you. I find it very difficult to sing country music without lapsing into Hank Williams's classic Texas accent. Even the Beatles and the Rolling Stones found themselves using a few of Elvis's vowels when they sang roots-rock.
  17. Thiussat Registered Member

    I can tell you aren't from the south (are you even American?). I have never heard "you'ns" and I have lived here all my life. I have only heard it on T.V. from people who have probably never even been to the south and are responsible for giving non-southerners like yourself false conceptions about how we really speak.

    Also, I don't think of "Soda" as being a southern term at all. Again, are you even American? NO ONE in the south uses the term "soda." It's funny you even put "soda" on your list because many southerners often talk about how "soda" is a "yankee" thing. Down here we call all soda-pop Coke. That's right, no matter the brand name, we call all soda "Coke." To say "give me a coke" might mean to grab a Mountain Dew or a Pepsi.

    Here are a few southern expressions off the top of my head:

    "Coke" -- all soda

    "fixin" -- verb. means I am about to do something. "I am fixing to get in my car and leave."

    "y'all" -- of course I have to mention y'all. However, many northerners get it wrong. They think "y'all" refers to the singular, when in fact the term is ONLY used when addressing more than one person.

    "Lightning Bug" -- a southern term for firefly.

    "Egg on" -- means to arouse or irritate -- "Why do you have to egg him on, he is obviously mad already."

    "rile up" -- exactly the same as egg on. "Shut up, you are about to get me riled up."

    "Fit to be tied" -- means that someone is angry. "He is so mad he is fit to be tied."

    "No 'count" -- My father said this a lot. It means "worthless." For example, "That man sold me a used car that ain't no count."

    "ornery" -- adjective.. It means to have an irritable disposition.

    "reckon" -- this one is interesting because it is a Middle English word that is no longer used in England. It is usually only used in the southern U.S., at least as a verb. "I reckon he is right, I do need to sell my car."

    "holler" -- used as a noun. The word is probably a bastardization of "hollow" which means valley. "I saw Bill, he was walking down in the holler."

    "holler" used as a verb --- Holler can also be used as a verb. It is correct to say "he was hollering at me." However, southerners will often use "holler" in the sense of "Hey if you want to go to the ball game just give me a holler."

    "Yankee" -- refers to anyone north of the Mason-Dixon. So, when the Brits call Americans "Yanks" they don't know that southerners are NOT considered Yankees by definition.

    "ain't" -- everyone uses ain't now, even the Brits. I wonder if this is truly a southern idiom or not.

    "might could" --- this is more of an incorrect speech pattern, sort of like a double negative, than it is a southern idiom, but many southerners, including me, say it in everyday speech. For instance, it is correct to say "I might be able to do that." But many southerners say "I might could do it."

    "trotline" -- a trotline is a fishing line that is put out to catch fish while one is away. Sort of like a net, except it is actually a line with hooks.

    "Sweatin' like a whore in church" --- This one should be self-explanatory.

    "naked as a jaybird" -- this one I hear a lot. Self-explanatory.

    "Deader 'n a doornail" -- means overkill. "He is deader than a doornail."

    "no sense" -- means stupid or idiot. "John is an idiot. He ain't got no sense."

    "Hit a lick with a snake" -- Means lazy. "That boy ain't hit a lick with a snake in two weeks, he just sits around all day."

    "no dog in that fight" -- Obvious meaning. Means you have nothing to do with something. "Don't complain to me, I ain't got a dog in that fight." I assume the term originated with the fact that many people used to hold organized dog fights decades ago. Dog-fighting was actually brought the the USA from Britain.

    "I suwanne" -- I hear this one a lot from my parents, but it is not common amongst younger people. It means "I swear." However, it is usually used while disgusted. For example, if you drop a glass of milk on the floor, you might declare "I suwanne."

    "livin' high on the hog." -- Just means you have lots of luxury. "John just won the lottery, now he will be livin' high on the hog."

    "uglier than a mud fence." ---Just a way of expressing how ugly something or someone is. I have no idea the meaning of it, but I guess someone long ago thought muddy fences were ugly?

    "damn near" -- this is one I use a lot and hear a lot. For example, here is how I might use it: "I saw John the other day, he has gotten old. He must be damn near 70 now."

    "strong as a mule" -- just an expression to describe the strength of someone. In my area I hear people say "strong as an ox" more often however.

    "hollow leg" -- pronounced "holler leg"-- This is used to describe someone who eats a lot. For example "You have already eaten two plates of food, you must have a hollow leg"

    "Whistlin' Dixie" -- This is used to describe senseless or inconsequential speech or chatter. For example, "You don't need to tell me what I already know, you are just whistlin' Dixie." I assume this one derived during the Civil War because obviously Dixie was defeated by the Yankees. So to "whistle Dixie" meant to whistle the theme song of the confederacy. Obviously since the confederacy was defeated, the term was used to describe something that had no consequence. Why whistle Dixie if Dixie is no more?

    "beat with an ugly stick" -- means to describe someone who is ugly. "That boy is so ugly he must have gotten beat with an ugly stick."

    "ugly tree" -- same as ugly stick, except it is often said "He is so ugly he fell from the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down."

    "mess" -- used as a noun. For instance "I saw the herd of cattle coming, there was a lot of 'em -- a whole mess of 'em." This term can be used to describe "a lot" of any object. It is often used to describe fish. "I caught a whole mess of fish." Again, it can be used to describe "a lot" of anything.

    "directly" --- I like this one and use it a lot. It is used to describe a short time period. For example "I am going to go pick up a six-pack of beer, I will be back directly."

    "homemade sin" -- Used to describe how ugly someone is. "That girl is uglier than homemade sin." I have no idea what the hell homemade sin is, but it is funny.

    "400 hell" -- LOL, this is one I used to hear people say. I have no clue as to its origin or what the hell it means, but I will use it in context of a sentence. "Man I am so drunk, too drunk. I am drunker than 400 hell." I am not sure if this is an actual southern expression or the invention of a few people who happen to live in my area. I have googled it and can find no mention of it anywhere.

    " 'Ole " -- Ole is interesting. I use it almost everyday. It probably is a bastardization of "old." It is likely of Scots-Irish origin and originated by the scots-irish immigrants in the south. It is just an expression one would use sort of like an adjective. For instance "Ole John is crazy." I use it typically as an adjective in front of someone's name. But it can be used to describe any person or any object. For instance "My 'ole DVD player just screwed up." It doesn't have the same meaning as "old." It is just an expression that can be used to describe any object or person old or new. The University of Mississippi is also known as 'Ole Miss.

    There are many, many more southern idioms, but these are ones common to my area and ones I hear often today. Many of the ones you will find online in slang dictionaries are either outdated or used in other areas of the south. I am not familiar with some of them myself.
  18. Thiussat Registered Member

    Williams was not Texan. He was born and raised in south Alabama (near Montgomery).

    But, I agree with the notion that singers do not sing like they speak. This is very noticeable when you listen to any British singer. Often times, they magically lose their British accent while singing (and this is usually unintentional).
  19. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    It even has a possessive case. My manager, who is from Georgia, says "y'all's."
    It's an elision of "no account," and it's pronounced that way outside the South. "Tell your daughter her no-account boyfriend just drove up."
    The gerund is common throughout the country, in its original meaning of calculation. "By my reckoning, you ate so much at the sushi buffet that you were getting it for 25 cents apiece." The expression "day of reckoning" is quite common; I suspect it's a biblical reference. The day when all your metaphorical accounts will be closed out and you'll learn whether, on the balance, you've lived a good life.
    Yankee was originally applied to Americans long before there was a rift between the North and the South. When American soldiers went to Europe to help out in the World Wars, the Europeans innocently called them all Yanks because they had no way to tell them apart. There was so much solidarity in the U.S. in wartime that no one objected. Perhaps we can recapture that spirit. Since the Vietnam War, Southerners have been trying to be more "American" than the rest of us and I can't believe that y'all would still like to be known as Rebels.

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    I suspect we're going to have to concede this one. Virtually all foreigners call us all Yanks and they're not going to stop. At least not until, as Schleebenhorst says about once a month, "You Yanks stop calling us Scotsmen ENGLISH!"
    In Northern locales where these insects are actually found (technically they're beetles, not bugs, and this is the Linguistics board

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    ), they're usually called fireflies. But elsewhere in America where people only know of them by reading and seeing pictures, they're as likely to be called lightning bugs as fireflies.
    I'll let someone else do the research, but I'm fairly sure the British brought this one with them. It was not invented here.
    Many of these are also used elsewhere. You'll hear the following often in the North and the West and they cannot be called Southern dialect:
    • Egg on -- means to arouse or irritate.
    • Rile up -- exactly the same as egg on.
    • Fit to be tied -- means that someone is angry.
    • Ornery -- adjective. It means to have an irritable disposition.
    • Holler in the sense of: Hey if you want to go to the ball game just give me a holler.
    • Deader 'n a doornail -- means overkill. (We say "deader than...")
    • Naked as a jaybird.
    • Living high on the hog. -- Just means you have lots of luxury.
    • Damn near -- He has gotten old. He must be damn near 70 now.
    • Strong as an ox. (In the era of "knowledge work" this has been expanded and turned into an insult: "strong as an ox and almost as intelligent.")
    • Hollow leg -- This is used to describe someone who eats a lot.
    • Whistlin' Dixie -- This is used to describe senseless or inconsequential speech or chatter.
    • Beaten with an ugly stick -- means to describe someone who is ugly. (Likely to be heard in the slang of the black community as "whupped" with an ugly stick. A mispronunciation of "whipped.")
    Yes but his trademark musical style was Western Swing and his accent when singing was a bit to the west of Alabama. Doesn't he sound more like George Bush than George Wallace?
    Sometimes it is intentional. The Brits make fun of our contractions "wanna" and "gonna." But the Beatles would not have gotten an international multi-platinum hit out of the lyric "I Want To Hold Your Hand."

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  20. Thiussat Registered Member

    Hi, Fraggle.

    This is a very interesting discussion and you appear very knowledgeable. Are you an academic linguist or philologist? Just curious. I obviously am not. I am just a guy who earlier today was wondering about American accents, entered it in Google, and here I am.

    As for the black slang of "whooped" for "whipped." The term whooped is often used by southern caucasians as well. I hear it a lot. I assume the black Americans inherited it from the southern vernacular since, obviously, blacks have traditionally been centered mostly in the south.

    I thought of another southern slang word. "Mash." I used to work with a woman who would say mash often. "Hey John, after you are done typing that report, just mash enter and send it my way." It can mean to squeeze or press anything. It can also mean (and it is very common to use it this way) - "I just mashed my finger in the door." I personally don't use the word, though I hear it often in my area.

    Interestingly, I usually hear people use these types of words in my area that live south of the Tennessee river (just a few miles away). I really can notice a slight change in speech habits within a few mile radius, which means that my generalizations of "3 major categories" of Southern accents are very broad. I believe the Wikipedia article lists several more than three, but even that is still too broad. I once traveled to Montgomery, AL, just three hours south of here, and I felt like a foreigner. Their speech is quite distinct from ours here in the more northern areas of the state.

    How about this one..."What's that old saying?" We use the term "saying" to be roughly equivalent to "tale" or "story" or "proverb." To us, a "saying" might be "two birds of a feather flock together." Is "saying" used outside of the south anywhere in this context?

    I was reading an online listing of southern expressions and it listed "eye" as in "eye of a stove" as being southern. I never considered that. Is "eye" truly a southern expression when referring to the eye or "burner" of a stove?

    And how can I forget "mater" for tomato. And "Tater" for potato. I used to converse with people online who grew tomatoes up north (Michigan etc.) and I was shocked when I saw them post the word "mater" and apparently it was well known slang even up there (and they actually used it in everyday speech).

    A friend of mine used to make Muscadine wine. Now, that has to be strictly southern. Or am I wrong here?

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    As for your comment on lightning bugs, I don't claim to be an entymologist but I do believe lightning bugs are found in the south. I see them every summer night and used to catch 'em and jar 'em as a kid. As to whether lightning bugs and fireflies are the same species of insect, I have no idea. All I know is "lightning bugs" have a greenish neon glow. I always assumed they were the same species as a firefly.

    We also have "junebugs." I suppose I could google and find out the proper term for a junebug, but I don't recall it now. I assume this also is a term used to describe that insect only in the south? Or has it made its way "yonder?"

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    And before I forget, I want to address the reason I made this post. I am curious as to the etymology of the word "Yankee." Do you happen to know how and why this word arose? I was watching the movie "The Last of the Mohicans" a while back and apparently the director of the film had the Indians use real Indian dialect and language during their speaking roles. The Huron Indian war chief kept saying a word that sounded like (yay-ng-eese) when he spoke of the British. Is there any connection or is it mere coincidence? I couldn't help but notice the similarity in sound to the word "Yankees." The "Yang" was short and the "eese" was long (sorry I forget the technical way of expressing long and short syllables). So, assuming the Huron language in the film was authentic, is it coincidental that their word for English sounded very similar to "Yankees?" Did they learn this term from the white man or vice versa? Or does it have nothing to do with our incarnation of "Yankee?"

    Thanks. I need me some learnin'

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  21. Challenger78 Valued Senior Member

    Yeah , I can, Its a little less drawn out than the bogan accent of Australia, and should sound a bit more clipped, And of course, you've gotta include "bro, Fush and chups, and a whole lotta of other stuff too"
  22. Fraggle Rocker Staff Member

    I'm a writer and editor, I teach business and technical writing, and I have given private lessons to immigrants for improving their English. That is the extent of my professional involvement. I have been interested in languages and linguistics for more than fifty years, and had my first class in Spanish when I was eleven.
    The origins of "black dialect" in the South are clear.
    I think we all use "mash" that way. It's an old word that predates the English settlement of America and "smash" was probably created by building up on it. Putting S before a word to give it a slightly different meaning is a common motif in the Germanic languages: Schmalz from Malz, Schnase from Nase.
    It's universal in America.
    That's a new one for me.
    We are familiar with "tater" and use it for humor. There was once a national brand of frozen potato chunks called Tater Tots.
    Never heard of it. Is it a true wine, made by fermenting fruit?
    I didn't mean to imply that they were only found in the North. They're an eastern species, we don't have them out west. That's why we refer to them indifferently by both names, because both Northerners and Southerners talk about them. AFAIK it's a single species. Like most outlandish appearance traits, the luminescence is a courtship ritual.
    June bugs are like tumbleweeds. There's no one species, they're just the one you happen to have where you live. In Arizona we had gigantic, slow-moving "June bugs." We tied little leashes of thread around their necks and flew them like model airplanes. I don't know if any "June bugs" are true "bugs," which have a mouth that's evolved into a proboscis. Zoologists shun the term now because it's been colloquially co-opted to apply to all insects, or even all non-aquatic arthropods.
    The origin is unclear but the OED lists a couple of plausible sources. It was first documented around the time of the American Revolution. One possibility was the common Dutch given name-combination Jan Kees. Remember that New York was originally New Amsterdam. The English may have referred to its inhabitants as Jankees because they were mostly Dutch. Next, the Dutch themselves apparently referred to Dutch-speaking Americans as Jankes, and the term could have easily spread out to all Americans. Finally, the Cherokee word for "coward" is eankke. But considering that the Cherokees still lived a thousand miles away in Florida then, this is a stretch.

    When Yankee was adopted in American English, it specifically referred to inhabitants of New England, e.g. Yankee pot roast. It wasn't until the Civil War that Confederates grabbed the term as an easy nickname for their enemies. Today its meaning is once again restricted to New Englanders. The only place a person from Pennsylvania or Illinois (much less us Californians!) would perplexedly hear himself referred to as a Yankee is in the South. And of course in Europe, where even you Southerners are Yanks. We tend not to criticize them for that since it's possibly their only slang word for Americans that is not derogatory.

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    Writers of fiction play fast and loose with their material. Even historical fiction, because their mission is to "make a good story better." Even fastidious scholars like James Michener are guilty. In his novel Caravans he stated that the Afghanis called Westerners "Ferengi" as a mash-up (there you go, I used the word "mash"

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    ) of "foreigner." This is pure invention, although I've forgotten the true origin of the word which Gene Roddenberry borrowed for one of his most lovable alien races in Star Trek:TNG and DS9.
  23. maxg Registered Senior Member

    You're linguistic info is appreciated but Hank Williams did not perform Western Swing. You could call it country music (by today's definitions) or hillbilly music (what it was called at the time).

    Western Swing, as the name suggest, is a style that combined country (or more appropriately Western) stylings with a swing jazz influence. It typically involved a larger ensemble than Williams played with--a Western swing band would often include fiddle/violin, bass, drums, banjo, mandolin, and a couple guitars plus a vocalist--an ensemble that developed out of the string bands out of the 20s. Western Swing also swings--a difficult quality to define but not something I would associate with Williams--his music (and lyrics) have a bleaker quality and are not as conducive to dancing as Spade Cooley, Bob Willis, or Milton Brown.

    There are some common points of origin for the music of Williams and the Western Swing artists. Both were heavily influenced by the blues (both as performed by African Americans and white singers like Jimmie Rogers). But they draw upon two different aspects of the blues (i.e., the celebration of life and partying that comes out in jugband and later jump blues and the sympathetic insight into life's miseries that finds its best expression in old country blues).

    There is one other connection in that Dale Potter who started out playing violin with Hank Williams invented the double stop technique of fiddle playing that became part of the signature style of Western Swing.

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