Memorial intersection dedicated to educator Beulah Rucker Oliver
For a 2003 survey results of the Harvard Dialect Survey, visit
Every Southern girl and gentleman knows there are occasions when one must lay on the thick-and-slow-as-molasses-on-a-winter-day accent.
Generally, those occasions require the speaker to be charming and just a bit sassy. Que the drawl and you’ve got ‘em hook, line and sinker.
So when the survey results from the dating site Cupid.com landed in journalists’ inboxes, it came as no surprise “Southern” was ranked as the most attractive accent in North America.
The study surveyed more than 2,000 men and women on its site and found the Peach State’s vernacular took the cake. About 36 percent of survey participants voted in favor of the accent. New York’s distinctive tongue earned second place with 16.5 percent.
While it might seem like the obvious first choice, what is it exactly that makes the Southern drawl so appealing?
Southern accents are characterized by longer, more drawn out, softer vowel sounds. Words often drop off at the ends, particularly with hard “G” or “R” sounds. Words like “car” and “thinking” are pronounced “cah” and “thinkin’.”
“It actually makes sense why it would be considered most attractive because it’s easier on the listeners’ ears,” said Erin Culverson, a speech therapist at Lumpkin County Elementary School. “They’re long drawn out sounds. The speech is elongated. It’s a slower pace which is more relaxing than super-fast talking. The fact that some of the sounds are cut off and they’re kind of rounded out — for lack a better word — it just makes it more appealing to the listeners’ ear.”
The region’s accent was developed over the years as an influx of English speaking immigrants settled in the New World. Throughout the years the Irish, Scottish, English or Welsh accents turned into the drawl we hear today.
Debra Dobkins, dean of Brenau University’s Women’s College and professor of English, said it’s interesting to note the variations of the “Southern accent.”
“It’s not all one Southern accent,” Dobkins said. “There are many different Southern accents. A person from the Piedmont would have a very different accent from North Georgia, Appalachia or further north from us I suppose.
“As I always say to my students compare a Savannah accent to an Ellijay or Dahlonega or somewhere in the very north of Georgia and those are two different sounds. The vowels are different, the “T’s” and the “R’s” are different. It’s all very different.”
Dobkins said linguists have many differing theories on how each region’s accent came to be, but immigration patterns seem to play a huge role. Immigrants from Southeastern England often settled along the coastline creating the distinctive accents of cities such as Savannah and Charleston, both of which often drop the “R” sound at the end of words. While Irish, Scottish and Welsh immigrants often moved into more inland regions.
“They’re the ones (who) have that hard ‘R,’” Dobkins said. “If you think about the Appalachian dialect, for example ‘far,’ it’s that very sort of hard “R” sound. That’s the big picture and then you’ve got the influence of African-American vernacular English which is huge throughout the deep South.”
Dobkins said she suspects the reason the Southern accent is more attractive is because of its variety. She laughed and said she personally finds that the Charlestonian accent has a “distinguished” quality.
Of course, while Southerners know the drawl is appealing, there’s no denying the existence of the redneck, country stereotypes.
“I think one of the first thing lots of Southerners try to do when they leave the south is try to tone down that accent because they’re perceived as not quite as bright perhaps as someone who doesn’t have it,” Dobkins said. “Of course, what we know is it all depends on who you are and who the majority is.”
For people who want to reduce their accents (God forbid!) they can seek out the help of a speech pathologist and request assistance with accent reduction.
“A lot of times, Southern accents are considered ‘uneducated accents,’” Culverson said. “When you hear them, you think of people being slow Southern stupid person, which isn’t true at all. You would have thought that by now, especially in the corporate world, it wouldn’t be looked down upon to have a Southern accent but really the environment prevails.”
The stereotype is likely a carry over from a time when smaller Southern communities were more isolated, rural and agriculturally based, Dobkins said.
But what will happen to the Southern drawl now that South has become more populated? What role will television and the generalized American “anchorman” accent have on future generations?
Dobkins said it’s a question linguists have been asking for years but have yet to answer.
“When cultures have less access to outsiders than other (cultures), they’re much more likely to hang on to the accents they’ve had for longer,” Dobkins said. “I think the truth is original accents have persisted and they haven’t all died out because we’re listening to the same thing on television.”
Dobkins said it will be interesting to see how the influence of Southern-based film and television industry affects accents and perceptions of southern accents in the coming years.