Thursday, October 13, 2005

Southern Talkin'

From the first time I heard myself speaking via a taped conversation on a cheap recorder, I didn't care for the voice I had or the southern accent. There wasn't anything I could do about my voice but there was something I could do about my accent.

I set out at the very beginning of my working career to lose the "Hillbilly" twang in my speech pattern and to do anything I could to improve my vocabulary. I knew that if I was going to be successful in business I needed to sound intelligent and knowledgeable when I spoke. Public speaking was one tall mountain for me to climb but climb it I did. Over time I got to the point of being able to "fit-in" no matter my surroundings. I could adapt verbally to any group I might find myself involved with but I must admit...I was most comfortable when I could be ME and as they say down home...just let er rip.

I’ve lived in the southern portion of the U.S. all my life, so those quaint speech elements I grew up with were my family’s language and the one I spoke when I was relaxed and at ease. At times I have wondered about the origin of some of them and how they came to be used so widely. I seldom use any of them unless I’m part of a group that does. In those surroundings I quickly adapt and in a matter of minutes I find myself speaking the local dialect and feeling very much at home.

Over the years I’d say I’ve been exposed to most of the quirky terms used by my family and relatives. Some I just accept, others I DO wonder about and no matter how hard I try, using them has never gotten to feel natural for me.

When an aunt I was visiting down in Booneville, Kentucky asked me if I would “carry” her to the store so she could pick up some things she needed to prepare the evening meal, I said “NO! I won’t carry you there but if you will get in my car I’ll drive or TAKE you to the store and bring you back home.” She only looked at me with this confused expression and then it hit her…I was making a joke. Ha-Ha. One that didn’t strike her as particularly funny. I knew instantly that I was treading on what amounted to “sacred ground” with her. DO NOT make fun of the way she talks was the message I received.

The words PACK, HAUL, TOTE or CARRY can mean the same thing or they may not, depending on whom one is speaking with. Then one person really confused me and used the term “BRING” to express the same thought. I don’t know if I’ll ever keep it all straight. One had to be careful when visiting down home because you could end up with your jaws slapped or your mouth mashed if you made a habit of poking fun at the way someone talked.

Still, I recall the first time I read one of those “Hillbilly to English” translation dictionaries and I all but busted a gut laughing. Yes! It’s funny in it’s own way, but deep down inside, it’s a part of my heritage, my family roots and to make fun of it is in a sense, making fun of myself. I don’t like being made “sport” of because of my speech and I give others what I expect for myself. I respect another’s language and its origins, doing my best not to be openly critical or allow my body language to convey it either.

I always try to use proper English terms when the circumstances require it but it’s a strain at times. I find my family's accent and speech patterns colorful, expressive and natural.

I tell ye what Bubba…I love being a southerner.

Written by: Mr. Bee