kaigou: this is what I do, darling (2 real size)
[personal profile] kaigou
Trying to Write the Southern Accent
I believe the number of Southerners with writeable accents is declining. Writing Southernese is as much about the arrangement of words and word choice as it is the sound. You don't have to underscore a character's southern-ness by dropping g's and throwing in a bunch of Populist apostrophes after n's--as in, I'm fixin' to go ridin' with Billy Bob. If the character hasn't earned it, or you aren't masterful, the phonetic hand-holding tortures readers--the economic use of y'all or original word arrangement (like a double modal) will do in most cases.

Reminds me of the fact that most of the Georgia side of my family would use the expression "losing my religion," which became suddenly very popular due to some no-name Georgia band. *cough* Except that when that song came out, I was living in New England, and it seemed no one had the least clue was the phrase meant; they seemed to take the song as some kind of atheist anthem or something.

The phrase actually means "hopping mad," of a level so great you've started cussing. Possibly a blue streak of cussing, even. Though I can't recall any of my father's family ever actually losing their religion; they were more like to say, "I was near to losing my religion," meaning it was only through supreme force of will that they refrained from saying exactly what was on their mind, with colorful extras.

(It doesn't always mean angry, though. My grandfather often came near to losing his religion anytime he slammed his thumb in the workshop. Extreme pain that makes you want to yell out loud suffices, in other words.)

Date: 3 Feb 2011 06:52 am (UTC)
dagas_isa: Kanzaki Nao from Liar Game (Default)
From: [personal profile] dagas_isa
Within the context of this incredibly obscure song by this no-name Georgia band of yours, I always thought "losing my religion" had something to do with crushing on someone. Though I can see where anger/pain/frustration meaning of the phrase would fit in there.

Date: 3 Feb 2011 07:04 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Great post there, thank you. I have, respectfully, been trying to do my homework before I write characters with radically different backgrounds than the ones I know really well. Among the more interesting resources, I find, are the YouTube cooking shows done by the people who are teaching other folks about their traditional cuisine. They may be standardizing their usage so they can be understood by a wider range of people, but that just makes it a good measure of what they'd consider "standard usage."
thecajunwife, for instance, I found was a younger woman who has a very soft accent, about like what you might hear out in rural areas here on the West Coast (really! for reals!) and there's nothing all that unusual about her word choices. What does make you sit up and notice are the names of things in the traditional cuisine she's explaining.
Smoking garfish (which has more info in subtitles) or making boudin, for instance.



Similarly, for a Korean-born character, I went looking for Korean cooking demos, both so I could hear the cooks speaking and to see what they thought was important to share. That way I had a better idea of what they thought was important for everyday kitchen use and also for traditional celebrations.

Visiting specialty or import grocery stores can be both awkward and educational in a similar way.

For situations where I do know people in a particular culture, I might ask a question in a general way, and let them tell me in more detail if they feel like it. "What kind of things does your mom cook when you come home for a visit?" only works if I know their mom is in reasonably good health, and it's intrusive unless they're a pretty good friend.

The only problem with all these is that homework makes you hungry...

I wouldn't say any of these methods are definitive enough for many writers, and I know I don't have as precise an ear as many of the really good fanfic writers. I iknwo there's some who can pick up and reproduce a character's spoken style from a tv show within a couple of episodes and reproduce it with uncanny accuracy, including whether different eps was written by different scriptwriters for the same actor.

Date: 4 Feb 2011 06:55 am (UTC)
nagasvoice: lj default (Default)
From: [personal profile] nagasvoice
Now that's an interesting menu--yeah, research causing more hunger pangs, wow.

Date: 3 Feb 2011 07:10 am (UTC)
From: [personal profile] taithe
Ohhh that's what that means.

I'm reading The Poisonwood Bible right now and it's interesting how in the beginning I heard clear Georgia accents but later the voices modulated back to generic American. It's not a conscious decision on my part. The author definitely uses Southern phrases at times but none of the "y'all" and dropping "g"s that notoriously signal Southernese. I appreciate the author's point about using phonetic markers sparingly, but I find unless the main identity of the character is being the Southern One chances are I'll end up reading the character's dialogue in general American regardless of the author's intent. I can understand why people (especially non-Southerners) would then overcompensate by writing out Southernese with lots of apostrophes and unusual phrases. Not that this makes for good writing -- it almost always ends up looking forced and unnatural -- but I can see why so many people struggle to write accents. It's hard to make a reader read an accent that they are aren't used to hearing unless you add in some clear signals.

If people want to make the identity of a character Southern, aside from attempting a writeable Southern accent, using tools like setting, interactions with other characters, and character background are good ways to do it.

Date: 3 Feb 2011 03:35 pm (UTC)
umadoshi: (Yotsuba&! curious (ohsnap_icons))
From: [personal profile] umadoshi
I had no idea that was the phrase's etymology! And that article was a good read. Thanks for both the info and the link. ^^

Date: 3 Feb 2011 06:39 pm (UTC)
obsession_inc: (Default)
From: [personal profile] obsession_inc
Oh, THAT'S what that means. ::headdesk::

Date: 3 Feb 2011 06:53 pm (UTC)
leorising: (english lurks)
From: [personal profile] leorising
D'oh! I had no idea that's what that phrase meant. Now that you explain it, it makes total sense, is very Southern, and very clever besides. This Northerner says, "Bless your little pea-pickin' heart." :D

Date: 4 Feb 2011 07:23 am (UTC)
dglenn: Tine, damper, and hammer of lowest note on Fender-Rhodes piano, in action (rhodes)
From: [personal profile] dglenn
I've also heard, "Well bless his heart," used without an (explicit) accompanying negative comment, as if to say, "I'm thinking of an insult, but I don't need to speak it." Or maybe, "I'm too polite to say, 'what an asshole' aloud." I'm not sure how far into what regions this extends; I've heard it from (a) Virginians, (b) Marylanders from parts of the state that have rather southern-ish accents (we do say "y'all" here, and in some parts of the state that's singular with "all y'all" being the plural), and (c) folks with southern accents that I couldn't place, so I'm not sure which parts of the south they were from.

Date: 4 Feb 2011 03:45 pm (UTC)
leorising: (english lurks)
From: [personal profile] leorising
Mom was from Indiana and always said "pea-picking", and the phrase was not unfamiliar to my childhood friends straight from Kentucky. It may not be Deep South (or from the particular region you're acquainted with,) but to someone born & raised in Detroit, it ain't home, either.

As far as the "bless his..." business, I'm acquainted with the Deep South usage, but thanks for pointing it out again. I was using it with you as a joke, which was evidently, well, non-evident. I routinely use the phrase when I mean to actually bless someone, as I did with the LIEAP counselor the other day when she gave me $250 instead of $125 for my energy bills this winter. Since I'm in the Pacific NW the regional meaning is not expected, and it's taken at face value.

I don't think I'd ever try to write a regional character with whom I am not familiar, just for these reasons. I wouldn't be able to make hir talk right and make it sound natural.

Sorry I went so awry. No insult was intended, though, ma'am. (I also routinely use good manners (there's that semi-Southern Indiana mom again,) and in Portland they don't expect sarcasm. I love this town for reasons just like that.)

Date: 7 Feb 2011 05:38 pm (UTC)
leorising: (english lurks)
From: [personal profile] leorising
As a coda, I'm finding the "losing my religion" explanation to be a handy Fun Fact To Know & Tell. Great kaffee klatch material -- no one else around here knows the true facts, either. Thanks! :D

Date: 4 Feb 2011 07:25 pm (UTC)
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kathmandu
Okay, we need to talk. You keep using 'Yankee' as a generic term for Northerners, and it isn't. Yankee is a particular ethnic subtype of New Englander: Anglo with a particular set of cultural values. Those Boston Italians and Portuguese you talked about in a previous post? Not Yankee. Please stop taking my ethnic identity in vain. Thank you.

Date: 4 Feb 2011 08:16 pm (UTC)
kathmandu: Close-up of pussywillow catkins. (Default)
From: [personal profile] kathmandu
I do understand, and thank you for your understanding. It was clear to me you didn't mean it as offense. It's just, two things: one, it grates my nerves to hear all this non-Yankee behavior attributed to my tribe; and two, these comparisons of regional/cultural differences in manners and speech and so on are interesting, but misattributing things only obscures the patterns.

Date: 3 Feb 2011 07:54 pm (UTC)
soukup: Tiki heads are coming to mug you! Flee! Fleeee! (srs bsns Tiki heads)
From: [personal profile] soukup
This actually made me laugh aloud at myself. What a fabulous expression.