contributed by Dr James Everett
LS Cultural Committee Chairman, Maybinton, South Carolina
Particularities & Regional Flavors of the Southron Language
According to a native Houstonian, no native of that city would ever refer to Houston as 'Hew-ston,' All natives of the city call it 'Yew-ston' and nothing else. There is also a little town just north of 'Yew-ston' named 'Humble' and everyone from there calls it 'Umble'... the 'H' being silent once again. He reports that his grandparents also used silent 'h's' when referring to these two places and both of them were born and raised in Louisiana.
The way I became aware of my own h-less pronunciations was to be stopped cold in my tracks during a rather serious discussion, by a peremptory interruption in order to correct me for omitting the 'H' in 'Humble.' This came from a know-it-all daughter of a high-ranking military father who moved about a lot. She was born on a military base in Georgia, lived in the North, but now calls herself a South Carolinian. Her correction took me by surprise, for the following three reasons: (1) I was not even aware I was pronouncing 'Umble' 'Umble'; (2) the tone of voice of the interruption was so brazenly rude; and (3) the comment had nothing to do with the subject being discussed and wrenched it off course. But such is the way and manner of the homogenizing police. I'm sure I stood there with mouth agape.
Nat Rudulph (in central Alabama) reports that he was taught at home to pronounce it 'Umble.' And at home that word which describes the part of your head above your eyebrows was 'Forrid' (rhymes with 'horrid'). He then encountered a new word at school for that part of the body; 'four-head.' He said it was only later that he realized his parents were pronouncing the same word with a different emphasis and h-less.
In Texas folks say 'puh-kahn.' Some folks say that only Yankee transplants call it 'pee-can.' It is a sure thing that the 'pee-can' pronunciation never made it west of the Mississippi in Dixie. William Cawthon reports that everyone in the Eufaula, Alabama area has always said, 'puh-kahn' - both old and young alike.
Another such plant pronunciation that gets varying pronunciations is 'Camellia.' In upcountry South Carolina, we have always said, 'Ca-meal-ya,' and have always held a 'Ca-meal-ya' to be an affectation. However, in Charleston, down the country from us, 'Ca-mell-ya' is the standard, and the other pronunciation is held to be decidedly an indication of foreigness. There is even the little rhyme:
I was a social failure (fail-ya)
Because I said 'Ca-meal-ya'
Instead of 'Ca-mell-ya.'
In Charleston, the pronunciation, if we are to trust the couplet, is thus also a matter of one's social class.
These differing pronunciations have impressed upon us the necessity to account for specific indigenous local Southern usages. In working toward a Southern language, and a Southern dictionary, we must resist the temptation to standardize too rigidly when there are legitimate local differences. It is important for us to listen to the oldest speakers of these areas...those born to the place...and particularly in the most traditional...that is, the most rural areas, in order to ascertain the standard of local pronunciations that vary from Southern place to Southern place. It would be helpful if, when we note these pronunciations, we would write them down and put them on record. Hopefully, soon, we will have a group of interested members whose avocation will be the Southern language project.