contributed by Dr James Everett
LS Cultural Committee Chairman, Maybinton, South Carolina
Addition to 7. Special Spellings: John George of Crawfordville, Georgia, writes that the Yankee program has all but triumphed over programme—always the British and old South spelling. While he admits that he has a very hard time using programme, he encourages us to give it a try. After all, he says, we write catalogue rather than catalog with no trouble and find catalogue very natural. So as 7. j) noun and verb programme (not program); and 7. k) catalogue (not catalog). Mr George also writes, ‘At the risk of sounding hopelessly archaic, I would even suggest the possibility of a return to publick since we dont write kic or lic for kick or lick.’ This is indeed worth thought.
As Sara Hill added to ‘Verbal Independence . . . A Second Lesson,’ Jefferson Davis insisted on theatre and sabre in his Rise and Fall of the Confederate Government, but his publishers changed his spelling. So by all means, we should use the old Southern and British spelling as 7. l) noun and verb sabre (not saber). We have already adopted theatre as 7. f) (in the second lesson). The pronunciation of theatre might also bear comment. The word is commonly pronounced with accents on either first or second syllables. I would also suggest accents on both first and last or on all three syllables (depending on whether the a is pronounced as a long or short a. When said slowly (the drawl) as is our way, the word allows such accents—contrary to Webster’s.
8. c) More endangered words—or, ‘In Praise of Mama.’ While our mamas often provide us with a closer touch to the less corrupted Southern past and its speech and are worthy of proper homage, the praise I wish to give is for the word mama itself. Mama, mamma, or momma are kin to the British mum and the Ma’m of courteous address. The Lowcountry South Carolina mauma, used in the plantation era, was the word for a venerable black woman (like Auntie) and was the norm. The word was often shortened to maum to address the lady, as in Maum Hannah, sounding, indeed, very much like Mum, but given as a title of respect attached to the name. Mauma, rather than the British Nanny, was likely the basis for the Southern upland and Deeper South Mammy.
It may surprise our Southern readers to learn that mama is not a word used very much outside the South, that non-Southerners find the word quaint, peculiar, or foreign. (I especially like foreign — as in being from another country.) The Center for the Study of the American South at University of North Carolina – Charlotte has found that ‘Southerners tend to slip through the cracks between state surveys, which are unreliable for generalizing [sic] to the Region, and national surveys like those conducted by Gallup and Harris usually survey too few Southerners to allow detailed examination. Rarely do surveys routinely include questions specifically about the South.’ So the Center, with UNC’s Institute for Research in Social Science and the Atlanta Journal conducts a regional survey each fall and spring called ‘The Southern Focus Poll.’ Surveys question 800 Southerners and 400 non-Southerners for the sake of comparison. While it would be pertinent to enquire as to what the Atlanta Journal deems ‘Southern,’ the poll is very pertinent here. In this most recent questionnaire, respondents were asked if they as a child called their mother mama or momma. (Notice the possible implication that when you grow up, you wont—that the word is thus only for children.) Only 9% of non-Southerners did call mama mama; while 28% of Southerners used the word—thus between a quarter and a third of us, and three times as many Southerners as non-Southerners. This is a difference we ought to recognise and encourage. Let’s widen the gap by using this good Southern word, and teaching our children to do the same—by example, the best way to teach, after all.
More on 2. The Subversive S-Z. We have made much progress in writing decentralise rather than decentralise, rather than homogenise, etc. In the League, the old Yankee Zed appears to be taking a real beating. Here, the award for orthography must go to Southern Events (the Alabama state League newsletter) and The Agrarian Steward (Monroe, Louisiana). Congratulations and thanks to Nat Rudulph and David Rockett. Another tireless soldier in the Southern Language Movement is John George, who contributes a pertinent comment here, that while H. W. Fowler, in his A Dictionary of Modern English Usage tried to take a purist approach to ise and ize by attempting to distinguish between whether the word was Greek-Latin or other in origin, Mr George likes the approach of Shakespear’s Kent in Lear: ‘Thou whoreson Zed! Thou unnecessary letter!’ So be it with us in the League as well. Continue to substitute s for z, in Greek-Latin words or not — and frustrate Yankee conformity.
George also sends some interesting comments on 9. Pronounciation. He recalls that when a child in the 1950s in Macon, Georgia, his older brother attending Northwestern University delighted in correcting his speech when he came home from college: ‘correcting me for saying weather instead of whether, lion instead of line, Ah-lanna instead of At-lan-ta, hammah instead of hammer, and figguh instead of figure.’ Mr George continues: ‘Imagine my surprise later when I discovered that Canadians and British alike pronounced figguh the same as Southrons (granted, sometimes with the r more pronounced) and that only damnyankees and Southrons who were taught to be ashamed of their pronunciation say fig-your. We have never broached the question of pronunciation because I think it safe to say the consensus of opinion of the LS members would be that Southrons should never be ashamed of their Southern pronunciations. While Lowcountry and Piedmont pronunciation might be considered as the ‘received standard’ pronunciation because of the antebellum planter class, Appalachian and western forms should and will be equally accepted. Maybe someday Dixie will have its own dictionary with proper Southern pronunciation.’ Amen, Brother George! ’Tis a consummation devoutly to be wished.’