contributed by Tim Manning, Jr.
Assistant Editor of Southern Partisan magazine, Editor for the Foundation for American Education


Assessing a Survey on Southern Language

The Harvard University Computer Society conducted a dialect survey with 30,788 respondents.  The goal was to determine the differences in American regional vocabulary.  A Mr. Chuck Chamblee compiled the results and created a new, popular web site.  It has been forwarded and forwarded via e-mail to thousands of people who complete the survey for entertainment.

It asks a series of 20 questions about your vocabulary.  Here's an example:  'What's the road along an interstate highway?  a) Frontage Road, b) Service Road, c) Access Road, d) Feeder.'  For that particular question, I answered 'b.'  The survey told me 'used nationwide, especially in urban areas.'

I took it a step further and tried on all the answers.  For 'a,' it said, 'favored in western Great Lakes region.'  For 'c,' it said, 'slight bias toward southern United States.  For 'd,' it said, 'local use in Houston and eastern Great Lakes.'

I was a little ashamed when I read the answers, remembering that my grandmother always calls it an 'access road.'  Almost every question was a little that way.  They touched on things I usually notice, but hadn't.

The survey warns you beforehand: 'Be aware that television entertainment has a lot of northern dialect in it.  This will have more of an influence on you than you expect.'  The title of the survey is 'Yankee or Dixie?'  Zero percent is pure Yankee; 100 percent is pure Dixie.

When I completed the survey, my scorecard said '92% Dixie.  Is General Lee your father?'  No, but Gen. Light Horse Harry Lee happens to be the great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather to my fiancée.  She scored 100 percent.  Gen. William Paul Roberts, the youngest Confederate General, was my great-great-great-great-great uncle.

A friend of mine, in Charlotte, North Carolina, had the score, '83% Dixie.  Do you have any Confederate ancestors?'  One of my relatives who has been beached in California from an early age scored '70% Dixie. A definitive Southern score.'

I tried to test the survey's accuracy by answering everything as Yankee as possible and it said, '20% Yankee. You show a very strong Yankee score.'  The test appears to have a slant so that it's easier to score 'Dixie,' but it nonetheless provides some good observations that are more noteworthy than 99.9 percent of what comes out of Harvard.

Here are some things to remember:

1)  We say aunt like 'ant.'  They say it like 'want' or 'caught.'  [Editor's note: Some folks in Virginia would disagree with this.]

2)  We say caramel in three syllables: 'car-a-mel.'  They say two: 'car-ml.'

3)  We say the second syllable in pajamas like 'father.'  They say it like 'jam.'

4)  We pronounce cot and caught the same way.  Sometimes they don't.

5)  We have yard sales.  They have rummage sales or tag sales.  Garages sales are common everywhere.

6)  If necessity demands it, we'll eat a sub sandwich.  They eat hoagies, grinders, or heroes.

7)  We know what crawdads are.  Some of them have heard of crayfish.

8)  We wear tennis shoes.  They wear sneakers or gym shoes.

9)  We put icing on a cake.  They use frosting.

10)  We put our groceries in a sack.  They put theirs in a bag.  Also, 'poke' received an honorable mention from central Appalachia.

11)  We drink from a water fountain.  They drink from bubblers.  'Drinking fountain' is used everywhere.

12)  We drink Coke and soft drinks.  They drink soda and pop.

13)  We roll houses.  They give houses a TPing or papering.

14)  Apparently, they attach several special meanings to the night before Halloween.  They have three names for it:  Devil's night (very common in Michigan), Mischief night (New York City and New Jersey), Cabbage night (Vermont and western Massachusetts.).

15)  They've never heard of drive through liquor stores.  We have three names for them: Brew Thru (Virginia and Carolinas), Beverage Barn (Texas), and Party Barn (Texas).

16)  That little bug that rolls into a ball when you touch it?  We call them rolly pollies.  They call them pillbugs, potato bugs, or sow bugs.

There was also the obvious one: y'all or you all instead of youse, you'uns, or yins.  There were also a couple that they missed the boat on, but it didn't throw off the scores enough to do any damage to the results.

Given the opportunity, I shouldn't neglect to mention a couple of words that I've only heard among my relatives in the Pee Dee region of South Carolina:

'ownchew-da-lissen!':  used to bring someone, usually children, to attention; a contraction of 'I want you to listen.'

'rongsid-oddurds':  used to describe something put on inside-out, as in an article of clothing; a contraction of 'wrong side outwards.'

In high school, I had a chemistry professor from Texas who frequently used the word 'wonslee!'  This was no doubt the same as 'oncely,' but he used it where most others say 'one time' or 'only once.'  It bore some semblance to the sound of 'durreckly,' as in 'I'll be back durreckly.'

This verbal independence column was created by Dr. Jim Kibler of Whitmire, South Carolina.  There are many, many books, articles, and studies on American linguistics and dialects.  This column has quickly become the first and best source to go to, to find the most important traits that make our language truly Southern - the qualities that qualify us for an ethnic category other than 'American.'

Anyone who has and uses the knowledge in these columns undoubtedly has a voice that does not sound like someone from just the United States.  This is a powerful thing.  Citizens from every nation on earth recognize its meaning.

So, the next time someone chides you for sounding like a geezer or hayseed, inflict your Southern-ness on them with impunity.  Transform yourself into a whirling dervish of bitterness and colloquialisms, if possible.  As Dr. Kibler once said, 'If you're going to be anything, at least be interesting.