Date: Mon, 25 Apr 1994 13:43:38 CDT


Subject: drawl

Since a discussion of accents that is parallel to the one on ADS-L is going on

on Linguist List, I am just going to re-post here my latest contribution

to the latter. -Mike Picone

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To: The Linguist List linguist[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Some more on drawl:

Recently in Chicago I had the occasion to see the TV add for Polaner jam

(I don't know if it's being run in the South, since I don't have a TV). It's

a fine example of the use of stigmatized white Southern accent for comic

effect. A colleague on ADS-L (Dick Demers) summarized it this way:

From: DEMERS 22-APR-1994

Subj: more drawl bashing

One of the commercials on 60 minutes last weekend was from the Polaner

Jam company. Several elegantly dressed people are sitting around what

looks like a dinner table. Several of the people ask for the Polaner

jam to be passed using almost Received P English. Suddenly you hear

a Gomer Pyle type voice saying "Would someone pass the jelly."

One lady almost faints at the use of the word "jelly" in describing

Polaner. The point is that the creators of the commercial felt

the need to underscore the person's lack of social awareness and

good breeding by giving him a southern accent. Somedays it all

seems hopeless. Dick

Let me add to the above another example a la Cokie Roberts of a

Southerner (raised in Georgia) who buys into the general convention of

drawl stigmatization. This comes from a very interesting piece on the

post-Civil War white Southern identity crisis compared with the search

for African-American identity. Interestingly, apart from the concession

to drawl bashing, it is in every other way

sensitive to Southern issues (and possibly helps shed light on

Cokie Roberts' adverse reaction to the senior Southern politician who she

chose to ridicule for his linguistic habits):

"Defeat in civil war cast whites in the region as inferior, certainly second-

class American citizens. Moreover, white Southerners, by virtue of their

emphasis on racial solidarity, lost touch with their European origins in the

procrustean bed of racial politics. They became Whites, or what George

Tindall called ethnic Southerners. ... As a self-conscious minority, white

Southerners have behaved curiosly in our republic. For much of their history

they have been as un-American as any group one might find. Thought of by

the dominant culture as lazy, ignorant, and mentally slow, their manner

of speech, the ungrammatical Southern drawl, only confirmed the suspicion.

Their leaders were worse. Knowing after Appomattox that none among them would

ever be elected president (a sure sign of second-class citizenship), Southern

politicians adopted a rhetoric and style that at its uproarious best was

called demagogic. ... Though the African-American experience defies comparison,

and indeed might be thought a gross affront even to attempt, might not close

scrutiny reveal the same comedy, tragedy, meanness and generosity found in

the white South?" - E. Culpepper Clark, Executive Assistant to the President,

University of Alabama, in a recent address to the Phi Beta Kappa honorary, as

reprinted in the Tuscaloosa News, April 24, 1994.

Finally, in reference to accents & actors, I overheard a relevant

conversation among theater goers last Friday at a Univ. of Alabama student

production. Two female students were comparing how

"bad" their accents were. It seems that one was not able to suppress hers

enough to be considered good acting fodder and so opted for set design as her

area of concentration. All the baggage that comes with a Southern accent is

acutely felt in this kind of a situation and can go far to frustrate a chosen

career that is media related.

Mike Picone

University of Alabama