Love it or use it everyday, I think theres an undeniable allure to the so-called Southern drawl.
As for me, I wasnt born with one. (Well, as we are all born without the learned art of speech, I suppose nobody is.) But what I mean to say here is that I seem to be acquiring one here in Memphis.
The power of dialect is amazing. Though invisible it carries with it some intrinsic power. Its as if the aura of a cultural region, the essence perhaps, is somehow injected into a statement with something so simple as the particular placement of ones lips and tongue.
If I went farther into the heart of the delta, there are surely those who would scoff at my claim that Im participating in anything remotely resembling a Southern accent. When I go to New Jersey there are those who scoff because I have.
But as a truly unique form of cultural commerce, language and dialect can of course be traded. The intriguing thing is that its done largely outside the context of a conscious
decision on the part of the speaker.
Recently, for example I found myself fixin to do something. Never before, understand, had I EVER fixed to do anything.
But this isnt some rehashed Yankee derision of Southern linguistics. Ive heard that when a woman leaves the South, she can get anything she wants with an accent like this!
Besides, Ill never get it quite right. After three years, I still havent learned to say my name in a manner thats not interpreted as Jan, Jane, or Jean. Its enough to make me want to change my name, and Ive become Jennifer in a few circles for lack of the will to attempt proper localized enunciation of my preferred nickname.
Furthermore, the transfer of dialect is never a complete process, that is, theres never a total transition from the tongue of ones home to the tongue of ones new horizons. (Isnt that an imageÉ)
Recently a friend of mine backed this theory up, informing me that when Ive had a beer or two the Jersey comes right back to the tip of the teeth. Bud Light number one, and Im drinking caw-fee again. Bud Light number two and a word like off, which has magically split into two syllables since I set up camp in Tennessee, goes right back to the Hudson river awf.
Language is endlessly fascinating to me, whether being practiced by yous up North, or yall down here.
I go into all of this because I went to a reading last night of poet Rodney Jones, whos poem Elegy for the Southern Drawl, published his collection of the same name, hits upon this theme of language and its power to define a region, to imbue it with something completely unique and beautiful.
It also hints at the fact that over time these dialects, these unique vocal patterns, can grow homogenized, can be lost.
How interesting it would have been to travel this countrys regions at the turn of the century before advances in travel and technology connected all of the disparate voices that colored our American landscape. How romantic.
And maybe its the people like me, the transplants, that lend themselves to the deterioration of dialect.
At the same time, though, I think the melding of voices tells a story of its own-if Im Tennessee by day and Jersey by night it expressing something unique about my own personal experience of the regions of this country.
And that, too, is beautiful.