AA: I'm Avi Arditti with Rosanne Skirble, and this week on Wordmaster: more of our discussion of language in the American South.
RS: We're talking with a woman in Alabama named Donna Akins. All she wanted was an answer to a grammar question. But we also gave her an invitation to talk about Southern speech, and the reactions elsewhere to this distinctive "brand" of American English.
DONNA AKINS: "So often I think the Southern language is automatically considered that if you hear that dialect, that it's an uneducated person, and I think that may be part of the reason that so many of our people are getting away from the expressions that are truly Southern. But it's just like any regional dialect; if you listen long enough, you'll figure it out. Or by all means ask us. We're more than happy to tell you what a certain phrase or expression means."
AA: "Interestingly there's a growing popularity now of what they call the redneck humor. Now that's nothing new, but I guess there's now a touring group of stand-up comedians."
DONNA AKINS: "Yeah! They're true Southerners, and I think they're hilarious. I love to watch their shows."
RS: And so do a lot of people all around the country. Here is Jeff Foxworthy, one of the four members of the “Blue Collar Comedy Tour.”
JEFF FOXWORTHY: "People hear me talk, they automatically want to deduct a hundred I.Q. points. Because apparently the Southern accent is not the world's most intelligent sounding accent. You know, and to be honest, none of us would want to hear our brain surgeon say, 'Aw right, now what we're going to do is, saw the top of your head off, root around in there with a stick and see if we can't find that dadburn clot.' It'd be like, 'No thanks, I'll just die, O.K.? [laughter]"
DONNA AKINS: "It's just like family. It's O.K. if we say anything about our Aunt Gertrude or our Uncle Sam. We just don't want anybody else doing it."
RS: "Can you give us some more examples or words or phrases that are used now?"
DONNA AKINS: "One that I think is a real neat word that I'm hearing dying out too is 'yonder': 'We're going over yonder' or 'Just take me over yonder.' I had someone tell me that they'd said that a younger person the other day, and they were like 'Where is yonder?'"
AA: "And that means?"
RS: "Over there?"
AA: "Just over there."
DONNA AKINS: "Right over there. You'd probably be saying it as you were pointing."
AA: "Now what about the word ‘reckon’, which is still used in British English, but you don't hear it much in the United States anymore."
DONNA AKINS: "Yeah, we still use that in the South. 'I reckon I'll do that.' It may be used when you're just not quite sure that you're going to do it, or you're not quite sure about an answer. 'I reckon that's true,' or 'I reckon I'll go.' So that would mean I haven't quite made up my mind yet.
"There are new terms. Of course, as we watch television and see programs our children are picking up words that are used on MTV and the different programs, just like the rest of the country picks up. And I get a big kick out of my 15-year-old son. He's always coming home saying things that are funny that I don't think are necessarily Southern, but things like, 'I'm not down wi' dat [with that]."
RS: "Like my 15-year-old son is saying."
DONNA AKINS: "Yes, that's right! That's right! I don't think that's Southern at all. I think that that's just ... "
AA: "That's urban slang."
DONNA AKINS: "Exactly. And I hear that a lot in the little town that I live in. We have about a 40 percent minority population, and you hear the cultures melding a lot, African-American and white American. You hear a lot of melding of the cultures of the kids who spend a lot of time together and pick up on each other's phrases and use them interchangeably."
RS: "You know, I note a little sadness in your voice in the fact that the Southern American dialect is really losing ground."
DONNA AKINS: "It is sad to me. But it's amazing, you can travel to just little communities outside the area where I live, and I don't live in a very large area at all, but more rural areas, and you'll hear -- it's just like stepping back in time. You know, we can play, my son's high school basketball team can play a team in one of those smaller areas and it's just like stepping back in time when you hear the other parents there talking, and I think it's really neat.
"I think that a lot of the losing of the language is out of embarrassment, the fear of feeling like or sounding like you're less intelligent."
RS: Helping us figure out the language down South ... Donna Akins in Sheffield, Alabama.
AA: And that's Wordmaster for this week. You can find the first part of our interview with Donna Akins on our Web site, voanews.com/wordmaster. And our e-mail address is [email protected] With Rosanne Skirble, I'm Avi Arditti.
MUSIC: "Stars Fell on Alabama"/Jack Teagarden