I’m a Southerner. I was born in the South, raised in the South, and, except for a long-term missions trip to California and a few, deeply disturbing days in Kalamazoo, have lived in the South my whole life. It’s where my family is, where my favorite foods are, and where my favorite smells are.
I’m part bloodhound.
My Southerness became an issue when I moved to California a few years back and took a job teaching English to international students. In layman’s terms, people from across the ocean had forked out multiple thousands of dollars for their children to have one or more years of English instruction by a native, American English speaker.
They didn’t pay for y’alls and naws.
So, while I was teaching, I had to pretend like I knew what I was doing pronunciation-wise. It was easy. I just copied the lady on the nightly news. However, when my students saw me at, say, a football game or in detention, they got the real me, the Southerner.
Hearing me speak in my natural vernacular fascinated them. And not only the international students, either. The native Californians were equally intrigued. After a missions trip or two to the South, a few of them enrolled in Southern colleges and universities. Wanting to fit in at college, they made the pilgrimage to my classroom and, later, my office to learn to speak Southern.
Being the only native speaker for miles around, I felt obliged to comply.
Here’s the first, most basic lesson I gave them.
Remove all g’s from any word ending in -ing. For example, swimming becomes swimmin’ and going becomes goin’.
I’m goin’ swimmin’ today.
Two or three people are not referred to as ‘you guys’. Two or three people are y’all.
Y’all want to go swimmin’ with me?
In this case, a total of three or four people would be going swimming: the two or three I just invited and me.
More than three people are ‘all y’all’.
Are all y’all goin’ swimmin’, or are just Tracy and Linda goin’ with me?
Carbonated beverages are Cokes. Even if they are, chemically, Pepsi’s.
Person 1: Would you like a Coke?
Person 2: Sure.
Person 1: What kind?
Person 2: I’ll have a Sprite.
End lesson one.
It’s been my experience that that amount of information was about all anybody could handle at once. By the time I got to the Coke bit, they usually went into some sort of hyperdrive because asking for a Pepsi by asking for a Coke is, by nature, illogical and more than the non-native mind can handle sometimes.
I get that. It is what it is.
Without fail, though, I’d see my international and domestic students walking around campus practicing their newfound skill. Then, I’d turn my attention to their teachers, see the pain on their faces, and chuckle to myself. Hey, I’m bridging the gap between nations here, and all it took was a Coke!
And, once the kids found out how fun this novel way of speaking was, they’d always come back for lesson two.