Speakin’ Southern: Lesson One

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.

Step one:

Remove all g’s from any word ending in -ing. For example, swimming becomes swimmin’ and going becomes goin’.

I’m goin’ swimmin’ today.

Step two:

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.

Step three:

More than three people are ‘all y’all’.

Are all y’all goin’ swimmin’, or are just Tracy and Linda goin’ with me?

Step four:

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.

Goin’ shoppin’,



5 thoughts on “Speakin’ Southern: Lesson One

  1. Enjoyed Lesson One. My dad and uncle were southerners (WWII brought both to Washington State). Loved reading letters from our relatives and deciphering them! “Shor nuff” was a favorite! What I particularly remember was how my face muscles and jaw would be sore due to slowing down the speed of my speech after a few days when visiting. It fell into place so naturally though.


  2. Well, I love it when those actors from California try to act in movies about the South. Their fake accents crack me up, ya’ll!

    And don’t say “sweet tea”. Tea should always be sweet if you are in the South, so it’s just “tea”.


    • Yes, I learned that the hard way! My cousins all had a good laugh on me when I took my first gulp of ice cold tea and discovered they basically drank syrup!! Was I ever surprised! At 13, it was all I could do to keep from spitting it out!!


  3. So funny! My husband grew up (for the most part) in FL. He speaks Southern extremely well, especially if he’s been on the phone with anyone south of the Mason/Dixon line. Me, not so much. I went to college in the south, but never picked up the lingo. I always say ‘you guys’. When we lived in Maine and my hubby pastored up there, he went to ‘language school’ with a Mainer in our church. This guy taught him how to speak Maine. It actually helped!

    Such a fun post. I enjoyed it.


  4. I moved from rural NW TN 12 years ago, and came to Memphis. To this day, some of my coworkers just don’t understand that icin’ a cake is what I do. Or, I’m eating the icin’ off the cake. I don’t eat the icing from anything! 🙂


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