"They should speak Southern." That's the response I got from a director yesterday in response to an inquiry I'd made about accents for a musical I'm doing pre-production work on. But speak Southern doesn't say a whole lot, really.
The Southern accents label covers a lot of ground. With this production, it helps that it is a period piece of the late 1800's because most of the flatlands of the South at that time shared a non-rhotic Southern accent.
Rhotic refers to the "R-ness" of an accent, so non-rhotic means that R's that appear after vowels tend to be dropped. Standard British and most other British accents are non-rhotic. Many New York accents and Boston accents are non-rhotic as well.
Southern rhotic accents were largely focused in the mountains of the Ozarks and Appalachia in the 19th and early 20th century, whereas the Southern non-rhotic was prevalent throughout much of the rest of the South.
This is part of why it's important to know what time period a play or film takes place in to help determine the accents. Accents are continuing to change and develop over time. The recordings we include with the AccentHelp downloads are all of contemporary people, though with some of the non-rhotic speakers, it's helpful to have recorded some older people from the south who retain more of that feature.
Whenever we create an accent download, we have to make a decision about how to categorize the accent, how wide or narrow to make our focus. With Southern accents, we've focused them into two primary subdivisions of rhotic Southern and non-rhotic Southern: American Southern Hard-R & Soft-R.
The Hard-R covers such a broad category that we have two additional downloads of recordings that expand what is available. (We do offer a discount for buying the whole package of Southern accents - just enter Bundle at the checkout when you pick up all four, and one of them is free.)
More Southern Accents
There are still more variations in the South, though. New Orleans Yat is a very specific accent, as is the Louisiana Cajun accent. Texas has its own variations, so we feature it in another download as well (with a second volume of additional recordings.) A download for African-American Vernacular will include quite a few recordings from all over the South, and we have a specific download for the African-American Gullah accent that occurs along the coast in South Carolina and Georgia.
It's not enough to say that you need to speak Southern, though there are common interpretations of that phrase that most people make assumptions about, including directors and dialect coaches. I not only speak Southern, I speak stereotypes.