American Southern: Soft-R Introduction

Posted by Jim Johnson on March 16, 2013 0 Comments

On my recent dialect recording trip to Nashville, I got to visit the home of President (and General) Andrew Jackson.  Appropriately enough, a number of the folks giving the tours had variations in Southern accents, including quite a bit of R dropping, which is commonly associated with the Southern plantation sound.

Here's a brief introduction to the classic Soft-R Southern accent:

 

 

I go into a couple of the major mistakes that people commonly make with this accent:

People assume that this Dropped R classic Southern accent is THE way that Southerners talk.  Julia Roberts does it pretty regularly with almost every Southerner she portrays, even when they're from Texas - and the real-life person doesn't drop her R's!  What up with that?!

Julia Roberts:

 

And the actual Joanne Herring:

 

This Soft-R Southern is not the way Southerners talk... it's A Southern accent, but it is far from THE Southern accent.

This American Southern Soft-R accent is dying out. It's most appropriate for period pieces rather than contemporary speakers, though you will still hear it from older speakers today.  At the Hermitage - Jackson's plantation - we heard a number of guides who were from the Nashville area.  The older ones tended to drop their R's while the younger ones tended to keep the Hard-R American Southern accent more common today.

The second big warning:  Don't feel at ALL like you need to go breathy to get this dropped-R sound right.  That is NOT an element of the accent, though you hear it in Hollywood films all the time:

 Streetar Named Desire:

You can be from the South and still use your voice to its full capacity.  It is allowed.

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