Reasons to Love Memphis No. 49: Our Accents

Posted by Holly Whitfield | October 18th 2011 6702 0

The Memphis accent is a beautiful thing.

No Lurkin'!

This may come as a surprise to those of you who don’t live in the South, but all Southern accents don’t sound alike. The thick, honeyed drawl that one you’ve probably heard in movies or on TV is more closely associated with rural areas and the Deep South.

The Memphis accent is more delicate. It’s in the way we pronounce our vowels and slightly slur our consonants. It’s not a drawl so much as a lilt.

It’s one of the things that bothers me most when movies and shows are set in Memphis. Most of the time, the actors way overshoot the accent, catapulting it from the Mid-South to somewhere between a bad stereotype and rural Alabama. (One notable exception is Craig Brewer’s “Hustle and Flow” – it’s pretty dead on.)

I was thinking about this today because fellow Memphis blogger Kalisa posted her “accent vlog“. The accent vlog has been circulating for the last few days, and it’s a pretty cool way to see how other people talk. Basically, you read a list of standard words and then answer a handful of questions in your normal voice so that others can hear how you pronounce them.

I’ll show you mine if you show me yours:

As a sidenote, the list didn’t include a lot of the words that regularly fall victim to my accent. I’ve been told that “bacon” and “baking” sound the same coming out of my mouth, as do “pen” and “pin”.

So, what’s your accent like? What do you think a Memphis accent is, exactly?

Author: Holly Whitfield

I write about what’s going on with Memphis music, food, arts, events, sports, people, and culture. Memphians love Elvis and barbeque with a passion that must be seen to be believed, but there is so much more to this place.

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  1. Bo says:

    That was interesting, lol…

  2. Andrea O says:

    I did an accent vlog from a list that was being passed along Tumblr…here’s mine from a few months ago-

  3. Joey says:

    Love it, Kerry! Good job.

    I would’ve mentioned that many Memphians have less of a traditional “Tennessee southern accent” like one would find in Nashville or Knoxville or Chattanooga. I believe we have more of a Midwestern-ish version of a Tennessee accent – in the sense that we don’t sound as Southern. I mean to say that Memphians are more likely to sound like people from St. Louis than from East Tennessee.

    Just my opinion.

  4. Carrie says:

    I’ve always called sunshine through rain ” the devil beating his wife”. I have no earthly idea why weather would be related to evil spousal abuse, but it was what my Mamaw told that it was called when I was little.

  5. LisaK says:

    Are Saint Lewis soccer team is kummin’ to Mamfis for a tern a mint. I tried to write that like we talk. We are confused in St Loo. Southern like Arkansas, black street, Irish, with some lurking Chicago Pole. I will tell the boys to slow down when addressing folks, er “fokes”!

  6. Elizabeth says:

    You can tell someone is from Kentucky by the way we put an e in there where the a is supposed to go. Sounds like “deddy.”

  7. Crystal says:

    The response to the the rain/ sun question, so I’ve heard, is… ” the devil is beating his wife.” You could also preface the phrase by saying, “I guess…” or “the devil must be beating his wife”.
    It really doesn’t make any sense but I grew up in Memphis since age 4 ( now 30) and oddly I’ve heard the expression hundreds of times.

  8. Marcia says:

    LOL, Elizabeth. You forgot they say Kentecky! They have odd sounding words more than accents.

    We Memphians, as is true of all Southerners, have no accent.

  9. M.Spence says:

    Too cute!!!

  10. Andrea O says:

    I think it also has to do with our parents, and our families, who are our first mimics. I have a mother born and raised in Memphis and a father from northern Illinois, who has lived in Memphis since 1974. A grandmother is from Chicago, so I have a mix of Southern and northern voices in my life.

  11. Chihuahua0 says:

    Ooo! What timing! I decided to look up “memphis accent”…because I wanted to know what my narrator would sound like.

    I’m writing a young adult novel right now that’s set in Memphis. I had been lazy with my research (I plucked a few real places for my story, but I rely on Google Maps :/), but I’ll scan through this blog to see what I can use to inject some local flavor into the story and make it feel more real, instead of being a Midwester’s version of a Southern city. Research is important.

  12. marjorie says:

    And for my money, “ya’ll” is spelled “ya’ll”…not the “y’all” that my iPod and email is always trying to correct me to! What do you think, ma’am? 🙂

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