Mourning the death of the drawl, y’all

April 12, 2013 

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‘Worshing machines” will not be something future archeologists dig up from our 21st century detritus. “Y’all” will not appear on the preservation agenda of any historical commission. And a second syllable in “bed” will not be shored up by legislation written in the seawall vein, hoping against hope to stop the inevitable erosion of our distinct dialects into a sea of sameness.

Yet our language peculiarities seem as culturally interesting and important as any museum-housed artifact and any extinction among them worthy to be mourned.

So let us prepare the funeral flowers (fliers?) in Raleigh for the Southern accent, which, according to an ongoing N.C. State linguistics study, has grown more scarce with every generation since IBM and other companies transplanted thousands of employees here in the mid-1960s.

Unfortunately, we can’t put two-syllable diphthongs on North Carolina’s endangered species list with the piping plover.

Anyone with a child who has gone through Wake County schools understands that speech patterns are influenced more by peers than by parents, as NCSU researchers affirm. After years spent side by side with children from Michigan, New Jersey and New Delhi, the progeny of Raleigh natives aren’t likely to be writing any papuhs by the time they leave high school.

We can appreciate the finer advantages of our societal melting pot, but it’s sad to lose some of the Southern flavor just the same.

It’s comforting that NCSU professor Robin Dodsworth and her colleagues are preserving our way with words as they record and analyze generations of residents in what has already been a five-year study of Raleigh’s disappearing dialect. Fortunately, residents have been quick to volunteer for the project to make sure those drawn-out vowels aren’t forever lost.

But we have to wonder how long it will be before we lose that favorite ice-breaker: exploring language with folks we meet from other places. No one will ask what we call a carbonated beverage – Pop? Soda? Soda pop? Coke – whether we mash the button or cut out the lights, whether caught and cot are homonyms in our worlds.

With so many in today’s generation talking less and texting more, we reckon we should just be satisfied with the thought of there being any spoken words at all. LOL has no accent.

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