I received a letter from a reader named Patrick, in Montclair, New Jersey. Patrick is twenty-three and married to Amy, who is from Dothan, Alabama.
Patrick writes: “I cannot understand my wife when she talks! She actually uses the word ‘yonder.’
“But the weirdest thing for me is that whenever my wife leaves a store or something, she says farewell to the clerk by saying: ‘Ight now, be good.’
“WHAT IN THE WORLD DOES THAT MEAN? Help me learn Southern English, Sean.”
Patrick, you’ve come to the right person. I can help you. The first thing to do is sit down, relax, eat something with saturated fat, and listen to a Gaither Family record.
The first thing to know about Southern English is that it is all about syllables. In this part of the world, single-syllable words can become fifteen, sometimes sixteen-syllable words.
For instance, you might have heard the word “chair” pronounced as a one-syllable word in New Jersey. It’s alright, there’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Your wife, however, likely pronounces this word as “CHAY-yurr.” Southerners add these extra syllables to words because this is America and you can’t tell me what to do, sucker.
Other words with extra syllables would be:
“Floor” (FLO-wurr), “tail” (TAY-yull), “God” (GAH-wud), and the name “Bill” (Willie).
Also: “Bed” (BAY-yud), “fan” (FAY-unn), “him” (HEE-yulm), “sand” (SAY-yend), “Todd” (TAH-wud), “it” (EE-yit), “leg” (LAY-yig), “Fred” (FRAY-yed), and “piano” (panner).
Keep in mind, these are not strict rules. Pronunciations may vary from region to region. One glaring exception that comes to mind would be the word “tire.”
Residents in Lower Alabama, for instance, pronounce “tire” with two syllabes (TIE-yurr). Whereas if you were to visit the Sand Mountain region, they would pronounce it as “tar” then throw a rattlesnake at you.
We also have compound words which fall under the classification of “please-repeat-yourself” words. Linguistic scientists call…