How And Why I Lost My Texan Accent AKA The Y'all Drawl
For The Record, This Is Not Yours Truly, But He Makes A Lot Of Sense!
Hey, Doesn't Everyone Talk Like This?
I was born and raised in SE Texas where the southern drawl was, needless to say, prevalent. I thought my ingrained accent was simply a part of the way people communicated. Little did I realize people living in California and New York spoke differently: I just assumed that everyone walked and talked Texan.
In fact, I had no idea that I owned a heavy accent until my first year in college. I was a class AAAA pitcher in high school and was heavily recruited for a full ride baseball scholarship. I chose St. John's in Kansas.
Imagine, speaking a certain 'Southern' way for 19 years and all of a sudden you are left to fend for yourself in the "Northern" state of Kansas.
Evidently, my accent was not terrible... at least I slipped through the loud-mouthed censors until the 3rd. week of college.
The Flag Football Game
I truly liked the campus in Kansas . . . to this 19-year-old kid it was heaven.
- Go to class
- Play Baseball
Not necessarily in that order.
One Friday night, the entire male population in our dorm decided to play a game of flag football. All well - all good... until - someone on the other team dropped a pass and I blurted out something like "y'all suck!"
Little did I know there were about 6 co-eds watching "the boys" play football. One of the girls picked up on my southern-drawled-y'all-statement and about 5 seconds later the razz began... "say y'all for us", "is that how y'all talk in Texas?"
On and on this diatribe continued until I smoothly slithered away - crawling to my dorm room for the night.
Right then; right there I knew my accent was MUCH more than just a different way of talking. My accent represented a slanted view of Texans. Within the blink of an eye, I realized my accent made me seem stupid and uneducated. I wanted to go back to Texas - back home - where I would be accepted; where no one would look at me as being ignorant for using the term, "y'all".
I may as well have been talking to a wall during long distance phone calls charged to my parent's phone. I called every night, begging them to let me come home. They would hear nothing of that possibility.
When I finally realized they were not going to give in to my crying jags, I quit calling, but I made a life-changing decision. I decided to LOSE the southern drawl - completely; totally!
The tape recorder
This activity took place in the early 1970s... long before digital recording, now so prevalent, was nothing more than a pipe dream. The cassette recorder was the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) of the day and I will never forget the first time I heard my voice on tape. I remember thinking, "my god, I hope no one heard THAT!"
After hearing my voice for the first time, I could see why and how the 6 girls were so rightly judgemental. I sounded like a country bumpkin; no ifs, ands or buts. My voice made Larry the Cable Guy sound metropolitan!
I didn't want to talk for the remainder of the current semester.
Knowing that was impossible, I continued to work on changing a drawl to a non-descript accent. Unfortunately one of my classes that semester was Speech! O My God, how I dreaded Tuesdays and Thursdays, the 2 days of the week when I was required to stand up and talk in front of students from LA, New York, and other places north of Amarillo, Texas.
I remember shaking like a leaf caught in a hurricane before my speeches. I survived Speech class, and as each day passed, I lost a little more of my now unwanted drawl.
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Long story; short
I'm not going to lie and say I lost all of my southern drawl that year. The reality is, 10 years passed before I unlearned the accent I so wanted to lose.
No doubt, I have come a long way in a quest to lose what I perceived to be a handicap - the Texas drawl.
I now feel comfortable speaking in front of groups , speaking on-camera and especially speaking as a narrator.
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My Southern California Confirmation
Moving ahead many years to 2000, I remember dating a girl who lived in San Marcos, California (I was working and living in Escondido, CA).
One night, these old memories came back to me in a flood. For whatever reason, I wanted to know what people in California thought of the Texas drawl. By then, I fit right in to the California scene, meaning I had lost ALL traces of a southern accent and my personality naturally melded with the Southern Cali attitudes and laid back lifestyle.
So, I asked her this question... "Do you think people with a pronounced southern accent sound stupid?" She stammered and delayed but she finally said, "Well, I must admit, they do sound a bit slow on the uptake."
An honest answer... THE honest answer!
Losing my accent may not be right for ALL southerners, but it was right for me. Why? My new 'voice' produced:
- The ability to freely discuss any subject with any person
- Removal of the inhibiting "what are they thinking of me" questions
- The knowledge to know I can stand in front of 1,000s of people knowing I am not being wrongly judged by a long lost southern drawl.
So, what do you think?
Almost 40 years have passed since the infamous flag football game. In that time, I have sometimes wondered if I over-reacted to the accent mocking incident. Although I don't regret losing my southern drawl, I wonder if working so hard to lose it was that big a deal.
Answer the poll question (below) because I would really like to document your thoughts on the southern drawl, AKA a Texas accent. Your answers will help answer that question ruminating inside this noggin' for many years:
"Was I over-reacting to the teasing or is the southern accent detrimental to one's image?"
The Texas, Southern Drawl Cowboy Hat Poll
Do you think a pronounced southern accent makes a person seem ignorant or stupid?
© 2010 James Ranka