When I first moved to Illinois from Tennessee and North Carolina, I realized that I did not pronounce several words the way that people there did. I’d always said that “ahrnges” grew in “Flahr-uh-duh,” but in that Yankee-land, they hardly understood me. I said that “a-kerns” grew on oak trees, but my students corrected me to say “a-corns.” I soon understood that I was differnt—different, that is. I’m sure many other strange pronunciations confused people, but those are some I remember.
When I visited Tennessee, some of my relatives teased me about how my speech had changed. When our daughter was about four and visiting there, my aunt said, “Well, listen to the little Yankee!” Actually, that’s what she meant; what she said, very slowly, was, “Way-uhl, listen ta thuh little Yang-kee!” Hard to even know how to draw it out properly in print.
I was reminded of that when someone asked me a question today and I answered, “Dudn’t matter.” What? How did I slide back into my childhood pronunciation of doesn’t?
Of course, everyone in Yankee-land doesn’t pronounce everything perfectly, either. One of the most common that I hear is youse guys. Calling everyone “guys” is bad enough, but throwing that plural (I guess) on you is just strange. And it’s so common in Cincinnati. I’ll just stick to my you all, and even sometimes y’all. Much more inclusive and maybe even grammatical. When I taught contractions to my Kentucky third graders, I should have included y’all.
Steve, being from Indiana, said “crick” for “creek.” He’s now so cured of that that he hesitates even to say he has a crick in his neck. He still has trouble saying “chaperone” instead of “chaferone,” so I just encourage him to avoid the word. He fits right in around Cincinnati when he says caramel “CAR-muhl” instead of “CARE-uh-muhl.”
In North Carolina, Steve’s department chair pronounced every syllable in poinsettia and I thought that was so wrong. I’d always said “poin-set-ta.” Finally my eyes were opened and I saw that i before that final a. Ah! So it is actually “poin-SET-ih-uh.” Folks around here have always pronounced that one clearly.
I’ve noticed that friends in the black community here say “ahnt” while whites say “ant” for aunt. Either is way better that the ain’t I grew up saying—not as a contraction for am not, for my parents would never have allowed that, but to talk about my parents’ siblings, such as Ain’t Mina and Ain’t Juanita.
The summer after I graduated from high school, I worked in Washington, D. C. I made a new friend there and for weeks I thought her name was John until I saw it in writing—Joan. Really? Of course she was from the northeast.
In case you wonder about the origins of some terms, you can take the “Are You a Rebel or a Yankee?” test. You can click on each answer to see where that term is most often used. Many of the questions deal with the term used rather than pronunciation. Leave your answer on the way you say it and you’ll get a score at the end. Mine was “84%–Do you still use Confederate money?”
So if you found yourself using any of these pronunciations I mentioned, I hope you aren’t offended. It’s all about where you grew up and has nothing to do with intelligence or knowing grammar. But if you are just confused, all I can add is that wonderful Southern expression: “Bless your heart!”