Downtown Dialects

The lady in the painting is my great-great-great grandmother, Caroline Poincignon Trouche, who was born in 1810, and I would love to have heard her and other Charlestonians from that era speak. As a child I had conversations with a great aunt who was born about the time Caroline died, so I can say with some authority as to what Charlestonians like her sounded like long ago, and it was not like those phony Southern stereotypes in movies or on TV, or in the case of a New Jersey-born tour guide in Savannah, who puts on a fake accent that’s a cross between Gone With The Wind and the Beverley Hillbillies. My great aunt did not “drawl”, nor did Caroline, but spoke much the same as I do now, and anyone living in Charleston today who drawls obviously learned that way of speech from somewhere outside the old city. And by drawl I mean pronunciations like “pay-ohnds” for “pounds”….which you can hear as much in Indiana as anywhere else. The British influence on Charleston speech was very much the standard in what was a well-educated society like Caroline’s French immigrant parents, and this explains what many visitors think is a Canadian accent when we say “house” almost like “hoose” and soften consonant endings in words like “car” very much as English people do today, and many of us still add a “y” sound to certain words such as “cyar” for an automobile and “gyarden” for the place you grow flowers.
Beginning in the 1730’s there were large numbers of Scots and Irish moving to Charleston for more than a century, adding a brogue sound to the mix that is very similar to what I heard in Northern Ireland. They gave some words a double-syllable sound , as well as compressing the vowels in others. Thus “gate” sounded like “gehyet”, “boat” like “bowat” and “door” like “dowah”, while compressing “line” to sound like “loyn”, “fish” like “fush” and “to” like “toe”. What these combinations did would eventually lead to exclusively pronunciations – “Cooper” is pronounced like “look” or “cook”, “Gourdin” is pronounced “goodine”, “Gaillard” is “gilyard”, and “Horry” is “ORE-ee”. And of course “y’all” became the standard for any group of others and shows how badly Charleston speech traditions have been eroded by recent transplants who have largely replaced it with the awful “you guys” that sometimes sounds like “you gice”. Women are not “guys” and “y’all” or “you all” is much more correct and pleasant sounding. <img.src=”Charleston Culture” alt=”Local Accents”

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