People from the American South have distinctive ways of speaking. But losing the accent has become big business. It’s easy to find companies that charge big bucks to teach you to lose your Southern accent. Salvation South editor Chuck Reece wonders why you would want to. Our accents, he argues, are as diverse as our region’s population.

To 'R' Is Human
Credit: Collage by Jake Cook


Chuck Reece: Hearing is how people outside the South first identify those of us from inside the South. How we talk tips people off faster than any other factor.

But if you ask a non-Southerner to imitate a Southern accent, their source material will typically come from movies or television shows.

Like this…

Vivian Leigh as Scarlett O’ Hara: Ooh! Why, Charles Hamilton, you handsome old thing, you!

Chuck Reece: Scarlett O’ Hara, of course. Or this…

Dixie Carter as Julia Sugarbaker: And you probably didn’t know, Marjorie, that Suzanne was not any Miss Georgia, she was the Miss Georgia.

Chuck Reece: Dixie Carter playing Julia Sugarbaker on the '80s TV show, Designing Women.

Or this…

Jimmy Carter: I promised you a president who shares your dreams, and who draws his strength and his wisdom from you.

Chuck Reece: Between Scarlett O’Hara and Julia Sugarbaker and the presidency of Georgia’s own Jimmy Carter, a certain common understanding of the Southern accent was cemented in the minds of most Americans: an accent with distinctively soft "R" sounds.

Scarlett’s “Charles Hamilton.” Julia’s “Marjorie, Suzanne was the Miss Georgia.” And President Carter’s “Who shares your dreams and draws his strength…”

Now, most of us who grew up with a Southern accent of any kind know this soft-"R" manner of speaking is just one of many Southern accents.

As for me, I don’t believe I ever heard that soft-"R" Southern drawl until I watched Jimmy Carter on television when I was a teenager — well, except for maybe those Foghorn Leghorn cartoons.

Foghorn Leghorn: Let’s see what your makin’ there, boy. Looks like sody-pop!

Chuck Reece: My father explained that President Carter spoke the way people from South Georgia spoke. We lived in North Georgia, in the Appalachian foothills and our Rs were not soft at all.

I was reminded of this recently. Salvation South, the online magazine I edit, published an essay by Katie Mitchell, a writer who grew up near to where I did. And In her piece, which was called “Rich Dirt” she wrote about her North Georgia accent. How it still creeps into her speech, despite her arduous graduate-school education. Now here is a small passage from Katie’s essay:

If you come home with me, you will not hear that lilting, melodic speech pattern of Julia Sugarbaker with her missing soft vowels and missing R’s. Where I grew up, we add R’s. To certain older people where I grew up, it was not an 'idea' but an 'idear'. Not a 'pillow' but a 'piller'.

Yes, I admit that I recall laying my head on a “piller” when I went to bed ever’ night.

There isn’t one Southern accent. There are hundreds. To all my fellow Southerners, I say this: Just talk how you talk. Never be ashamed of it. There isn’t one Southern voice. There are tens of thousands.

When you visit us at, you can find a whole bunch of them.

Salvation South editor Chuck Reece comments on Southern culture and values in a weekly segment that airs Fridays at 7:45 a.m. during Morning Edition and 4:44 p.m. during All Things Considered on GPB Radio. You can also find them here at and please download and subscribe on your favorite podcast platform as well.