Friday, November 6, 2009

Where Have All the Consonants Gone? (A South Carolina query)

Would someone tell me, please, what it is that Southerners have against consonants? Dropped vowels I understand, but I've always viewed consonants as non-arbitrary elements to most words.

And, as in so many instances, I was, of course, completely wrong.

I have this little game I play when I cross state lines. Whenever I see one of those "Welcome to _____!" signs, I turn the radio on and listen to whatever station comes in the first, trying to see whether it syncs up with that particular moment or place.
The 1812 Overture began exactly as I crossed into Virginia.
Entering into North Carolina, it was Goodbye Stranger, by Supertramp.
By the time I reached South Carolina I'd turned off the radio, but flipped it on again when I saw the Welcome sign. After a brief stint of static, I stumbled onto an all-request bluegrass show.
"Nice," I thought, and settled back in my seat. When the song ended, the show's host -a cheerful, 'den mother-y' sounding woman- began a long series of shout-outs to her loyal listeners, many of whom were tuning in from pickup trucks in their backyards.
It was eerily akin to hearing Paula Dean channel Garrison Keillor.

I was hooked.

Never in my life I been so captivated by a radio announcer's voice (with the possible exception of my 'This American Life' phase. Then again, I like to think I'm genetically programmed to fall for a nebbish, brilliantly sardonic intellectual, so the Ira Glass thing was only a matter of time). Finishing her fan correspondences, the woman laughed.
"Way-ell, folks, trucks shure are a pop'ler place t'be lis'nin' from t'night."
Enthralled, I lis'ned, wide-eyed, from my car.
"An' before Ah forgit, Ah'aughta tell y'all 'bout the upcoming church dinnner, this Sa'erdee..."
I'm sure she did talk about the dinner, but by that point I was already lost in a river of sorghum molasses and sweet potato pie, buffeted about by gently floating peaches and giant barbeque ribs. Saturday. Saerdee. Saaaaah-errrr-deee.

When I came to, I was pulled over in a field of cotton, my jaw slightly open, mouthing the word "Sa'erdee" over and over again to the sound of empty static.
Never in all my travels have I found myself in the midst of a group of native English speakers who so thoroughly, unintentionally bogart the English language, suck the Shakespeare'd marrow out, and replace it with rolling mouthfuls of grits.

My friend Scotty called me later that day, and I asked him for an explanation, figuring he'd be a bit of an authority on the subject. Scotty himself is the possessor of a fine, multi-syllable Pennsylvania drawl, a phenomenon I'm more than happy to listen to. (If menfolk want to walk around my part of the world sounding like Sawyer from Lost, I have no objections).
"But what possible objection," I asked Scotty, "Could the people of South Carolina have to proper diction? What's so bad about consonants that they feel the need to remove them from the centers of words? And where on Earth do they put them??"
Scotty had no answer.

I can only assume it has something to do with the War of Northern Aggression.
Perhaps, in addition to scurrilous politics and opportunistic confidence men, the carpetbaggers also brought along an excess of Yankee inflections and intonations, and the decimated but still rebellious region's been flipping us the verbal bird ever since, bless our little hearts.

Some things are beyond mere mortal comprehension.

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