published Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

Southern accents are most attractive, survey shows

Nada Hyde walks through Miller Plaza.
Nada Hyde walks through Miller Plaza.
Brett Clark
Poll
Is the southern accent the most attractive?

Christy Smith fell for her husband's Southern accent before she ever laid eyes on him. The Washington state native met her husband through a dating website while they were living on the West Coast. They talked on the phone for a couple of weeks before meeting.

"I could listen to him talk forever," Smith said she remembers thinking of her now-husband Chig Martin, who is originally from Rossville.

Who can resist a sweet, Southern lilt? Not many, it turns out.

A Southern drawl is the most attractive accent in North America, according to a new survey by the dating website Cupid.com. Of the 2,000 people polled, 36.5 percent said that Southern accents were the most attractive. In second place was the New York accent, with 16.5 percent of the vote.

Smith ended up following Martin from the West Coast back to Tennessee and marrying him.

But as any good redneck joke would indicate, a Southern accent is not beloved by all. Charles Doyle, an English professor at the University of Georgia who specializes in Southern American English, was surprised by the survey results. Often, he explained, "a Southern accent has been regarded as comical or even stupid."

Doyle wonders if perhaps the people who were polled think a Southern accent is "attractive" because they see it as "nonthreatening" or they associate it with "our supposed Southern gentility."

The accent dates back to the earliest settlers in the American South. Doyle explained that "midland" Southern speech was strongly influenced by Scottish-Irish immigrants. And "coastal" or "lowland" Southern speech developed among the earliest coastal immigrants.

Eventually, those immigrants moved west. And by the time the next wave of immigrants arrived on the Southern coast, the British English spoken there had already developed some of the characteristics we associate with Southern accents today, like the treatment of the letter "r" after a vowel. For example, the word "other" was pronounced more like "othah."

For Emily Forrest, a Nashville native who now lives in Chattanooga, it's the way her husband introduces himself ("Hi, Tyler Forrest") that she finds most endearing. The way he says "hi" sounds more like "ha." But she didn't always find it adorable. In fact, when the two met as students at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, before they started dating seriously, she would do impressions of him to her roommate. But now, she thinks his accent is cute. (And she can still do a good impression.)

Forrest even hopes their children get Tyler's accent.

"Because I think it's precious," she said, "and I wouldn't trade it for the world."

Contact staff writer Mary Helen Miller at mhmiller@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6324.

about Mary Helen Miller...

Mary Helen Miller joined the staff at the Chattanooga Times Free Press as a multimedia reporter in 2013. She produces audio, video, and graphics for the Web, and occasionally writes stories. Before starting at the Times Free Press, Mary Helen worked as a radio reporter at WUTC, the NPR affiliate station in Chattanooga. She won an Edward R. Murrow award for a story she produced there about the anniversary of the 2011 tornadoes that hit ...

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