“Not a lot of people know about Oklahoma. We aren’t Southern or Midwestern. We are our own territory, which makes us infinitely intriguing. It makes us exotic.”
—Oklahoma lawyer/writer quoted in Tulsa World
“When I read the quote above, my response was: ‘I know . . . that you are neither cold [Northern] nor hot [Southern]. I wish you were either one or the other. So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot [Southern] nor cold [Northern]—I am about to spit you out of my mouth’ [God speaking to His people in Revelation 3:15-17 NIV]. Now if I could just get God to spit me out of Oklahoma [Purgatory] and back into Arkansas [the Holy Land]!”
—Jimmy Peacock, Exiled Arkie of the Covenant
As noted, throughout my blog but particularly in the post titled “Some Southern Stuff IV: Do You Speak Southern?” I examined in detail many of the differences in Arkie and Okie dialects experienced by Mari and me after moving from our native Southeast Arkansas to Northeast Oklahoma thirty-six years ago.
Most of that information, including Southern terms versus Northern terms such as “y’all” versus “you guys,” “Coke” versus “pop,” “supper” versus “dinner,” “cain’t” versus “can’t,” etc., was true at that time and most of it still remains so today.
Incidentally, when we first moved to Oklahoma it was because of Mari’s Arkansas accent that as a veteran teacher she was not allowed to give out the spelling words in her new school because the Okie kids often misunderstood her speech. What is strange is that the school official who denied Mari that privilege herself used the Okie pronunciation of “egg” as “aig”—thus causing our Arkie son to miss that one on his spelling test because he didn’t know what an “aig” was!
As an added evidence of different cultures, the Okie teachers thought our Arkie sons were being “cute” and “disrespectful” because they said “sir” and “ma’am”—as they had been taught “back down home” in Arkansas!
“Why Cain’t Okie TV People Set a Good Example
of Good Ole ‘Down Home’ Suthun Speech?”
“Why can’t the [Okies] teach their children how to speak?
This verbal class distinction by now should be antique. . . .
One common language I’m afraid we’ll never get.
Oh, why can’t the [Okies] learn to set
A good example to people whose
English is painful to your ears?”
—Paraphrase of Professor Henry Higgins in My Fair Lady
However, as bad as it was in those days, since that time we have come to notice even more terms that differ from our native dialect. But even more disturbing and irritating than that is the fact that we have also detected an increased tendency to sharpness, hardness, nasality, whininess, and especially harshness in the accents and tone of Okie language, as compared to our more relaxed, drawled out, and generally softer Arkie speech.
This tendency toward typical “Yankeefied” language is particularly noticeable to us in the speech of Okie television announcers, commercial spokespersons, and news anchors, including weather forecasters and sports reporters.
To be brutally honest, many of these harsh voices actually grate not only on our ears but also on our nerves and especially our Dixie-starved souls. (See my earlier post titled “Keep Arkansas in the Accent” in which I wrote to congratulate a young female Little Rock radio spokesperson of the Arkansas Department of Parks and Tourism on her soft, sweet, “magnolia-scented” voice.)
As a contrast, one lovely young blonde Tulsa TV news anchor is identified by the announcer with a one-word name: “LARRmahs.” It was only because we had seen her name written on the screen that we would ever have recognized her real name, which is actually: “Laura Moss.” To us, that name would be pronounced as two soft words with only a hint of an “R” as “LAW-rah MAWss.”
But the problem is that virtually all Okies pronounce the letters “aw” as “ah” (thus “saw” becoming “sah” and “awe” becoming “ah”). Our own Okie grandkids say “Ah-some!” rather than our native Arkie “Awe-sum!” This Okie habit is particularly irritating when Okies call our beloved home state “ArkanSAH” rather than “ArkanSAW.” (For more on this subject, see my earlier posts titled “Arkansiana I: The Name of Arkansas,” “Arkansiana II: Pronunciation of Arkansas,” “Arkansiana III: Change the Name of Arkansas!” and “Arkansiana IV: Arkansas’ French Connection.”)
Virtually all of the Tulsa TV anchors and meteorologists (with one exception, a TV weatherman from the Southeastern United States) pronounce certain Oklahoma towns as follows:
1. Pawhuska (Okie “PAHSkah,” pronounced by us Arkies as “Paw-HUSK-kuh”)
2. Talequah (Okie “Tahla-QUAH,” what we call “TAL-uh-QUAW”)
3. Ponca City (Okie “PAHN-kah City,” to us Arkies “PAWN-kah City”)
4. Shawnee (Okie “Shonny” to rhyme with “Johnny,” to us Arkies “SHAW-knee”)
5. Lawton (Okie “LAHT-un” to rhyme with “cotton,” to us Arkies “LAWT-un”)
And then there’s the good-natured, big-toothed, grinning young TV sports anchor who always “tocks” (i.e., “talks,” or as we Arkies say, “tawks”) about that university out in West Texas he calls “TAX-iz TACK,” which I insist does not exist, only “Texas Tech” (i.e., “Tex-iz Teck”).
There is also the Okie weatherman who proudly pronounces “channel” as “CHIN-nl” and “chance” as “CHIN-ce.” Reminds me of the young nerd from “Wiss-KOWN-sun” (Wisconsin) who had the audacity to inform me that what was wrong with Southerners was that “ahll you peeble hive sich a NIZ-le” (i.e., “all you people have such a nasal”). This was the same young nerd who then got up and called the group’s attention to “the peeper thit you heeve in your hins” (i.e., “the paper that you have in your hands”). That young geek would have loved this Okie weatherman since they both speak the same “LING-widge” (“language”).
But even worse is to hear one of these Okie TV personalities say something like:
1. “SEM’nal” (for “Seminole,” which we call “SIM-uh-nowl” to rhyme with “DIM-uh-bowl”)
2. “tuhNAYdo” (for “tornado,” which we call “tar-NAY-dah”)
3. “in-SHUR-ance” (for “insurance,” which we pronounce Dixie-style as “IN-shurnce”)
4. “ICE cream” (which we say Southern-style as “ice CREAM”)
5. “bot,” “thot,” etc. (for “bought,” “thought,” etc., to us “bowt” and “thowt”)
6. “coo-wul,” “skoo-wul”, etc. (for “cool,” “school,” etc., to us Arkies a one-syllable “kool,” “skool,” etc.)
7. “pence” and “dont’s” (for “peanuts” and “doughnuts”), and “strahbreeze” and “blubreeze” (for “strawberries” and “blueberries”), “notty” for “naughty,” etc.
And then there are these Okie jewels straight from Yankeeland:
1. “meer” (for “mirror,” which to us is either “meer-rah” or “meer-ruh”)
2. “maire” (for “mayor,” which we pronounce “may-yur” or “may-uh”)
3. “even” (pronounced by Okies as “EEE-ven” as in “I don’t EEE-ven care!” when it should be “even” as in “I don’t even CARE!”)
4. “anyways” (as in “Anyways, that’s how I feel,” when it should be simply “Anyway, that’s how I feel.”)
5. “alls” (as in “Alls I know is what I hear,” when it should be “All I know is what I hear.”)
And the list goes on endlessly, such as the Okie pronunciation of “roof” as “ruf,” “root” as “rut,” and “route” as “root” rather than “rowte.”
But the point is short and simple, as I summarized it at the end of that oft-referred-to earlier post titled “Some Southern Stuff IV: Do You Speak Southern?” Okies don’t seem to know which side of the Mason-Dixon Line their Indian frybread is buttered on! And the batter is not getting any better (a pun there for fun)!
Too bad. Who in their right minds would deliberately choose NOT to sound Southern and therefore NOT to be identified as Southern when they have the chance?
The answer: Okies!
As scientific evidence, in a recent survey by the Southern Focus Poll of the University of North Carolina only 53 percent of Okies identified themselves as Southerners, while 81 percent of Arkies identified themselves as Southerners, the same percentage as the residents of Georgia, a thoroughly Deep South state.
But even worse, in that same Southern Focus Poll it was revealed that only 69 percent of Okies say that their community is in the South, while a whopping 92 percent of Arkies say that their community is in the South.
Instead, most Okies would identify themselves as Mid-Westerners and their state as being in the Mid-West, while most Arkies would identify themselves as Southerners and their state as being in the South. Which is why I am careful to keep my Arkansas accent and wear Razorback caps and shirts and display Razorback stickers on my cars—not just to show that I am a fan and twice-over graduate of the University of Arkansas (“Woooooooo Pig, Soooooey!”), but to proudly say, “I am not an Okie, I am an Arkie of the Covenant! I am not from the Mid-West, I am from the Mid-South! There is a difference, thank God!”
So, Lord love these crazy mixed-up Okies . . . and hep me luv ’em too, but it ain’t gone be easy, Lord, bless thur homemade-Yankee harts!
Additional Southern Speech Sites
“Are You a Rebel or a Yankee?” (based on tests of personal pronunciation)
“Relocation Arkansas” (a twelve-minute video about a WWII Japanese-American Relocation Camp near our hometown of McGehee, Arkansas, featuring scenes of the flat Arkansas Delta land and cypress sloughs, and the faces and Southern voices of several Arkansans such as Bill Clinton, former governor of Arkansas and president of the United States; Rosalie Gould, former mayor of McGehee; Skip Rutherford, dean, Clinton School of Public Service; Mark McElroy, Desha County, Arkansas, judge; David Strickland, Center for Arkansas Studies—plus the faces and voices of some of the former Japanese-American internees and their descendants and views of the camp and the art work and handicrafts of the Japanese-Americans in the camp—a must-see linguistic, geographical, cultural, and historical presentation; to read a review of the book about the camp titled Camp Nine written by Vivienne Schiffer, the daughter of Rosalie Gould, with lots of quotes about and photos of our beloved Arkansas Delta, click on the title above. )
The current theatrical movie titled Mud which was filmed along the Mississippi River in our county and the ones above and below it with Matthew McConaughey and Reece Witherspoon and especially two authentic “gen-u-wine” Arkie boys, a Hollywood movie in which all the SEARK accents are right on except for calling the evening meal “dinner” (instead of “supper”) and pronouncing the town of DeWitt as “Duh-WITT” (instead of “DEE-Witt”); to hear the authentic Arkie accents, go to the site and then scroll down and click on the first brief movie trailer.
Correction, Addendum, and Arkie Accent Anecdote
In my previous post I noted that Arkies pronounce the words “Mary, “merry,” and “marry” the same way (as “Meri/meri”). Afterward I suddenly realized that we pronounce “marry” to rhyme with “Harry” or “hairy.”
To read a column on the dialect poll from my previous blog post written by Tulsa World columnist Michael Overall titled “Oklahoma is swirl of languages” (or “Oklahoma breaks language borders”), click on these links.
As a contemporary anecdote involving the difference between the Arkie accent and that of a certain state to the west of Arkansas, here is a personal anecdote sent to us recently by Mari’s sister describing her experience in a hospital in that state:
Since my May/June 2013 hospital stay was the first one I have experienced in a while . . . I discovered that one of the new practices regarding meals is that patients who are able to do so are supposed to order their own meals [by phone] from the provided menu. . . .
So the second morning I ordered the yogurt with granola & fresh fruit plate, hot mint tea and some whole milk (that is how it was listed on the menu). I thought I would drink the milk around mid-morning.
My order was delivered while I was out for x-rays. So when I got back to my room, I looked under the covered dish to find a gorgeous plate of fresh fruit and some yogurt and a small cup of granola. The mint tea was there . . . nice and hot, but I did not see the milk. I just shrugged off the oversight of omitting the milk.
However there was another covered dish on my tray. I lifted the cover to see a steaming bowl of oatmeal.
With my lack of appetite, I thought that there was no way I could eat both of what I ordered AND the oatmeal and was wondering why in the world they put hot oatmeal on my tray. So I re-read the menu and the light bulb went on. With my [Arkie] accent, which often comes across more pronounced on
the phone, they had misinterpreted my order of “Whole Milk” as “Oatmeal.”
Thawt you mite git a kick outta thaat.
Source of Quotes, Maps, and Photos
Map of the American South: http://www.bilerico.com/2010/04/usmap-south.jpg
Map of Arkansas as part of the South in the United States: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arkansas
Map of Oklahoma as part of the South in the United States: kw.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oklahoma
Lyrics to “Why Can’t the English Teach Their Children How to Speak?” from My Fair Lady: