I think most people in the U.S. and abroad associate southern accents with less than favorable things. But I’ll take a southern drawl any day of the week over any other way for the English language to come tumbling out of someone’s mouth.
For god’s sake, at least there is some pause built in. Like most things in the South, it gives itself a minute to breathe. To express. To tell a story. Who wants to hear a story in city talk?
Others say the southern accent is brash, but they confuse the drawl with the twang. Now the twang has its charm too (though I will concede it surely does not have the smooth finesse of the drawl), but it is the drawl that I find comfort in. It is the drawl that is my default when I’m not paying attention.
When I land at customs, or when I am in an airport or train station headed just about anywhere, my niceties and hellos all come out in Tennessee drawl. I am generally a happy traveler. I think travel is a nice equity-creating function between people. Everyone is in transition and everyone is somehow tied. And I, without any effort, let my guard down when I travel because of it. Almost always—guard down means pure drawl, and happily so.
I don’t hide the drawl in other non-traveling moments. It just really has a mind of its own. I found that when I left Tennessee and was around more Arabic, the drawl faded. When I come in and out of English from speaking in my southern Palestinian, my drawl is just nowhere to be found.
Like my southern Palestinian, the drawl demands absolute control. It does not like variance and dabbling in and out of things. It demands my linguistic admiration and devotion. And It knows I owe it as much.
So, it leaves me when it feels I am not giving it the time it deserves. And it comes back when it senses space in my day and a pace in my voice.
There are some staples of course. The y’alls and bless-your-hearts can’t come out in anything but a drawl, even if I wanted them to.The g for my qaaf in Arabic is unwavering. And on the rare occasion it disappears, I trip over my own words, confused, stopping to try and catch in the air what it is I have mispronounced.
I must admit my drawl and my southern Palestinian do not quite have the same characteristics, or evoke the same pace. Jnoobi, or more specifically sdoudi, does not exactly have the calming presence of an American southern drawl. It is more grounded; it is stronger, agwa. (Not high pitched like a twang or anything, thank God.) But, I don’t know an English dialect I’d be okay with comparing it to in that sense of strength. Perhaps I find them all lacking in roots.
It works though, for me. The south(s) of my language(s)—the pace of one leading the strength of the other.
Both my southern dialects are not particularly loved in and among their respective places and peoples. [I can already here a dozen friends: “It’s not just southern! It’s all fallahi (rural)!”] The dialects and those who speak them are teased and like most things, the teasing is not based in the lighthearted preference of an ear. It is bogged down in class, in suspicions of education and “civilization,” in absurd beliefs of progress.
Well, personally, I’ve always been a bigger fan of preservation. That’s what happens when you get a history professor for a father and a language teacher for a mother. And then put the refugee status cherry on top. Well, you’ve got yourself a pride that doesn’t take kindly to such “teasing” or manipulations of concepts like progress.
My father called me out once for a conversation we had in mut-Arabic. Or I should say I had with him. I had been speaking with some madani, city folk, Palestinians right before his call.
“What is this?” he asked me. “No one can tell where in God’s name you’re from these days.”
Ain’t that the truth.
7aggek 3alay yaba.