By James Hohmann
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, January 15, 2010
Stand-up comedian (and Georgia Tech Electrical Engineering graduate) Jeff Foxworthy once said that as soon as people hear a southern accent, they spot you ten IQ points. James Hohmann figures that the voters of Virginia do also. He points out that the last three governors elected were the candidates with the least drawl in their 'y'all'.
Virginia's incoming governor, Robert F. McDonnell (R), has little in common with his two Democratic predecessors, but like Timothy M. Kaine and Mark Warner, he heads to the Executive Mansion sounding more like a Yankee than his recent opponent -- a seemingly trivial fact that might reveal an evolving pattern in Virginia politics:And he finds evidence for the Foxworthy anecdote:
Can a decidedly Southern way of speaking create a handicap for candidates trying to win a statewide office?
But several studies indicate that some people -- including Southerners -- stereotype speakers with Southern accents as honest and reliable but not too smart. And the accent can seem off-putting to some voters, including African Americans who voted in unusually high numbers in the 2008 presidential race.The article is clearly a spin-off of the Harry Reid 'Negro dialect' gaffe (a gaffe being a politician accidentally telling the truth) turned around to see if accents are a race neutral article of discrimination.
"When white Southerners sound Southern, African Americans are viscerally suspicious of them, for obvious historical reasons," said Dennis R. Preston, an English professor at Oklahoma State University.
In another example of this trendlet, The Daily Howler asks if Harold Ford's southern roots are hurting his appeal as a reverse carpetbagger in New York:
Could Ford lose votes in the state of New York because of his intermittent accent? Presumably yes, he could. We say that because considerations of speech and accent have commonly been discussed with regard to recent American pols, with the steady suggestion that accent counts when it comes to getting votes. We may be wrong, but we think we’ve heard Chris Matthews suggest that Governor Haley Barbour (R-MS) might have trouble as a national candidate due to his very strong Deep South accent. (This topic is hard to search.) Meanwhile, pundits have often caught big national candidates affecting their accents to suit a region’s preferences.All of this is an end run around discussing Barack Obama's Hawaiian-Kansan-Kenyan blaccent because the chattering classes have to have something to say whenever some racially tinged topic raises its head. It all seems kind of silly. I can just imagine here on the eve of a three day weekend, Martin Luther King Jr. bellowing in his stentorian cadence: "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the tone of their voice, but by the wisdom of their words."