Northern accents

A few readers have taken the newspaper to task for reporting that police had said that a suspect in a crime “spoke with a Northern accent.” The readers thought that either was too vague to make any sense or was unfairly stereotyping people who speak differently. I think it’s interesting that readers objected to the description and that the police included it with the physical description.

I’ve heard the argument that calling a way of speech a “Northern” accent is too vague. I agree that there is no such thing as one Northern accent, just as there is no such thing as one Southern accent. People in North Carolina don’t sound the same as people from Texas or Mississippi. Even North Carolina has regional differences. As one who was born in Catawba County, N.C., I have a different dialect from someone born on Ocracoke or in Clay County. But I would be described by someone who didn’t know the difference between Newton Grove (Sampson County) and Newton (Catawba County) as having a generic Southern accent. That’s fine. I don’t expect people to be able to pick out my Catawba flat “i,” and pinpoint my birthplace to Hickory. We are not all Henry Higginses.

If I describe someone as having a New England accent, I am not saying that everyone from that part of the country has the same accent. I am using the term generically. It’s not the Northern accent; it’s a Northern accent, one of many.

This article was originally posted by the Raleigh News & Observer, a subsidiary of The McClatchy Co.; is posted here to provide continuity; and is copyright © 2011 The News & Observer Publishing Company, which reserves the right to remove this post.