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Commentary: Accent Reduction? Heeeck No!

Last week, we aired a story about speech and hearing centers that teach people how to lose their accents. It's called accent reduction. These services help people lose their foreign and American accents, like the Southern drawl. And that raises the gander of WFAE commentator Elizabeth Richardson. Accent reduction? What the heck is accent reduction? It sounds as phony as surgery to enhance body parts. I can imagine an advertisement for accent reduction: You can't be too Southern. It's not cool. Let's turn that thought on its head, or maybe I should say, its lips. You can't be too Southern. Some of the coolest people on earth are Southern, and they have kept their accents. Lee Smith comes to mind. Lee Smith, one of our most beloved writers. I remember hearing Lee at a literary festival in Charlotte, telling the story of when her mother-in-law suggested that she lose her Southern accent. "Out of the question," Lee explained. "My accent is a political statement." I agree. We have a duty to show the world that we can speak with a Southern accent and still be cool and smart. When I was fresh out of college at UNC Greensboro, I moved all the way to Cincinnati for graduate school. A young woman named Amy, fresh out of Princeton, turned to me in a seminar with a look of utter disdain. "I cannot believe you kept your Southern accent. I grew up in Charleston, South Carolina, and I had to lose my accent when I went to Princeton. No one would take me seriously if I kept it." "Well, Amy," I declared, "When people make fun of my accent, I tell them that I do have a brain and that I have been wearing shoes for a number of years." I was polite. Now that I am well over 50 and a little more uppity, I might add "and I will go toe to toe with you any day." With the proper Southern accent, you can silence the rudest person with the simplest words. Take Brenda Leigh Johnson in The Closer. She asserts her authority and stops many haughty people in their tracks with the simplest words. "Thank you. Thank you so much." Around here, people without Southern accents can stir up confusion in my hometown of Concord. My father used to tell the story of a man from a different region riding through Concord. The out-of-towner stopped and asked a fellow, "Is this town "Conquered"? "Not yet," the fellow replied. Accent reduction? Those are close to fighting words for those of us unconquered by neutral tones. So let's just keep it real in the South. Accent reduction? Heeeeeck, no.