1. I know a lady in Mumbai who, when she speaks in English, has a standard Indian accent, but when she SINGS in English, suddenly gives the song a country twang, I'm guessing only because she heard a lot of country gospel music and thinks that's how you sing in English.
2. I know a man in America who denies he has a country accent, so I recorded his singing, will attach a clip online, and, like Pilate at Jesus’ trial, let the people decide. I think his singing is VERY country, more than his speaking voice.
3. I know a retired missionary in South Asia who would sing Asian songs in Asian languages but give them such a country twang that he totally transformed the songs from Asian world music into North American country music, and didn't deny it when I pointed it out. I have been writing English lyrics to Asian melodies, too, and turning them into Western sacred music.
4. I know a lady in SE India who is brilliant, beautiful and speaks and sings with an Indian accent, but this time it's not about being country—it’s about having a truly awful voice timbre—in singing only, which is surprising, because her speaking voice is fine. I guess God loaded her up with ability academically and aesthetically, and didn't feel he needed to ALSO give her a sweet singing voice.
Bob Newhart said, "I don't like country music, but I don't denigrate those who do. And for those of you who like country music, 'denigrate' means 'put down'". I like country music as long as it's not a steady diet—same with opera, except that I get tired of a very strong twang (Willie Nelson, Tanya Tucker) faster than I get tired of an operatic bellow (Luciano Pavarotti, Placido Domingo). Domingo was aware of the need to break up content and so his concerts (at least ones I heard) had a variety of voices. Country music withOUT the strong twang (for instance, Crystal Gayle, Glen Campbell, Anne Murray, John Denver) I like better.
In my experience, this accent is not so much a north-south difference as it is an urban-rural difference. You can talk to people in Jackson, Mississippi, and understand them fine, but go to a small town a few minutes away and the difference is profound. I know a Texan who sounds like a Yankee and now lives in the North without sounding like a stranger, but he's from Dallas. I know people not far from Dallas, in smaller towns, who sound very different than he does.
Besides pronunciation, there are also significant differences in expression (which change the difference from an accent into a dialect). For instance, I heard one man from Louisiana say, 'This cheesecake is so sharp it'll make you jump up and bite the ceiling', but I didn't see anyone actually doing that. A friend points out, ‘Nor have I ever experienced animals falling from the sky in a strong rain!’ And that reminds me of a joke (of course):
Q: What’s worse than raining cats and dogs?
A: Hailing streetcars and taxicabs.
As a friend said, ‘the rain leaves poodles’.
Another friend suggested, ‘Perhaps someone who has a pleasant speaking voice but an awful singing voice could be convinced to read poetry aloud. That in itself is an art form that relatively few can master.’ Yes, in college we called that ‘oral interpretation of literature’. I had a very fun course in that. One student read Twain’s sketch on songs/jingles/poems that get stuck in your head. I read a poem on a post-nuclear world, when humans regained their relationship with horses.
Professionals sometimes do oral interpretation of literature excellently—e.g. John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier, Richard Burton, Sharon Stone, Meryl Streep, Kevin Kline.
A friend points out, ‘The cheddar heads in Wisconsin also have an accent. Some tribe members have a special rhythm to their speaking when they are addressing a religious gathering.’ Northern Michigan (meaning the west side and upper part of the lower peninsula, as well as the upper peninsula) and eastern Michigan have a strong German influence in thier English pronunciation, meaning they pronounce precisely—crisp consonants and whole vowel sounds. They and the cheeseheads have the best accent in the USA. For those readers who are from the South and think all Yankees sound the same--that's not true. And, for those of you who are from the North and think that Southerners sound the same, that's not true, either. North Louisiana sounds like Arkansas, South Louisiana sounds quite different from North Louisiana. I've already mentioned Mississippi. I'm sure people from Alabama could point out differences. Charleston and coastal Carolinas are quite different from the Appalachian people. East Tennessee and East Kentucky are more like each other than either of them are like West Tennessee and West Kentucky. Accent, dialect, singing and speaking patterns are fascinating subjects.
A friend says this ‘would make sense for two reasons: 1) the isolation many mountain people have; 2) the many outsiders who have come to North Arkansas because of the beauty.’ That’s very true. Some people switch their accent to the local one after living there for a while, and others retain, by and large, their old accent—I know a Canadian who moved to northern Arkansas, but you’d never know now by her voice that she’s Canadian—she sounds like a local yokel. And I know a married couple in Tennessee—she sounds now like a rural Tennesseean, but he sounds more like the state he came from.
Country twang subject caused another friend to reminisce, ‘When I grew up, I enjoyed drinking Orange Tang. Do I have to sing "Arnj" with a twang nowadays?’ (I had a BIT of Tang when I was a kid because it was not widely available there, but we were told it was invented for astronauts, so Tang, for us, had a high-tech association. My friend says, ‘"ar-n-ja" for a country pronunciation of orange (Tang). Twang sounds country; so does or-n-ja to me. I think this is how the Missouri Bootheel might pronounce Orange Tang.’
Another friend said, ‘As a mid- westerner who was raised in Iowa, I lived in Wisconsin for 20 years. Moved to TX from there 10 years ago. People still ask me where I am from. Definitely picked up that northern accent! Still have not mastered the southern drawl!’
The subject is fascinating. Calling the NW USA from the SE, and getting help on the call because of my bad hearing, makes for an interesting experience for northwesterners in hearing a rural Southern accent, some of whom have never heard this before.
Hollywood actors and actresses before WW2 were taught a ‘Mid-Atlantic accent’ because it supposedly was easy to hear clearly at the back of a theater and avoided regionalisms. This accent is still good for the same reasons if you’re in a place with absent or poor-quality PA systems. The accent involves dropping the last r’s on words, pronouncing t’s clearly (‘buttah’, not ‘budder’), and so on. This elocution was dropped after WW2 as recording and public address systems improved, and now the accent, to some people, sounds like an affectation, but to other people, a semi-British accent sounds cool. Some people imitate it to affect intelligence.