I watched one episode of Mercy Street on PBS and was amused by the corny accents in the show. The characters from Virginia sound like they are from Georgia and the Union/Northerner characters sound like Californians. Come on now, there are currently all sorts of accents in New York, Massachusetts, Maine, Maryland, Pennsylvania and they developed over time. Surely they were even more pronounced in the 1860s.
I remember watching Steel Magnolias and listening to Olympia Dukakis’ accent which also is Georgia/South Carolina accent. If I met her in a grocery story in Houston talking with that accent, I’d ask her, “Where are you from?” I never met anyone from Texas who speaks that way.
The Georgia accent is the most commonly used in television and film – it’s softer, slower than Texas or even Virginia. The Georgia accent softens and changes in Alabama and Mississippi. There are French and Cajun influences in Louisiana before you get to Houston. I think if you were to ask an Irish or Scottish person to speak really slowly, you’d find the roots of the Southern accent.
Accents developed from the mix of immigrant languages and accents and on account of the land and weather. Nearer the gulf, where is doesn’t get cold, there’s a languid nature to the voice. For the Alabama accent, listen to Lucas Black. He’s in NCIS New Orleans, and if you’ve been to New Orleans, you know they sound like Brooklynites.
Texas is hot, it’s mainly flat, and it has a strong Spanish influence. West Texas has strong inflections and Northeast Texas is twangy as I said before, but in Central Texas, the Houston area, the gulf, it’s more about vocabulary (you bet, fixin’ to, how come), less lip movement, slower speech and softness on the consonants.
It is a big state and there are a variety of accents in different areas. People living around Texarkana have the most identifiable accent – it’s rather twangy – in most other areas the accent is more subtle, but the accent is not Southern generic. Contrary to those who have never lived in the South or Texas, there is no Southern generic. George Bush has a well-developed West Texas accent that was helpful in presenting him as a good ole boy. Funny, Jeb Bush doesn’t seem to have an accent at all.
I was in a parking lot in Los Angeles recently and a man came up to me panhandling. I knew where he was from, but I asked him anyway. He said, “Texas.” I kept him chatting because I wanted to keep hearing that accent that reminds me of humid nights with the smell of barbecue.