How Covid-19 Gave Me Back My Southern Accent

A drawing of a set of dentures wearing a cowboy hat and cowboy boots.

We already know all about how the world around us changed in 2020, how we had to modify, adjust, and adapt along with it. We’ve read and discussed all the effects, all the angles; we know all about it. One major aspect of life, though, may have gone unexamined: language habits. Journalist and culture critic Tracy Moore is surprised to notice a change in her own speech, and she relates her experience with it in this March 2021 Washington Post essay.

Read it here.


1. Moore starts out describing when and why she had rejected the dialect of her family and her hometown, but by the end of the essay, she has changed her opinion of her original dialect. What events and ideas lead her to change her mind? Is her explanation convincing? Why or why not?

2. Moore begins her essay by using standardized, journalistic prose to talk about examples from the dialect that she grew up hearing and speaking—the dialect she subsequently tried to erase. Later in the essay, she incorporates these and other dialectical features directly into her writing without comment. What is the message of this rhetorical strategy? Is it effective? Why or why not?

3. LET’S TALK. Have you ever consciously altered your ordinary speech for a certain effect, perhaps to impress someone, to fit in with a particular group, or for any other purpose? Which speech features did you target? Why? What effect were you trying to achieve? How successful were your efforts? Discuss your responses to these questions with a few classmates. As you listen to your classmates’ examples, remember that some varieties of English have been (and may still be) highly stigmatized, and some conversation partners (and perhaps you, too) may have been treated harshly or unfairly because of speech patterns. Be sensitive and respectful with what you hear and what you say. Were there any surprises in what you heard? Can you draw any generalizations about language and language attitudes from your conversation? What new understanding did you gain about your own speech?

4. LET’S WRITE. As Moore points out, “we all code-switch”; that is, we all use multiple varieties of one or more languages in our daily lives. Most of the time, we’re not conscious of doing it; these rhetorical decisions are made at the speed of thought. Take stock of your linguistic repertoire. What languages, dialects, and linguistic varieties are part of your everyday speech and writing? Make a thorough list. For each item on the list, make note of the ones you like best or are most comfortable speaking or hearing, which ones carry more prestige in society at large, and which ones may be considered less prestigious. Have you, like Moore, noticed any changes in your language use habits as a result of your pandemic-altered social landscape? Again, like Moore, have your opinions of your language habits or repertoire changed since early 2020? Write an essay describing your language repertoire; respond to these questions and any others you think are relevant.

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