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Tidewater/Costal Plains South

for West Virginia University's Bright Star, Spring 2023

First and foremost, intelligibility is at the core of our work; a close second is authenticity.  If you cannot be understood by the audience, then all authenticity brought to the dialect is irrelevant. There will be moments when we make a choice that seems less authentic, but always for the purpose of clearer communication. 


Rehearse and sing in dialect. Memorize your text in dialect. Revisit sound clips periodically to tap back into the sound/feeling of the dialect. ASK QUESTIONS if you are not sure about anything!

Screenshot 2023-03-25 at 10.45.52 AM.png


Tidewater Southern American dialect is most commonly recognized in the tidewater region of Virginia, but does establish roots along the easter coast. The Southern Midland dialect spans through a large portion of the Appalachia along the Blue Ridge (PA border down to Georgia - this is our home dialect for a lot of the WV folk!). For this production we will lean into our WV roots and apply the Tidewater Southern sounds in tandem..


The Indigenous population spoke primarily the three native languages of Iroquoian, Algonquian, and Siouan. Much of this language is lost as in the 1870s the US government made mandatory boarding schools for indigenous people where they forced them to cut their hair, replace their clothing and the use of their native tongue was severely punished. There is a strong movement for the language to be preserved and it, of course, as part of the history of this land is part of the history of the accent. There is also a great deal of Irish and Scottish influence in the Appalachian region. This variety of language offers a great diversity of sounds throughout the state of North Carolina.

Screenshot 2023-03-25 at 10.41.37 AM.png

This is a collection of sound clips from various documentaries linked on my YouTube channel. It includes a variety of ages, genders, and races. All are modeling some layer of the dialect.

Oral Posture

  • Jaw: Held close, but loose - can easily open wide when needed

  • Tonge:

    • Tip/Blade rests behind the bottom teeth and is reluctant to leave, shrinking the range of dexterity/vowel production

    • body (front/middle) sits rather middle [ə], but can easily cup or arch just above that equator of the mouth

    • back is wide and facile, sits arched but can open and cup for back vowel rounding

  • Lips: 

    • corners relaxed, allows for easy ‘spreading’ of the sound with the channeling of the tongue

    • body ivery relaxed

  • Velum: a heavy ‘neutral’ - it can lower so that nasal quality can come into play

Screenshot 2023-03-25 at 12.06.18 PM.png
  • Thinking sound/home base: In the of the mouth, either at equator/middle [əm], cupping slightly [ɐm], or arching slightly [ɘm]

  • Food Image/Taste/Texture: ice cube from your sweet ice tea either cupped on the tongue or pressing against the roof almost as it melts -- clouds skimming/sinking into the valleys of the Blue Ridge mountains (see pic by People/Culture)

Prosody: Rhythm, Stress, Pitch

  • We can find a great deal of manners tied into the application of prosodic structuring in this sound. i.e., rising inflection on statements

  • There is a heavy use of timing (lengthening) in word emphasis, more so than volume.

  • DRAWL - vowels are lengthened in a BIG way. Often times they will add a vowel sound (monophthongs become diphthongs and diphthongs become triphthongs) and a great deal of glide will help them sustain.

Three Notable Patterns

  • The HIGH RISING DRAWL is a babbling brook along to a rising and lengthened scoop in the penultimate syllable or word

Tidewater Prosody 1_image.jpg
"how diverse our people are"
"how diverse our people are" - SLO MO
"people - you know, most of 'ems gone"
  • The  LOW DRAGGING DRAWL: a languid flowing into a downward pitch/timing glide in finality -- i.e., Backing into gravel parking spot

Tidewater Prosody 4_image.jpg
"if we don't learn it..."
"if we don't learn it..." SLO MO
  • BOOKEND-ING: the phrase flows connected until the final word (or couple words), taking a pause before speaking them

Tidewater Prosody 5_image.jpg
"different styles of language"

"As North Carolina's urban areas have developed and changed, so has the language."

Sample with them all:
Oral Posture

Pronunciation: Salient Sounds

Consonants: all velarized back mouth consonants have a STRONG fricative action (i.. [k/g/x]). With this fricative tendency, there is a great presence of the affricates [t͡ʃ / d͡ʒ] in this language. 


The /r/ sound primarily stays present in this region of the south. In lexical sets where /r/ coloration follows a vowel (NORTH/FORCE, START, SQUARE), it is common for the sound to include greater /r/ pronunciation: [ɔɜ˞], [ɑɜ˞], [ɛɪə˞].  UNLESS you are of an older generation. In this case you would drop the /r/ when the sound occurs at the end of a syllable.

(Sarah, hurry // north square, work, millionaire)

Present /r/ 

00:00 / 00:11

Dropped or softened /r/

00:00 / 00:25

l —> [ʊ]

Dark /l/s, or when an /l/ follows a vowel and is terminal (final) sound of a word or syllable (meaning it’s followed by silence or a consonant), it comes with significant rounding [ʊ]

(pull, milk, will you, school bus, failed, circle, hold)

00:00 / 00:15

verbs with /-ing/ endings

 the velar nasal slides forward to an alveolar nasal [ŋ] (so, dropping the /g/), regardless of age, education, social status

(running, happening, cooking, suffering)

00:00 / 00:07


            Forever and ever, I’ll be running over your prickly pears.

00:00 / 00:13

Vowels & Diphthongs 

Lexical Set Keywords


Description // Additional Words



This sound will roll forward, from the back of the mouth to a central cup in the dorsum/tongue.

(But, love, blood, button, truck)

I love that baby – she’s cute as a button playing with that truck!



The DRESS vowel moves higher (front of tongue arching rather than cupping) to a KIT placement. Also known as a pin/pen merger.

(men, lemonade, then, stressed, bed, Steve)

Where have you been? Get on with it! Aspen’s on his second helping already.


This vowel becomes almost a diphthong as it migrates from the close front corner [i] (FLEECE) towards a middle schwa [ə].

(inn, window, limb, kid, milk, sister, women)

Come on in.  Don’t leave that window open or the bugs’ll get in.


00:00 / 00:19
00:00 / 00:22
00:00 / 00:15



The Southern drawl elongates these vowels as they move from an open to a close position. This is most prevalent when the vowel is followed by a voiced continuant (fricative or nasal).

(half-past, grandad, laugh, trap)

That apple-jacker will be trapped in the tree ‘til Daddy’s back.

00:00 / 00:14



GOOSE fronting: the sound moves forward to be made under the hard palate with the middle of the tongue (dorsum).

(flute, tribute, twenty-two)

Lizzo is a truly remarkable flute tooter.

00:00 / 00:11


ɑː / ɒː

These open back vowels luxuriously take up more space first and foremost by lengthening/sustaining and a ‘sometimes second’ of greater rounding. On some occasions, the vowel sound can even move into a dipth- or triphthong: [ɑoʊ].

(dog, stop, solve // soft, frost, wrong, lofty)

You can stop that nonsense and heat the pot while I put on my socks.

I’m longing for some of that coffee to help me defrost. And some waffles.

00:00 / 01:16


ɔʊ̯ / o

This vowel can behave in a couple of ways. First, we might see it glide into a diphthong [ɔʊ̯]. A second option is to have it rise and stay within the one vowel sound [o].


Older folks might drop it to a more open back vowel as in ‘father’ [ɑ] or [ɒ]. This is an older sound typically associated with the plantation south and aristocracy.

(all, daughter, talk, applaud, water)

That author had sought to be published, but he ain’t got no salt to his pen.

00:00 / 01:30


ɐɪ̯ / æɪ̯

ɐ / æ

Tidewater Rising: The onset vowel sits higher in the mouth and can sometimes be lengthened into a monophthong.

(guy, I, time, nice, drive, climate, iced tea)

Science will make a liar out of you. Christ almighty, he writes that sci-fi a mile a minute!

00:00 / 00:53


ɐɪʊ̯ / eɪʊ


Tidewater Rising: The onset of this vowel sits higher in the mouth Sometimes: the drawl will carry this diphthong into a triphthong. It can also become a lengthened monophthong [ɐː].

(Out, home, lonely, grow).

This sounds a lot like a vowel coming out of my mouth.

00:00 / 00:47



This diphthong will receive a modification only when it ends a polysyllabic word, shortening into a schwa [ə].

(pillow, pimento, tomorrow, window)

He did not know his ‘tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow’ speech. He’ll need to be more thorough.

00:00 / 00:34


o / oə̯

This diphthong will move into a singular sound or have the slightest off-glide into a medial sound.

(boy, toilet, oyster, employ)

You’ll spoil your voice if you go on rejoicin’ so boisterously.

No ointment can keep it from spoil.

00:00 / 00:52


  • thing + compounds, → the vowel sound before the nasal opens to DRESS [ɜŋ] or TRAP [æŋ]. Additionally, one syllable similar words will also make this shift. (sing, bring, anything)

  • ‘wash’ → some speakers will add an /r/ in this word: [wɔ˞ʃ]

  • ‘every’ + compounds → the final vowel sound [ɪ] is dropped: [ɛvə˞]. (everything, everyone, everybody)



Additionally, here is the handout I gave in rehearsal - in case you should need to re-print.

***If you want more info/access to using IPA, you can play with this interactive chart to help you find a ballpark of sounds for the symbols. 

Play With It

Play with these sounds! The technical work is important, but don’t let it dictate the sounds you are making. Test the boundaries and find the flow of the prosody. Here are a couple of sentences pieced from the listening samples linked below to help you find a 'catch-hrase' or a strong 'hand-hold' to launch you into the dialect:

    gɹæɪə.nɪ meɪ̯d̚  wɐdə˞.mɪə̯ln  pɪə.kəʊs

     Granny made watermelon pickles.



        wi  meɪ̯d̚  ɐːskɹim  ɑːn  ðə fɹɜːn pɔə˞tʃ  ɛvə˞.bɜdɪ  gɑː tə kɹæɪənk

     We made ice cream on the front porch - everybody got to crank!


Here is a fun video of a young man from WV who has that specific Appalachian easy drawl:


Listening Suggestions

Works Cited

***Not previously linked/attributed in above breakdown***

“Dialects of North Carolina | IDEA: International Dialects of English Archive.”, 3 Sept. 2011, Accessed 12 Feb. 2023.


Kurath, Hans, and Raven I. McDavid. The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States; Based upon the Collections of the Linguistic Atlas of the Eastern United States. HathiTrust, Ann Arbor, University of Michigan Press, 1961, Accessed 12 Feb. 2023.


“Linguistics.”, NC State University, Accessed 10 Feb. 2023.


“Older Southern American English.” Wikipedia, 16 May 2021, Accessed 13 Feb. 2023.


“The Tidewater Accent (Natives of Tidewater) (Norfolk, Chesapeake: Apartment, Home, University) - Hampton Roads Area - Virginia (VA) -Chesapeake - Hampton - Newport News - Norfolk - Portsmouth - Suffolk - Virginia Beach - City-Data Forum.”, Accessed 14 Feb. 2023.

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