The third season of House of Cards hit Netflix today. You probably know that. You probably also know that Kevin Spacey’s character, the brooding, plotting Frank Underwood, is from South Carolina, just up the road from U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham. You’ve probably also wondered about what kind of weird pseudo-Southern accent Spacey is attempting to pass off on the Emmy-winning series.
Well, the guys at Vox have talked to some honest-to-goodness scientists about the whole thing, and they have a few takeaways about Spacey’s “slow-cooked, honey-glazed take on the South Carolina drawl.”
Click over to Vox to read more, but the gist of it is that Spacey is definitely targeting some stereotypical pre-war Southern affectations in portraying Underwood, making the accent perfectly passable for government work. But those who know a Southern boy when they hear one will definitely pick up on some inconsistencies.
In fact, many of the verbal cues that Spacey uses are disappearing in modern Southern English, such as dropping R-sounding syllables—think Joe Riley or Alex Sanders here, as in “Chahlston.” R-lessness was a common trait in the South from before the Civil War to around World War II. Southern English speakers born after WWII (around Lindsey Graham and Frank Underwood’s age) tend not to drop their Rs.
N.C. State linguistics professor Erik Thomas, speaking to Vox:
“It depends on what state you’re talking about,” he said, explaining when you start to see the Southern accent slowly lose its grip. “In Texas, you look at people born in the 1960s. In North Carolina, a decade or two later than that — the 70s and 80s.”
There are plenty of other linguistic nuances that Vox delves into, like “Open-Os” and monophthongization. Just something to think about as you settle in this weekend to watch all 13 episodes in a row.
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