Tennesseans speak English, of a kind. The Tennessee drawl varies from the language of the Upper South, spoken in East Tennessee and closely associated with the region’s Scotch-Irish roots, and the language of West Tennessee, more akin to that of Mississippi and the Lower South.
Little in Tennesseans’ speech is distinct to the state itself. Speech patterns heard in Tennessee are also heard in other states in the region.
Speech patterns that have been documented throughout the state, but which may be more prevalent in the east, include the following, outlined by Michael Montgomery of the University of South Carolina in the Tennessee Encyclopedia of History and Culture. Montgomery writes that Tennesseans tend to pronounce vowels in the words pen and hem as pin and him; they shift the accent to the beginning of words, so Tennessee becomes TIN-isee; they clip or reduce the vowel in words like ride so it sounds more like rad; and vowels in other words are stretched, so that a single syllable word like bed becomes bay-ud.
Tennessee speech patterns are not limited to word pronunciation. Tennesseans also speak with folksy and down-home language. Speakers often use colorful metaphors, and greater value is placed on the quality of expression than the perfection of grammar.
© Susanna Henighan Potter from Moon Tennessee, 5th Edition