Friday, October 23, 2009

Phone Interviews and Southern Accents

In the course of researching Tennessee Mormon history and Cane Creek specifically, I have done about half a dozen phone interviews. I'm still getting comfortable with the process. Do I take notes, do I ask if I can record the call, do I have a list of questions I send ahead of time, do I offer my take on the events or just listen. There is so much technique needed and I am woefully unprepared for this.

I just got off the phone with a descendent of one of the men who helped take the bodies of the two missionaries from Cane Creek to the train station. The story was passed down to him through his grandmother (more on the details later). We spoke for about half an hour and I found my repressed southern accent coming out. I spent part of elementary school in Knoxville before my father's work took our family to Boston (and later California). I never really had much of a southern accent. But Boston was still quite a change. I adjusted quickly, unlike my eldest sister who hung on to her accent for a while.

But in the interview I found myself slipping. I have to be careful, especialy since most people I meet can tell I didn't spend most of my formative years in the South. My normal speaking parttern is more like what is called "broadcast English" or what you hear on TV. So I have to watch how I speak. Once I dropped into a southern accent with a woman at work from North Carolina. She was a little offended at first, thinking I was making fun of her. I never want that to happen again.

So I will take this and other lessons as I prepare for other interviews in the future. Those out there that might have done this before, what advice do you have?


Anonymous said...

AMH: Are you asking for advice on conducting the actual interview or how to deal with that 'slippy' southern accent? :)

I'm southern, and we're pretty adept at understanding broadcast English. However, when you throw in an accent like my husband has (he's from Ohio via Slovakia and Italy), I have to remind him to slow down and not talk fast. My ability to comprehend what he is saying is completely thrown off by listening to his accent.

I think you'll be fine if you just remember to say, "Thank you," "Please," "Yes, Maam," and "Yes, Sir." These southern niceties always work well.

BruceCrow said...


I moved around enough that I don't usually get confused by the several English accents out there. Cajun has thrown me for a loop or two, but I haven't spend very much time in Louisiana.

It is the interview advice I need. I just have to remember to think about what I say. Including the southern niceties works in just about any interview regardless of where the interviewee is from.

Coffinberry said...

My native accent is middle-Hoosier (think James Whitcomb Riley), but I too spent three years of high school about 80 miles north-east of Knoxville, TN. I have not yet figured out how not to slip into an Appalachian accent when speaking with Southerners. It does irritate them, but the irritation is soothed when I explain my background.

The accent came in handy, though, when I did telephone surveys in College. I could keep men on the line answering questions about motor oil for hours just by slipping into that drawl.