ON A call with a bank call center, I was just given a little dialect-identification practice. I had just given the attendant my full name. She then asked me “What’s your last name?”, or so I thought. I repeated it, slightly unsure why she’d asked me to repeat my last name (it’s pretty ordinary). But I misheard her. She’d asked “what’s your wife’s name?” I asked her where her office was located. Any idea where in America a person has to come from to make “wife” sound remotely similar to “last”? Take a guess before reading on.
The office was in Dallas, Texas, which is very close to the borderline of the dialect region known as “Inland South”, as you can see on this map. What makes the inland south different from the lowland south? One of the chief things is glide deletion in the [ai] sound before unvoiced consonants. Glide deletion is what turns “ride” into “rahd”, where a diphthong (two vowels, one gliding into the other) becomes a monophthong or single vowel. This goes on all around the south. What makes an inland southern accent inland and not lowland is that the glide deletion happens before voiceless consonants (like f, t and s) as well as their voiced equivalents (v, d and z). Around the south, “ride” comes out “rahd”. But if someone’s “wife” comes out “wahf”, chances are that person is from the inland south.