drawl (speech)

Glossary of Grammatical and Rhetorical Terms

Slim Pickens in Dr. Strangelove
Slim Pickens as Major "King" Kong in Dr. Strangelove. (Columbia Pictures, 1964)


A drawl is speech that is characterized by drawn-out vowels and syllables. This informal term is often used by non-linguists in a pejorative way.

Contrary to popular belief, Americans in the southern states don't pronounce words more slowly than other speakers of American English. "The phenomenon perceived as a drawl is a result of adding glides to vowels to create diphthongs and triphthongs. Words may seem slower because they contain more sounds" (World Englishes Vol. 2: North America, 2012). 

See Examples and Observations below. Also see:

Examples and Observations

  • "[The mission of Trident submarines] is to launch a massive and final lethal blow in the event that the worst has happened: 'nuclear combat toe-to-toe with the Ruskies,' in the memorable drawl of Major T. J. 'King' Kong, the Slim Pickens character in Dr. Strangelove."
    (Timothy Egan, "Run Silent. Run Deep. Run Obsolete." The New York Times, July 14, 2010)
  • "All of the children of the Fox say 'feerst' for 'first,' 'beerst' for 'burst,' 'theerst' for 'thirst.' Why, no one knows. It seems to be a tribal accent, not only among all of Fox's children, but among all of their young cousins on the Fox's side. It is almost as if they were creatures of some isolated family, immured for generations on some lonely island, cut off from the world, and speaking some lost accent that their ancestors spoke three hundred years ago. Moreover, their tone is characterized by a kind of drawl--not the languorous drawl of the deep South, but a protesting drawl, a wearied-out, exasperated drawl, as if they have almost given up hope of making Fox--or someone--understand what ought to be obvious without any explanation whatsoever."
    (Thomas Wolfe, You Can't Go Home Again, 1940)
  • "'When it started kicking off, someone said to me, "This is your time in the sunshine,"' [John] Bishop explains in a warm Liverpudlian drawl so thick it’s as if his words are forming in a cement-mixer. 'That sentence hit home because it really feels like that.'"
    (Dominic Cavendish, "John Bishop: Ordinary Bloke, Comedy Star." The Daily Telegraph, August 6, 2010)
  • "Xiaowei had mastered those tricky English irregular verbs, perfected a convincing American drawl and could rattle off the 10 biggest U.S. cities by heart."
    (Hannah Beech Shanghai, "High Hopes." Time magazine, December 17, 2001)
  • The Southern Drawl
    "There are two distinct interpretations of the term 'southern drawl': the common or folk notion and the linguistic definition (Montgomery 1989a: 761). In common parlance, the southern drawl is a synonym for southern accent or southern speech and refers to the putative slowness of southern speech, often attributed to the heat or to the laziness of its speakers. It is thus often used derogatively, as is the term 'brogue' or even the term 'dialect' itself. In contrast, linguists use the term to refer to 'the lengthening and raising of accented vowels, normally accompanied by a change in voice pitch. It involves the addition of a second or even a third vowel but does not necessarily entail a slower overall speech tempo' (Montgomery 1989a: 761)."
    (George Dorrill, "The Phonology of English in the South." English in the Southern United States, ed. by Stephen J. Nagle and Sara L. Sanders. Cambridge University Press, 2003)
  • Tom Wolfe on the Drawl of the Airline Pilot
    "Anyone who travels very much on airlines in the United States soon gets to know the voice of the airline pilot . . . coming over the intercom . . . with a particular drawl, a particular folksiness, a particular down-home calmness that is so exaggerated it begins to parody itself (nevertheless!--it's reassuring) . . . the voice that tells you, as the airliner is caught in thunderheads and goes bolting up and down a thousand feet at a single gulp, to check your seat belts because 'it might get a little choppy' . . ..
    "Well!--who doesn't know that voice! And who can forget it,--even after he is proved right and the emergency is over.
    "That particular voice may sound vaguely Southern or Southwestern, but it is specifically Appalachian in origin. It originated in the mountains of West Virginia, in the coal country, in Lincoln County, so far up in the hollows that, as the saying went, 'they had to pipe in daylight.' In the late 1940s and early 1950s this up-hollow voice drifted down from on high, from over the high desert of California, down, down, down, from the upper reaches of the Brotherhood into all phases of American aviation. It was amazing. It was Pygmalion in reverse. Military pilots and then, soon, airline pilots, pilots from Maine and Massachusetts and the Dakotas and Oregon and everywhere else, began to talk in that poker-hollow West Virginia drawl, or as close to it as they could bend their native accents. It was the drawl of the most righteous of all the possessors of the right stuff: Chuck Yeager."
    (Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff, 1979)
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Nordquist, Richard. "drawl (speech)." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, thoughtco.com/what-is-a-drawl-in-speech-1690411. Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 26). drawl (speech). Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-drawl-in-speech-1690411 Nordquist, Richard. "drawl (speech)." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/what-is-a-drawl-in-speech-1690411 (accessed March 26, 2023).