How accurate are the Kentucky accents on the show "Justified"?
October 14, 2014 7:28 PM   Subscribe

I've become obsessed with the TV show "Justified" and I'm curious to know whether the accents the actors use on the show are at all representative of how a person from the Harlan, KY area actually speaks. Thanks
posted by dfriedman to Media & Arts (3 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
According to Goggins (Boyd):

""Acquiring the long drawl he uses to portray the quick-witted Crowder, says Goggins, took quite a bit of time.

"It is supposed to be a Kentucky accent," he says. "I don't know quite how accurate it is. I did study a little bit about people from Kentucky and how they talk. ... It's different because the cadence is so specific to Elmore Leonard," the author of the books the show is based on. "And it's slightly stilted and heightened in a way that ... speaks to Boyd's intelligence. More often than not, I haven't seen Southern characters like this with a penchant and a love for words.""

Google brings up a lot of people saying that the accents aren't too accurate and need a bit of work. Anyway, I love this show too and that language and accents are some of my favourite things about it, so whether they're proper or not, it's still great TV.
posted by turbid dahlia at 8:49 PM on October 14, 2014 [2 favorites]

Native Kentuckian and Justified fan here! I'm originally from South Central Kentucky ( fifty miles south of Lexington, KY), have spent time in eastern KY (including Harlan), and currently live in Louisville.

First, some samples of accents:

This young lady is doing an accurate central- to southern-Kentucky take on the Appalachian accent. Former UK basketball Joe B Hall (seated on the left in the video) is considered by some to have a quintessential eastern Kentucky Appalachian accent. You can see more examples here and in the Kentucky accent tag on YouTube.

That said, in and around Lexington, you're just as likely to run into people who sound like native Kentuckians George Clooney or Jennifer Lawrence. The influence of the American Midwest accent is pretty strong in our major metropolitan areas (esp. Louisville and Lexington). So it's reasonable for the accents on Justified to be a little hit-or-miss.

That said, where they miss...they can miss pretty big. I love me some Boyd Crowder, but to my ear he drawls too much, like he's from north Alabama. (And I guess my ear was right--I checked just now, and per Wikipedia the actor that plays Crowder hails from Birmingham). His speech pattern is also quite elaborate. Which, in Kentucky, that sort of pseudo-upper-class, excessively polite, affected way of speaking usually means you're viciously insulting the listener. Not that Boyd wouldn't do that, but he's doing so often that somebody would'a done killed him by now.

The main cast doesn't miss as such, but if you're a native, you notice things. Raylan's boss Art sounds to me like he's more east-central Tennessee or maybe northwest North Carolina--mostly Appalachian in sound, but the vowels ain't quite right. Raylan sounds to me more like someone originally from Lexington as opposed to someone originally from Harlan--his accent is Midwest with a layer of Appalachian on top, rather than Appalachian through and through like I would expect from a Harlan native. Limehouse just...missed. A bad indeterminate drawl is all I heard. And Michael Rapaport was just terrible last season--I don't know what that was.

On the other hand, Ava Crowder does what to my ears is a decent eastern KY Appalachian accent, as did Mags Bennett and Arlo Givens.

The rest of the characters (the ones I haven't named) just seem to think that all accents in the geographical South are the same, and that's where there's disappointment. Kentucky doesn't have Southern accents. We have Appalachian accents. The difference is pretty big, especially in how the two accents tend to be perceived by the rest of the country. But too many of the actors are doing some variation of the redneck Georgia drawl, which seems to be what Hollywood teaches as the Southern accent. Folks outside Kentucky probably won't know the difference, but those of us in the state can tell.

There are other inaccuracies--not related to accent--that make my teeth itch. For example, Raylan and other characters spent a lot of time running back and forth between Lexington and Harlan. I've made that trip. It's a three hour drive one way. The show makes it seem significantly shorter.

But I do live it when they get things right. Mags Bennett, for example, was inspired by Aunt Maggie Bailey, the real-life Queen of the Mountain Bootleggers.

I'm going to stop now, because when I get started talking about Justified I can go on for days (and I still have to finish watching Season 5). But the tl;dr version: the accents aren't as bad as they could be with the major characters, but aren't fully accurate--too much South, not enough Appalachia to my ear.
posted by magstheaxe at 2:48 PM on October 15, 2014 [3 favorites]

I was born in and lived much of my life in Kentucky. I generally agree with magstheaxe except for on Ava Crowder, who I think slips too much.

As mags sort of mentioned, one of the main failings of some of the accents on Justified is one that's endemic to shaky Southern accents throughout Hollywood: they chew on the sounds and make them too big.

A legit Kentucky accent isn't one where someone manhandles every syllable they say. It's more like the speaker cannot be bothered to fully enunciate. My older brother, for instance, can say the words, "I don't even know" using a single consonant sound. It comes out as, "I-oh-eeeen-oh." That looks extravagant on the page, but it's really very low and casual sounding.

Michael Rapaport made a lot of the right sounds for a Southern accent (not this accent, but a Southern accent anyway), but he made them with such SYL-LA-BULL CHOM-PING overemphasis that it was an abomination to behold.

Mags had the best accent. By a mile. Raylan's accent comes off as a believable lived-in-the-sticks-but-also-lived-elsewhere. It slides in and out, but you get the sense he intentionally deploys it strategically, either as a way to relate, or as part of his handsome cowboy schtick.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 7:25 PM on October 15, 2014 [1 favorite]

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