For Dallas-based Crissy Lintner, a certain kind of voice can transport her to another place—and even make her hungry.
“When I hear a Cajun accent, I picture hanging moss trees, French-style architecture, and good food,” she says.
No wonder: that vocal Creole is heard on the streets of New Orleans, whose locals scored near the top of the America’s Favorite Cities survey for their unmistakable accents. Every year, Travel + Leisure readers rank 35 U.S. cities for tangible features like great hotels as well as intangible qualities, such as a peaceful atmosphere and the refreshingly regional way that some locals talk. The friendly lilts in Savannah, GA, won for most charming accent, while two high-ranking island cities—Honolulu and San Juan, P.R.—confirm that some geographic isolation can make a city feel, and sound, unique.
Accents are “an important piece of our history that has been transmitted down,” says Bridget Drinka, a linguist and chairman of the English department at the University of Texas at San Antonio—another city that ranked in the top 10, one where the idea of “Tex-Mex” can extend beyond tamales and into speech.
While plenty of folks insist that regional accents have faded, linguists only partially agree. Relocation dulls some twangs, but the gradual blurring of class distinctions has also made it so that more people don’t feel the pressure to “lose” their down-home-sounding accents anymore, according to Allan Metcalf, author of OK: The Improbable Story of America’s Greatest Word. “Local accents that used to be stigmatized,” he says, “now seem charming.”
Granted, some accents sound more charming than others. “The southern accent tends to be perceived as intimate, friendly,” Metcalf observes, “and the northern accent is perceived as intelligent—but not terribly friendly.” Indeed, Deep South and Texas accents dominate the top 20 survey results, while Boston (or Bahston) is the only northeastern city to crack the top 10.
Lintner admits that she does judge folks by their accent when she travels, but in a good way. “I trust someone with an authentic accent,” she says, “because they’re probably natives—and so they know the best hidden places to go.”