I don't have a very strong southern accent, but living here in Montana, where most of the natives have that nasally Dakotas/Minnesota accent, I actually find myself exaggerating my southern accent even more.
I was born and reared right here in Columbia, but I don't have the heaviest accent. Or so I've been told. Well, back in around 2006 I was arguing a legal matter in federal court in Manhattan. It was a non-jury matter with a courtroom packed with attorneys, reporters, etc. I had been in front of this judge a few times before, and he seemed to like me. Well, after I said my piece and sat down he called on a lawyer from Atlanta who was one of the real deans of the national bar in my area of specialization (he has since retired). He was a true Southern gentleman, but he had that classic old Griffin Bell drawl. Well, he talked for around a minute and the judge interrupted him and called on me. I had already sat down, but I was still inside the bar at one of the counsel tables. I was quickly back on my feet. He said, "I have an observation to make." Well, I was flummoxed. I just said, "Yes your Honor?" (I could have said "observe away, but that would have been really inappropriate). He said, "Compared to Mr. C, you sound like you're from Brooklyn." Well it was really funny, and the laughter was raucous. So I was standing there, trying to figure out what if anything I should say. Bear in mind that you don't ordinarily joke around with judges in the courtroom. But he started it! I just said, "Thank you your Honor . . . I think." Meaning that I really didn't want to sound like I was from Brooklyn. That got a laugh as well, including from the judge, and I beat a hasty retreat to my seat.
Sorry for the long war story. But it seemed appropriate.
I can't tell the difference of Upper East TN, WNC, upstate SC, SW Virginia or Eastern KY in the way we speak ...we all speak Appalachian...mountain dialect is one of the most beautiful to hear. Some words you may not understand, but you would get the gist of what someone is saying...if you're from the South.
A lady in my neighborhood would always call me when she made a RUN of beans...she knew I liked Pintos (or Soup beans as we say in Appalachia)....she's now "gone to glorie" (heaven)
I remember using the word "sigogglin" when I was in school at Carolina, and boy did I get the looks. I used to throw words out that I knew would get that "what does that mean"...most kids from the hills, and mountains of upstate SC would know...it was all in good fun...
Outside of the low country, many people would hear me talk and call me a "geechie boy". Many could tell I'm from the Charleston area pretty quickly. Never made much sense to me considering that term is used to explain the black groups/tribes on the islands down here.
I spent a week in California in 2013. I was in the club house at Pebble Beach with my granddaughter. The folks behind the counter thought I was from Texas. I told them they had very keen ears because I had spent two weeks in Dallas in 1969.
I was born and raised in the upstate (Sparkle City baby!) and I have lived in Charleston for 25 years and raised my children here. While the low country and upstate both have southern accents and drawls, the true Charleston accent sounds very brogue to me. Like when I say boat they say boot here. The upstate is more country. I mean I have cousins even I can barley understand.