Thursday, July 20, 2006

Exploring Appalachian Language

The Richmond Times-Dispatch ran an article today on the Appalachian dialect. While it does have some interesting historical information, I can imagine the blue-bloods in Richmond and greater Megalopolis, sipping on their double lowfat decaf latte, getting their jollies from quoting some of the people interviewed in this article.


Tyler said...


You usurped my first blog entry to this site. Next time I see you, I shall scald you with a double lowfat decaf latte. Kidding aside, I have three problems with this article.

First, it acts as if there is one SWVA Appalachian dialect. People from Tazewell County have a very different dialects and accents than people in Wise County (who have different dialects/accents than people from Dickenson County).

Second, it is a bit too apologetic. Some folks (in Appalachia, in Richmond, the Queen) use bad grammar—it is not a "dialect," it is bad English. The article is overly simplistic on this point.

Finally, there is the irony of someone in Richmond (where I currently reside) writing about a dialect somewhere else. Richmond natives speak their own version of English as well (ask one of them to say out, about, or house).

As an aside, I fully expected a barrage of ribbing and teasing when I read this article this morning. Surprisingly, what little discussion I have heard about it has been positive and in agreement with my above points.

The fact of the matter is we all speak differently and use different diction. Sometimes our speech differences are dialectic, other times they are not. Such subject matter cannot be accurately summarized in a Tuesday newspaper article.

Hillbilly Barrister Stranded in Richmond

Tyler said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Eric Drummond Smith said...

Just today I was talking to a friend of mine who attended UVA, another Appalachian (from North Carolina) about how one of my professors began speaking slowly to me as soon as he found out I was a "poor country boy." Because speaking slower than people highly urbanized regions of the United States in fact means you are stupid. And, as Tyler points out, clumping all Appalachian acccents (I'm thinking of the enormous variance between my hometown of Bluefield and Tyler's high school stomping grounds of Narrows, just a short drive from one-another) into a single category is as foolish, both in terms of the social implications and in terms of fundamental linguistics, as speaking of a single English accent - if you don't know what I mean, listen to folks from Liverpool, compare their accents to people from Cornwall, then go crazy and compare them to people from every neighborhood of London. Sure, Appalachian accents are a sort of family - they are mutually intelligible and share similar intonations and so forth - that said, the drive from Roanoke, VA to Hazard, KY will yield you no less than ten accents that anyone could pick out - IF THEY LISTENED (as opposed to listened to the way actors imitate these accents, or authors write them). As to the point of good grammar by Tyler, I just want to ditto that - If I want to know what a Massachusetts accent is like, I'm not going to depend solely on the poorest of the poor in the suburbs of Boston.

Oh, and please, why don't you just write, "awww, idn't your widdle accent so cutsey-poo! I bet your mommee wuvs you! Poor mountun peoples too stupid to speak good English. So presh-us!"

I just want to add one other thing, a response to this statement:

Because, in the mountains, that's the way they speak, and they're not known to change their ways just because those outside the region want them to.

Go to hell. In the last two hundred years our mountains have transformed from a source of natural resources to an agricultural region to the source of hard, black blood of American industry - today our industries are thriving and our service sectors are expanding rapidly - most especially in the realm of eco-tourism. When the rest of the South was preparing for a war to defend the institution of slavery and the North was debating schemes to repatriate freedmen, Appalachians were organizing the first equal rights movements. We've gone from a largely Scots-Irish culture at the turn of the 18th Century to one that is composed of virtually every conceivable ethnic group. Our rural region has small or medium cities in every single subregion and the entire world has begun to embrace our traditional arts and music (without a proxy sponsor, at last) even homegrown artists and musicians engage in every imaginable genre with the dawn of internet cosmopolitanism. Hell, one hundred and thirty years ago, my hometown didn't exist save as a fur outpost. Just a few decades later it was major transportation hub and minor industrial hub. Now it is a center of regional service industries and can claim a Nobel Prize winner in economics.

Just like all other Americans, and human beings in general, we Appalachians respond to advances and changes in technology, the arts, and the political economy. We aren't living fossils or museum displays. We are human beings emerging from a period in which our economy was tasked to the support of the industries of other parts of our Nation.

Of course maybe I just don't understand. Since I'm so slow to change (read: learn).

Sorry for the rant.

Our Goblin Market said...

This makes me so %@*&^$# angry. Why don't we all go out and live the way some Hollywood Camera crew wants us to or by the poster of some neutral looking TV News Anchor. Instead of accepting language for what it really is, a means of communication, we have to keep living with people like this that only seem hear what they think they know. For example,” Many non-Appalachians fail to recognize their speech as a dialect. To them it's just bad English, and those who speak it must therefore be uneducated." What many is this writer talking about? I don't know anyone who uses a strong "i" and then turns around and says sorry, I forgot I was from Southwest Virginia. The problem here is that even now we are apologizing for something we have no need to apologize for. Language is nothing more than a beautiful means of communication and in doing so we are able to let someone know who we are. And if a specific dialect is show then we are able to cherish where they come from and not the ever so loved dialect of the "proper" TV world. We are loosing traditions from our culture that we all need to stand up for. I also live in Richmond and the sad part of this is that there are people who really believe the "Hick Hype" and look at me with lowered eyes, but I have to say that in some dialects across the city I have no idea what is being said but I can look at the speaker and say that what I just witnessed was special and does not need to be changed. STAND UP and be proud of the language you have. Do not bleed into the big screen. Our language comes from a time when people told stories by music. It is an extension of Shakespeare where the lyric and the poem directed the content of what was being said. It is singing praise to the way a word moves on it's own. Will this ever end? Maybe it is true to you that "Because, in the mountains, that's the way they speak, and they're not known to change their ways just because those outside the region want them to." If we have to fight what might be important to people who really don't want to understand I don't think we need to justify anything to you sir.