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Talkin' Tar Heel

Talkin' Tar Heel: How Our Voices Tell the Story of North Carolina

Walt Wolfram
Jeffrey Reaser
Copyright Date: 2014
Pages: 352
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  • Book Info
    Talkin' Tar Heel
    Book Description:

    Are you considered a "dingbatter," or outsider, when you visit the Outer Banks?Have you ever noticed a picture in your house hanging a little "sigogglin," or crooked?Do you enjoy spending time with your "buddyrow," or close friend?Drawing on over two decades of research and 3,000 recorded interviews from every corner of the state, Walt Wolfram and Jeffrey Reaser's lively book introduces readers to the unique regional, social, and ethnic dialects of North Carolina, as well as its major languages, including American Indian languages and Spanish. Considering how we speak as a reflection of our past and present, Wolfram and Reaser show how languages and dialects are a fascinating way to understand our state's rich and diverse cultural heritage. The book is enhanced by maps and illustrations and augmented by more than 100 audio and video recordings, which can be found online at

    eISBN: 978-1-4696-1564-6
    Subjects: Linguistics, History, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
    (pp. vii-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Tar Heels in North Cackalacky
    (pp. 1-21)

    “From Manteo to Murphy” (or “from Murphy to Manteo”) is a common expression used throughout North Carolina. The idiom spans 475 miles (544 driving miles)—from the Intracoastal Waterway community of Manteo (population 1,500) on Roanoke Island, located at the site of the first English settlement in North America, to the southwestern border town of Murphy (population 1,700), nestled in the Smoky Mountains. The physical geography extends from the most expansive coastal estuary on the East Coast of the United States to the lush, rock-garden vegetation of the Smoky Mountains. But “Manteo to Murphy” refers to much more than distance...

  6. 2 The Origins of Language Diversity in North Carolina
    (pp. 22-46)

    Historical settlement patterns and migrations provided the blueprint for modern language diversity, and culture and society are the agencies for managing it. Language variation is so tightly woven into the state’s cultural fabric that it is not realistically possible to study the history of North Carolina without considering language. Voiceprints from the many groups who arrived at different times and under different circumstances are still heard in the diverse regional and ethnic languages and dialects used throughout the state. But the shifting sounds, words, and grammar are not simply a legacy of the past; they are part of a dynamic,...

  7. 3 Landscaping Dialect: From Manteo to Murphy
    (pp. 47-73)

    Driving the 544-mile trek from the coast to the mountains—from Manteo to Murphy—can now be done in one very long day thanks to highways such as Route 64 and Interstate 40. But every year, scores of people choose, instead, to bike, run, and even walk across the state. For their effort, they experience in a unique way changes in North Carolina’s physical terrain and cultural and linguistic landscape that cannot be envisioned or perceived from a speeding automobile. Speed, mobility, and accessibility may have contracted the world, but the historical and social forces we described in the last...

  8. 4 Talkin’ Country and City
    (pp. 74-98)

    Some of the regional differences in North Carolina can be quite striking, but we don’t have to travel very far to hear distinctive dialects. Lots of differences can be explained by appealing to a couple of distinctions: rural and urban and young and old. To hear the contrast, residents of metropolitan centers like Charlotte, Raleigh, or Greensboro only need to go to a farmers market where an older farmer is selling fresh produce from his family farm, putting yoursnaps,taters, andbutter beansin apokefor you tocarryhome. Or go to a local country barbecue pit...

  9. 5 The Outer Banks Brogue
    (pp. 99-127)

    Islands make for considerable linguistic intrigue—from the lore of splendid seclusion, where a language can exist without interference from the outside world, to the eruptive linguistic mixture taking place when incomprehensible languages collide in an isolated setting. Linguists are highly curious about these situations since they offer natural laboratories for observing the dynamics of language change and maintenance. Researchers don’t have the luxury of capturing speakers and placing them on an island to see what happens to their language, though one linguistic researcher actually proposed a study to the National Science Foundation that would take a group of volunteers...

  10. 6 Mountain Talk
    (pp. 128-151)

    In traveling through the mountains of western North Carolina, we have encountered a number of unforgettable characters, from back-porch musicians to storytellers and moonshiners. One of the noted musical families from the Caney Fork section of Jackson County is featured in the documentaryThe Queen Family: Appalachian Tradition and Back Porch Music.¹ At age ninetythree, shortly before her death, Mary Jane Queen, the family matriarch, received the highest heritage honor from the National Endowment for the Arts for knowledge and preservation of hundreds of ballads that originated in England, Ireland, and Scotland, along with her knowledge of traditional foods, flowers,...

  11. 7 African American Speech in North Carolina
    (pp. 152-182)

    In the documentaryVoices of North Carolina, North Carolina statesman Bill Friday introduces a vignette on African American English by observing: “Language is an important part of all social and cultural groups, but it seems to have a special place in the African American community.” That may be an understatement. For more than a half century now, the topic of African American speech has been a hot-button topic. Everyone has an opinion—just ask people what they think about “Ebonics” and you’ll get an earful.¹ The controversy about African American speech is not surprising since language serves as a proxy...

  12. 8 The Legacy of American Indian Languages
    (pp. 183-215)

    From Hatteras and across the Pamlico Sound, up the Neuse River, past the Sauratown Mountains, and all the way to Cherokee County, American Indians have left imprints of their ancestry on the place names of North Carolina. The remnant reminders capture a fleeting glimpse of the linguistic and cultural diversity that existed in North Carolina before the arrival of Europeans who brought their own notions about and names for the land. The intertwining of American Indian and European names seems appropriate, however, when one considers just how connected the groups have been since the arrival of European explorers and settlers....

  13. 9 Lumbee English: Tar Heel American Indian Dialect
    (pp. 216-242)

    Robeson County is the most ethnically diverse county in North Carolina, with minority groups constituting the majority of the population. Contributing to the county’s diversity is the largest American Indian population east of the Mississippi River—the Lumbee, whose tribal members, now approaching 50,000, make up 39 percent of the Robeson County population, with the rest composed of non-Hispanic European Americans (25 percent), African Americans (25 percent), and Hispanics (8 percent).¹ The first three ethnic groups have lived side by side for several centuries now, enduring long periods of legal and de facto segregation—three seating areas in the movie...

  14. 10 Carolina del Norte: Latino Tar Heels
    (pp. 243-270)

    [Interviewer:] Tell me a little about how you ended up in Ocracoke, where you came from, how you got here and so forth.

    [Franco Garcia (pseudonym)]: Well, I come from Mexico and I’m coming here find, looking for job, you know what I’m saying? Well, I’m working first in Germantown, yeah, in one plant open oyster. I don’ like this work, you know and I coming to Little Washington. Somebody going to Little Washington and I tell him, “Man, where you from?”

    He say, “From Ocracoke.”

    “Oh, you see job over there? Man, give me one favor. Give me ride...

  15. 11 Celebrating Language Diversity
    (pp. 271-290)

    From a safe distance, the middle-aged man stopped and stared at our exhibit at the State Fair. His greased, dark hair and rebel flag insignia on his black leather jacket and upturned collar made us wonder if we were about to confront the occasional visitor who reacts negatively to our celebration of language diversity. Though he was our only visitor at the time, he stood in the middle of the lobby, glaring intently at our panels about Spanish, Cherokee, Lumbee English, and African American English, among others. Eventually, he inched toward our staff, and we braced ourselves for his reaction....

  16. Notes
    (pp. 291-316)
  17. Index of Dialect Words and Phrases
    (pp. 317-322)
  18. Index of Subjects
    (pp. 323-331)