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Talking Appalachian

Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community

Amy D. Clark
Nancy M. Hayward
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 256
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  • Book Info
    Talking Appalachian
    Book Description:

    Tradition, community, and pride are fundamental aspects of the history of Appalachia, and the language of the region is a living testament to its rich heritage. Despite the persistence of unflattering stereotypes and cultural discrimination associated with their style of speech, Appalachians have organized to preserve regional dialects -- complex forms of English peppered with words, phrases, and pronunciations unique to the area and its people. Talking Appalachian examines these distinctive speech varieties and emphasizes their role in expressing local history and promoting a shared identity.

    Beginning with a historical and geographical overview of the region that analyzes the origins of its dialects, this volume features detailed research and local case studies investigating their use. The contributors explore a variety of subjects, including the success of African American Appalachian English and southern Appalachian English speakers in professional and corporate positions. In addition, editors Amy D. Clark and Nancy M. Hayward provide excerpts from essays, poetry, short fiction, and novels to illustrate usage. With contributions from well-known authors such as George Ella Lyon and Silas House, this balanced collection is the most comprehensive, accessible study of Appalachian language available today.

    eISBN: 978-0-8131-4158-9
    Subjects: Linguistics, History

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Preface
    (pp. vii-x)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-22)
    Amy D. Clark and Nancy M. Hayward

    To every person who has asked us why Appalachians sound like hillbillies, to every teacher who corrected us for taking our home voices to school, and to every misguided individual who has described Appalachian speech varieties as “bad,” “incorrect,” or “improper,” this book is our response.

    Like the borders of Appalachia, its dialects are difficult to define, and the boundaries of where language “appropriateness” begins and ends are blurred by politics.Bad grammar,hillbonics,hick,comfortable tongue,nonstandard English,briar,countrified, andShakespeareanare value-laden descriptors of Appalachian speech that may lead to emotional reactions. The way people clash over...

  5. Part I: Varieties, Education, and Power in Appalachia

    • The Historical Background and Nature of the Englishes of Appalachia
      (pp. 25-53)
      Michael Montgomery

      The historical background of the English language in Appalachia and its ongoing change reveal a heritage shared across the region in many ways today. Yet at the same time these fundamental realities fully justify the plural designation AppalachianEnglishes, to indicate its diversity. The overarching labelAppalachiancan be useful to make qualified generalizations about speech and many other things, to suggest commonalities between places that are distant on the map, or to identify affinities that people in the mountain states of the eastern United States share. However, in practice, local or subregional identities rank first and trump the broad...

    • The Appalachian Range: The Limits of Language Variation in West Virginia
      (pp. 54-69)
      Kirk Hazen, Jaime Flesher and Erin Simmons

      Consider the following scene from the TV showThe Golden Girls:

      Dorothy: Ma, what are you doing?

      Sophia: Getting ready. There’s a hurricane a-coming!

      Dorothy: A-coming?

      Sophia: Yes. People only use thea- if a really big storm is a-coming or a-brewing.

      Dorothy: Look, Ma, I don’t mean to be a-criticizing you.

      Sophia: Don’t you patronize me!

      Dorothy: I’m not patronizing you. I’m a-mocking you!¹

      In this exchange, a single sound triggers a lot of social meaning. A dialect feature like thea- prefix carries such strong social meaning because it is associated with stigmatized regions like Appalachia. Perhaps because...

    • Think Locally: Language as Community Practice
      (pp. 70-80)
      Nancy M. Hayward

      Those who study Appalachian Englishes—dialectologists, folklorists, sociolinguists, historians, and geographers especially—have long been interested in Appalachian dialects for reasons important to their own disciplines. To these people, Appalachian English (AE) has represented, among other things, a uniquely situated dialect, a remnant of an archaic language, a language that is localized in a place and resonates with a culture, and a language that came with waves of immigration and was “deposited” along a mountain chain because of economics, migration, and jobs. Researchers across disciplines helped concretize a definition of Appalachia. Further, as the introduction points out, the definition was...

    • African American Speech in Southern Appalachia
      (pp. 81-93)
      Walt Wolfram

      Despite their invisibility in traditional portraits of Appalachia, African Americans have been a part of southern Appalachian culture since the eighteenth century. In fact, nearly 10 percent of the population of the Mountain South is African American.¹ Even though the black population was much less dense than in the lowland, plantation South, African Americans in southern Appalachia were not cushioned from the social and political impact of enslavement and social subordination.² At the same time, there were differences. Wilma Dunaway notes that in the Mountain South, slaveholdings per household were smaller than in the lowland South, more ethnic mixing occurred...

    • Dialect and Education in Appalachia
      (pp. 94-109)
      Jeffrey Reaser

      Language, perhaps more than any other discipline, is fundamental to all academic pursuits. Other disciplines assume students’ proficiency in academic language, while English or language arts classes typically do not assume an ability in math or physics. Because language is assumed to be a part of a person’s overall ability, it is typically acceptable to admit deficiencies in a subject like math (“I can’t balance my checking account”) but not about language (“I can’t conjugate my verbs”). The different evaluations of these disciplines stem from multiple important differences between the subject matters. Children acquire language in advance of the onset...

    • Voices in the Appalachian Classroom
      (pp. 110-124)
      Amy D. Clark

      As a native of central Appalachia, I grew up in a multigeneration family with homes spread throughout a holler in far southwestern Virginia. There, a “story” ranges from a Jack tale to a homey anecdote to juicy gossip, and thetellingis as important as the details. My family told stories as they graded tobacco, put up vegetables from the garden, and rested on the front porch. Women told stories on Saturdays as they gave each other perms in their kitchens. And everyone told stories over Sunday dinner, their words and sentences embroidered in a variety of Appalachian English that...

    • Silence, Voice, and Identity among Appalachian College Women
      (pp. 125-140)
      Katherine Sohn

      Like the contributors whose stories of language prejudice appear in part II of this volume, the nontraditional students from eastern Kentucky who took my composition classes in the early 1990s experienced discrimination on the basis of their gender and their dialect, and this figured strongly in their identities. These women were the subject of my doctoral study, for which I interviewed eight graduates of Preston College in Preston County, Kentucky (the names of both the college and the county are pseudonyms), to discover the effects of acquiring academic literacy and current literacy practices. From the eight, I chose three women...

    • Language and Power
      (pp. 141-162)
      Anita Puckett

      My point of view toward language is different from that of the other contributors to part I, so I must use some space to describe these differences and their influence on the study of language and power relationships in coalfield Appalachian speech. This perspective asserts that languages, whether spoken or written down in some way, should be viewed as always doing “cultural work.”¹ That is, it assumes that we actually use language all the time to create “places” for ourselves in the social world around us. This process most commonly involves using speech to consciously or subconsciously accomplish specific goals...

    • The Treatment of Dialect in Appalachian Literature
      (pp. 163-182)
      Michael Ellis

      Stereotypes about Appalachian culture and Appalachian English have been around so long that it is hard to imagine a time when they did not exist, a time before there was even a distinctive variety of English in the region. Dialectologists, linguistic geographers, lexicographers, and sociolinguists have added considerably to our knowledge of Appalachian Englishes in the twentieth century and beyond, but how Appalachian varieties developed and what they were like in the nineteenth century are only beginning to be understood.¹ However, long before the first linguistic studies were published, many Americans thought they were already familiar with the language of...

  6. Part II: Voices from Appalachia

    • Personal Essays

      • Voiceplace
        (pp. 185-192)
        George Ella Lyon

        Early in “Song of Myself ” Walt Whitman declares that he is “one of the Nation of many nations, the smallest the same and the largest the same” and then gives us fourteen long lines of places and ways of life, from the “Kentuckian walking the vale of the Elkhorn” to the fishermen “off Newfoundland, / at home in the fleet of iceboats.” He concludes the catalogue by saying: “I resist anything better than my own diversity / Breathe the air but leave plenty after me, / And am not stuck up, and am in my place.”

        Whitman knew that...

      • In My Own Country
        (pp. 193-204)
        Silas House

        I am twelve. The teacher’s pet. I often get to lead the class in the Pledge of Allegiance, I am the first called on when I put up my hand, I have been personally selected by Mrs. Black to write the class play about FDR.

        But today Mrs. Black is absent, and we have a substitute. Sour, sullen, angry for no good reason, although in retrospect I think it may have been because of her green, all-polyester dress suit that looked like the fabric of my granny’s couch. Mrs. Black is always happy and excited about learning. This substitute teacher...

      • Southern Exposure
        (pp. 205-208)
        Lee Smith

        I have always known I have a strong southern accent but hadn’t focused on it in a while until recently, when a well-meaning (though northern) friend told me she thought that I ought to take speech lessons.

        “What for?” I asked.

        “Well, you’re always going around giving readings and talks, and it just seems to me that you ought to present yourself in the best possible light.” She was floundering now and turning red.

        “I have no intention of ever giving up this accent,” I told her, the truth dawning on me as I spoke. “It’s a political decision.” But...

      • A Matter of Perception
        (pp. 209-214)
        Jane Hicks

        “I reckon poor old Tyler Farrar expected a better day. They’re crashing everywhere, the whole field is blocked.”

        On paper, this sounds like Darrell Waltrip commentary on a NASCAR race. On television, uttered with a British accent, it becomes quite something else. These are the words of Phil Liggett MBE (as in Sir Phil Liggett) in a commentary on Le Tour de France. Sir Phil, former professional bicycle racer, is the premier English-speaking commentator and broadcaster of the tour. For a number of years, I have kept a notebook of Sir Phil’s familiar expressions that would get me laughed out...

    • Novel Excerpts

      • Carrie Bishop: From Storming Heaven
        (pp. 215-218)
        Denise Giardina

        I had a dream the night Miles came home from Berea. I dreamed one of Flora’s quilts hung on the clothesline to dry. It was the double wedding band, neverending loops of purple and red on white backing, paths leading back into themselves, mountain paths that refused to run straight. The quilt did not sag on the line but was taut as if nailed onto an invisible wall. Something moved at its center; it was the point of a knife thrust from the back. The knife cut easily as through butter, with no sound of tearing. I knew Miles held...

      • The High Sheriff: From One Foot in Eden
        (pp. 219-225)
        Ron Rash

        There had been trouble in the upper part of the county at a honky-tonk called The Borderline, and Bobby had come by the house because he didn’t want to go up there alone. I couldn’t blame him. One badge, especially a deputy’s badge, might not be enough. It was a rough clientele, young bucks from Salem and Jocassee mixed with young bucks come down from North Carolina. That was usually the trouble, North Carolina boys fighting South Carolina boys.

        I had a good book on the Cherokee Indians I’d just started, but when Bobby knocked on the door I knew...

      • Ezra’s Journal and Andrew Nettles: From Hiding Ezra
        (pp. 226-230)
        Rita Quillen

        Dec. 12, 1918. I wish I was back at fort Lee. Everybody was sad about me going in the Army and some fellows I talked to said I was heading straight to hell. But I kind of like it. I got to know some fine people there. The food wasn’t bad, they had some fine weapons. I even liked the training, the rope climbing and the obstacle courses. A man needs a test ever now and then, He needs to know how he stacks up.

        I done alright for myself. I was proud of my shooting up there. Pa would’ve...

    • Short Story

      • Holler
        (pp. 231-244)
        Crystal Wilkinson

        Turn left where Otha’s one-room store used to be and the poplars get thicker, drive past Mt. Zion Baptist Church and across the concrete bridge and on up the holler. You’ll be able to see Green River if you stretch your neck but don’t expect something out of a picture book. It’s brown, plumb full of mosquitoes, water moccasins galore.

        Go to the end of the road and on up the hill a little and this is Mission Creek—this is where we live. You might not expect to find black people in the mountains, not many of us left,...

    • Poetry

  7. Acknowledgments
    (pp. 247-248)
    Amy D. Clark and Nancy M. Hayward
  8. List of Contributors
    (pp. 249-254)
  9. Permissions
    (pp. 255-256)
  10. Index
    (pp. 257-264)