I'm fairly sure all you nice folks know how to speak and read English, other wise you wouldn't be able to read this blog. In this blog I'm gonna to teach you how to speak Appalachian English. As was mentioned in an earlier blog post, our local dialect is known as the oldest form of Elizabethan English. To give you a bit of history on how folks from the Appalachian regions managed to keep their old world language we gotta step back in time. Back in the early days of American history, before we had heavy immigration laws and years of paper work to become a citizen, we were known as the melting pot of the world. We use to accept all people who desired to be free and to live life to the fullest. It use to be that ships would arrive daily bringing new residents from all over the world. A lot of the folks arriving in the late 1700's and early 1800's were Dutch, English, Scottish, German, and Irish.
As immigrants arrived with visions of a new life, freedom and land ownership; they stepped off the boat to a much different reality. The life they expected was there for the taking but it was going to require a lot of work. Some of those groups such as the Scott's and the Irish faced heavy ridicule. They were treated as sub-humans who were not worthy of a fine job. As a result many had to find jobs in the least desirable occupations such as coal mining and logging. The areas where you find most of these occupations are in the Appalachian mountains. After a lot of work and hardships a lot of these folks found a life in the mountains. Although living conditions were often very harsh it made the mountain folks into a resilient lot. Over the decades these hearty folks just kind of shunned away from the rest of society. They felt as if the life of the big city just wasn't as appealing as life in the mountains. City folks rarely ever came to the mountain regions unless it was to cut down the trees or mine the coal and iron.
Life in the mountains didn't really change very much from 1800 through 1950. Until the creation of the Great Smoky Mountains Nation Park the folks living in the areas of East Tennessee and Western North Carolina remained mostly isolated for over 150 years. In the days of the horse and carriage traveling these areas was no easy task. As the United States grew and expanded and its populations increased and its city's began bursting at the seams with industry, the mountain folks stayed the same. The languages all over america started to blend together and evolve. The languages in the mountains remained unchanged. Each section of the mountains had formed a slight variation on its dialect but for the most part we all have that very distinct form of speech.
Now that you know how our language came to remain unchanged lets get into how to speak English, lesson 1. The first thing you have to know is that we love the letter R. Much like the Irish love the letter D. For example, if you want to speak Irish just trade the first letter with a D such as "Dem Der folks is mighty fine aren't dhey". Of course this is an extreme exaggeration and I have likely offended some Irish folks, but it gets the point across. For us, we like the letter R and we use it in a lot of ways. When I was growing up we did not wash clothing we waRshed clothes. No one smoked tobacco they smoked backeR. You look out of a windeR not a window. We also like to shorten words because we have found that shorter words roll better. For example we don't say you are or even you're when we speak, for us it comes out as yer. As in "Yer goin the wrong way". We use a lot of gonna, wanna, woulda, shoulda as well. You may have noticed it a few times in this blog already. Some words blend together to create a totally new word like "whatcha" which has a different meaning based on how its used. Example: "Whatcha doin today?" and "Whatcha got in yer hand?" In the first example it means "what are you" and in the second it means "what do you". We also rarely enunciate the last part of a word as in doin rather than doing. On the flip side we might leave off the first part of a word as in "at right'air is crazy talk" instead of saying "that right there is crazy talk". These types of words are very hard for folks to read and often just as hard to understand when we speak at full speed. The word right'air is spoken as one word (rye-T-air).
A lot of folks think that because of the way we talk we are less intelligent. However, I can speak typical mid-western US English with perfect clarity any time I like without missing a beat, I simpely choose not to. On the other hand most folks who aint from round here have a hard time grasping our mountain dialect. Not that their lack in ability makes them less intelligent or our ability to speak plainly makes us more intelligent ... our dialect has more to do with our heritage and a desire to keep our old ways than it does with any level of intellect. A famous Albert Einstein quote says "Everybody is a Genius. But If You Judge a Fish by Its Ability to Climb a Tree, It Will Live Its Whole Life Believing that It is Stupid." We are people who are proud of our heritage and our way of life. We keep our heritage where as most other Americans have no idea what the word even means. Most think their heritage is Irish, Scottish, English, Etc but they don't realize that is their ancestry, not their heritage. Heritage is how your ancestors lived, things they learned from their parents and passed on to their children. The foods they grew and ate, the songs they sang, the stories they told, the language they spoke, the items they made, the way they lived their lives. Heritage is a big complex collection of things that make a group who they are. Heritage: Defined as 1. something that is handed down from the past, as a tradition 2. something that comes or belongs to one by reason of birth.
Although the world has kept evolving and our mountains are now filled with daily guests (which we enjoy), a lot of the mountain folks have managed to hold onto their old ways. My uncle has a cabin off in the woods where he has lived without power or running water for over 60 years. To some it may seem difficult or crazy, to him its the only way to live. He doesn't have to concern himself with paying large bills or keeping up with the Jones's. Some call it living the simple life but its anything but simple. He lives a life of daily activity and work. He feeds himself with the harvest he reaps in the summer and fall. In order to survive the winter he has to can foods. He hunts to get meat and he raises animals. He isn't living a simple life and in his words "I aint got time to get bored" but he is living the life he loves.
The mountain folks have managed to keep the dialect alive but the world is changing. Our kids grow up and are engaged with other children who don't speak our dialect. They are constantly corrected in school by teachers and other adults. The famous saying is that "aint, aint a word" the reality is that "Aint" was a word back in the past but the good old king got tired of it being used improperly and had it removed from the English language. The word aint might not be a word to the teachers but it is a word to us. To tell us not to use it is to alter our heritage and strip it away. Even merriam-webster likes to try to offend anyone who uses the word aint ... as if they built the English language?? Here is their take on the word aint straight from their website "Although widely disapproved as nonstandard, and more common in the habitual speech of the less educated, ain't is flourishing in American English. It is used in both speech and writing to catch attention and to gain emphasis." The people who publish the dictionary have just called a few hundred thousand people "less educated" based on their use of a very common word. They make the assumption that because we say aint, that we must be less educated. ... how nice. I'd be offended if I wasn't more intelligent than 99.9% of the people who work there. We have been using these words since before they published their first book, so who's less educated? Just because you include a word or leave a word out of a book does not dictate its existence or use. It has been used since the 1600's which is much longer than merriam-webster has been around (1828).
Lets move on to some of our slang words used here in East Tennessee. So do any of you know what wigidiga means? It means "with you did you" as in "Did you bring your camera wigidiga?" Another of our famous slang words is yon'to which means would you like to as in "Yon'to go eat?" (Yo-N-Too). Mr. Foxworthy made famous one of our favorites which is ayes. The slang word ayes means "there is" as in "Ayes a lot of folks in town today". Beyond slang words we also use other words which are common in English all over america we just use them more often. Words like "Folks" for example. We call a group of people "folks". We also use the word "ought" more than most everyone else. Most folks don't realize that's a real word in the dictionary, they ought to look it up and see. We call our children "young'ins" rather than kids or children. Some words locally are used by some but not by others. One great example is Y'all vs. You'ns (pronounced y-un-s). Dolly is famous for saying Y'all but in my family we use You'ns almost exclusively.
One of the more famous users of Appalachian English was Andy Griffith. He used a lot of the dialect in his show but because he had to be understood by the rest of America he had to tone it down a lot and over the years it kinda just faded to the side. This is evident in his golden years on shows like Mattlock where his dialect was not nearly as strong as it once was. I myself have to work hard to use more common words and phrases on tours so that people understand me better.
I could go on and on with a lot more words but if I did you wouldn't have any reason for a tour now would ya. I hope you all have enjoyed this little blog. If you want to have a conversation with me and learn more of our unique dialect you are welcome to join one of our tours. I do most of the history and heritage tours. My favorite is Sights of the Smokies because I get 8 full hours to get to know folks and I always have new friends by the end of the tour. Feel free to leave a comment below and always remember to be safe on your travels.