In Appalachia, we know where you’re from by the way you talk.
[imgcontainer left] [img:17600469.codgers2.jpg] [source]Karen StuebingIn the corner of Appalachia where Tennessee meets Virginia, where this photo was taken, dialect is more southern. Mountaineers like to talk and you can tell what part of Appalachia people come from by the words they use.
Maps are essential in locating and describing where people live in our country. Some who are proficient in map talk, refer to latitude and longitude when pinpointing a specific state, town or region.
However, people who live in the heart of the Appalachia region spreading across the mountains of West Virginia, southwestern Virginia, western North Carolina, northwestern South Carolina, northern Georgia, Alabama, eastern Tennessee and Kentucky are quickly and easily identified not by lines on a map, but by their dialect.
My home is located high in the mountains of West Virginia — Latitude: 38.28 N, Longitude: 80.84. I speak the mountain dialect of the central coalfields of West Virginia: “Hi, How are Y’all? I live in the holler by a crick close to my kin.”
My parents migrated to central West Virginia from Southwest Virginia. They held on to their Virginia accent which was noticeably different from their children’s speech. They said things like: wite, nite, lite, youins.
West Virginia is the boundary state between the North and South. There is no single West Virginia dialect. Instead it depends on what part of the state you live in.
For example, if you live in the northern part of the state, which borders Ohio and Pennsylvania, the accent is more northern. The primary marker being the long “l” sound. Residents in the interior of the state speak more like people from Kentucky or southern Virginia. Residents of the southern counties have a very pronounced southern twang.
Regardless of where you live in West Virginia, we are all blessed with a bit of that southern twang. The further you go into the mountains – the more twang and colloquialism you will find.
So, come with me on a dialect journey into the Appalachian Mountains.
Linguists refer to the southern mountain dialect as the folk speech of Appalachia. The archaic speech can be narrowed down to sort of a Scottish-flavored Elizabethan English. Dialect variations can be traced to immigration patterns. The southeastern coalfields of West Virginia were settled by miners immigrating from Ireland, Scotland and Wales. Along the Ohio River, which was more industrialized, a large number of the immigrants came from Eastern Europe.
There are communities in the southern part of the state that are almost entirely African-American. Mine owners brought in former slaves during the mine wars of the 1800s to replace the striking miners, and because these communities remained segregated, the dialects of the southern slaves lived on in the speech.
I have compiled a list of words and phrases commonly used in mountain dialect and their standard English translation:
Holped – helped
Heered – heard
Deef – deaf
Afreared – afraid
Blinked milk – sour milk
Weary – worry
Near – nigh
Reckon – suppose
Backset – Backset of the flu
Ill – bad-tempered
Gom – Mess
Fillum – Film
Pert-near – almost
Ahr — hour
Am-Bew-Lance — ambulance (Call an am-bew-lance.)
A-mite — a little (You’re lookin’ a-mite peak-ed today.)
Arthur-itis — arthritis (Dad’s arthur-itis is really actin’ up.)
Bar — bear (Llnes, tagers and bars, oh my.)
Battree — battery (The car’s battree is daid.)
Beholden — owe (I don’t want to be beholden to you.)
Briggity — egotistical (The young man is acting briggity agin.)
Book Red — educated (He went to college — he’s book red.)
Cheer — chair ( Pull up a cheer and set a spell.)
Choirpractor — chiropractor (If you are down in the back, go to the choirpractor.)
Co-cola — Coca Cola, any brown soft drink (I ordered a co-cola at the diner.)
Crick – stiffness (I’ve got a crick in my neck.)
Decoration Day – Memorial Day (We visited the family cemetery on Decoration Day.)
Ate Up – completely infected (Dave’s ate up with the cancer.)
Elm — “m” The thirteenth letter of the alphabet. (Dial Elm for Murder.)
Far — fire (The mountain is on far.)
Haint — ghost (from haunt) (I’m afraid I will see a haint in that house.)
Hard — hired (He was the hard hand on the farm.)
His people — relatives (His people came from Ireland.)
Het — upset (She got het up over the contract.)
Hisself – himself (He built the barn hisself.)
Ideal – idea (Try to come up with a good ideal.)
Ink pin – pen (Give him the ink pin.)
Kin – related (He is kin to most of the people in this holler.)
Outsider — A non southern West Virginian (Mountain folk are skeptical of the outsider.)
Parts — neighborhood (It is good to see you back in these parts.)
Pizen — poison (That snake is pizen.)
Plain spoken — honest or genuine (The people trusted Jim because he was plain spoken.)
Poke — bag or a sack (She carried the groceries home in a poke.)
Polecat — skunk (A polecat ran under the old building.)
Put Out — angry or upset (The mayor was put out with the council’s decision.)
Red Light – stop light or traffic signal (My town has one red light.)
Skittish — nervous (The boy was skittish when asked to recite a Bible verse.)
Spell — a while. (She stayed on the mountain for a spell.)
Spell — being lightheaded or dizzy. (The woman had a spell in the doctor’s office.)
Thar — there (Thar’s a pretty little pony in the field.)
Wrastlin’ – wrestling (My son is on the wrastlin’ team.)
Actin’ Up — hurting (His injured knee was actin’ up.)
Agen — against
Bile – boil
Brung — brought
Carry — take or drive
Churched — excommunicated
Drug — dragged Et — eaten
Holt — hold
Kindly — nearly
Learned — taught
Mosey — go to
Pack — carry
Peart — well
Plumb — completely
Reckon — guess
Retched — reached
Rinch — rinse
Sangin’ — digging up ginseng
Worsh — wash
Monday a week — next monday
Shore — sure
Down in the back — back injury
Cut the light on — turn the light on
I don’t care — Yes, please. I would like some. (Do you want more coffee? I don’t care.)
Worshington – Washington
One North Carolina scholar uses the term “constellation of features” in describing the distinctive mountain speech.
[imgcontainer left] [img:Family+reunion+6+-+Pikeville+KY.jpg] [source]Betty Dotson-LewisHere are some of my Kentucky relatives, Jean D. Fuller on the left and Judy D. Coyle on the right. There is a commonality between the dialect spoken in Southwestern Virginia and Eastern Kentucky.