Imagine my surprise when I went to Jamaica a few years ago and learned that I did, indeed, have an accent. You see, unlike my paternal grandmother, I do not stretch the word "cornbread" into four syllables. She could say, "Here. Have some co-orn-bray-ed;" whereas I might say, "You want some corn-bread?" See? Two syllables on the cornbread; "you" instead of "ye."
Unlike my maternal grandmother, I say "carrion" instead of "kyarn." In fact, I had no idea what she was talking about until recently when I mentioned the word to my husband. I told him, "Grandmother used to say, 'That stinks like kyarn.' I never figured out what 'kyarn' was. " He said, "Road kill." My jaw dropped. "You mean, carrion? Kyarn is carrion?" "Yeah," he said. "Put the Appalachian Accent to it."
I did not have any accent.
So I came to the conclusion that I have no accent. After all, I'm fairly well educated. I studied French for three years, and I did some self-study of German and Greek. Plus, I'm well read, and I've been authoring several books. Is not I the berries? I could not possibly have a hillbilly, Appalachian accent. And yet, in Jamaica, everyone I met asked, "What part of the South are you from?"
So I did a little research and learned that the Appalachian region has its own language. Linguists call it "Appalachian English." The Scots-Irish settled the entire region known as Appalachia (all of West Virginia and parts of Virginia, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee and Georgia) in the mid-1700's. At the time, physical boundaries kept modernization out. Then in the 1940's, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park was created; and that brought tourists to the area. By the 1950's, highways and telephones were more prevalent across Appalachia, bringing the modern world closer to its rural people.
Now, I do not want you to think we are in Appalachia a bunch of snobs. We understand that the same immigrants who settled here settled land elsewhere, but the linguists tell us that our speech patterns will not be found in any other dialect to the extent that they are in Appalachia. In addition, we Appalachians use variants of our own speech patterns. Just because I do not use the same words as my grandmothers does not mean that I do not have an Appalachian accent. In fact, the linguists say that each region has its own speech patterns and that most of us allow our situations to govern our speech. For example, when I'm talking with my family, I'm liable to let down my guard a little – use a bit more Appalachian English and a bit less Standard American English. In a more formal situation, I'll try to employ a lot less Appalachian English. Even though I know from personal experience that most Appalachians are not "dumb hillbillies," I'm afraid that others might see me that way if I use the language I naturally use. And yet, some phonological differences are so inbred that I can not use them.
Did you know that the t at the end of sleep did not sound silent? You might say, "I slept in this morning." I would say, "I slep in." To me, that "t" just does not feel right. It reminds me of an episode of "All in The Family" where Edith met a Jewish baker and called her "Edit." She told him, "My name's Edith! Th!" So then he called her "Edit-th." To me, "slep-t" would be every bit as awkward.
Do you say "exactly" or "exackly"? And how about ten? I've heard people say "ten" with a short and sound – like in the word "bed." How weird is that? Tin and ten are words with the "exack" same sound but different meanings.
The linguists also point out some lexical differences in Appalachian English. For example, the Standard American English word could be faucet, but the Appalachian English version would be spigot. If somebody looks sick, we might say, "he's peaked" (that's peek-ed). Did you hurt your finger? Then we might say you "stoved it up." I once knew a man who replaced "for" for "why." He'd say, "I need to go to the store, because I'm out of milk." My brother would replace the entire remainder of our family with the word "nim". He'd ask me, "Did Mama and Nim go to the store?" Some people say "knowed" rather than "knew." We're famous for our double negatives. "I do not have any of that." Our present perfect tense has raised some eyebrows, too. "He's done done it now!"
This little foray into my Appalachian heritage has given me new insight. We may chop some of our "-ings"; we might "reckon" rather than "guess" at times; and we could have places with such outlandish names as "Lick Skillet," "Frog Holler" and "Sugar Loaf," but we have a rich history. We know where we came from and, for the most part, where we're going. And if anyone thinks we're a bunch of ignorant hillbillies, then you ought to come to know us a little better. If you stay long enough, we may be able to teach you how to talk right.
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