I have always found language fascinating. Actually, it is the English language and its many variations that I find fascinating. Looking at local dialects, I believe, give us a glimpse of our ancestors and maybe even clues as to where our ancestors immigrated from long ago. A lot of the language I grew up with has roots in Scotland and Ireland. This makes perfect sense to me because many of the first settlers in Appalachia were from Great Britain and Ireland. Some of my ancestors were among the first pioneers into what is now West Virginia so my family has lived in those beautiful Mountains since the mid 1700's. Needless to say that my WV roots run very, very deep! While I was growing up in West Virginia I was not always aware of the fact that the way people in my part of the world talk is a bit different. Our ‘vernacular’ is unique. I knew that I didn't have the ‘typical’ southern accent but I knew that I sure did have something.
I first became truly aware of the way I spoke when I went away to college for the first time. Fairmont State is in WV and only about 3 hours north of home but boy-o-boy did I stand out! Many students were from northern WV or out of state and to them I may as well have been speaking a foreign language! I was forever being asked to ‘say this’ or ‘say that’. Not only was my pronunciation of words different but sometimes the words I used were completely different and, at times, needed an explanation. In my very first college class, English 102, we were given a cultural crossword puzzle. Much to my surprise I was the only one in the class that knew a four letter word, other than sack, for bag. I was teased endlessly during freshman orientation about my ‘accent’ but it all seemed to make since after that English class and the professor’s lecture about dialects and the English language. So, I guess you could say that my fascination with dialects began during my freshman year of college.
Poke: a bag or sack
- I can hear my Granddaddy now, “Go fetch me some potaters….put ‘em in this here poke.”
- My brother used to live near a convenience store called The Poke-N-Tote. It was in Summersville,WV…not sure if it is still exsists.
- “Pig in a poke” or “Don’t buy a pig in a poke” can be traced back to the mid 1500’s in Great Britain and is still used in Scotland today. (http://www.phrases.org.uk/meanings/a-pig-in-a-poke.html).
Location, location, location
I grew up in Cross Lanes, WV just outside of Charleston. Well, not Cross Lanes proper more like Tyler Heights or Tyler Mountain. My grandparents and great grandparents lived next door and my dad’s brothers lived out back. My mom’s family was also close by so I knew most of my aunts, uncles and a fair number of my cousins. ‘Mountain Talk’ is much more than simply how words are pronounced. People where I grew up are very ‘colorful’ speakers. When I read about ‘Mountain Talk’ I can almost hear my grandparents’ voices. This is how they talked. Looking back I am quite sure that when I went off to Fairmont State some 25+ years ago I too spoke with the same accent and dialect. Some aspects of how I talk cannot be changed and really why should it?
What does dialect have to do with Genealogy?
Well, not a lot when it comes to actual research but I have found occasions where it has been helpful to understand how words are pronounced. For example I was a bit surprised that my Granddaddy’s sister, Evy, was actually Eva. I had never seen her name written and everyone called her Evy. I guess I grew up with the ‘a’ sound often being replaced with an ‘i’ or ‘y’ but never gave it a thought. I can remember being called ‘Leny’ (Leenie). Many records, census records in particular, are often written phonetically so understanding the Appalachian pronunciations may come in handy. One humorous example is how I found a name written in a census. The name was written ‘Varginny’ or something similar. I knew immediately that the lady’s name had to be Virginia.
I am by no means an expert but I listed a few examples of what I consider 'Mountain Talk'
Ending words with the letter ‘t’ sound
o twice = twicet
o across = acrosst
o once = oncet
Changing the ‘o’ sound to ‘er’
o hollow = holler
o potato/tomato – po-taters/to-maters
o fellow = feller
o yellow = yeller
Changing the ‘a’ sound to an ‘e’ or ‘y’ sounds
o Monday, Tuesday…= Mondy, Tuesdy…
o Lena = Leenie
o Idea = idie (I-D)
‘Ire’ sometimes sounds like ‘ar’
o tire – tar
o fire – far
o What most people call a ‘vacuum cleaner’ I call a ‘sweeper’
o I say ‘buggy’ not ‘cart’
o Awful/awfully – Her cake was awfully good. We had an awful good time last night.
o Big-feelin’ – He is awful big-feelin’.
o Highfalutin – Well, look at you hangin’ out with your highfalutin friends.
o Lawsy – Well, lawsy me ain’t you something to see!
o Might could, used to could (I didn’t know this was part of the dialect until very recently!) Can I do a cartwheel? Well, that’s doubtful but I used to could.
o Directly – You go one ahead…I’ll be along directly (der-eck-ly)
o Book-smart – He got that highfalutin education and might be book-smart … but he aint got enough sense to come in from the rain.
o Yonder – He lives just over yonder.
o Fetch – Fetch me some of them there potaters.
o Carry – Carry that poke of beans to your mama.
o Reckon - I could go on and on with this post but reckon I should save something for later!
One of the things I miss most is the descriptive language and sayings that are so common back home. Folks around here just aren’t as colorful in their use of language. So, I’ll end my long and rambling post with a few of my...
- You look like you’ve been rode hard and put up wet
- He’s wound up tighter than a banjo string
- I’m madder than an ole we hen
- He’s a ne’er do well…. Ain’t got a pot to piss in nor a window to throw it out of
- That man/road is crookeder than a dog’s hind leg
- Well…if that ain’t the pot calling the kettle black!
- Say that again and I’ll smack you plum into next week
- It is hotter than blue blazes (sometimes it is colder than blue blazes)
- Bless her heart…she ain’t big as a minute!
- Bless his heart…he’s so ugly he’s cute
- Bless its heart…it don’t know no better
- She is purdy as a picture