Ever Been Judged Because of Your Accent?

Dec 2, 2016

We all have a unique way of talking- and here in Appalachia, we have many ways of being understood, and misunderstood, because of our language.

It stretches across race lines - and the judgment of one’s language can reveal classism, racism or both. This week’s episode of Inside Appalachia explores one of the ways people are judged: language.   

On this episode, you'll hear:

  • A conversation on the West Virginia Public Broadcasting podcast, The Front Porch. In it, executive director and host Scott Finn talks about accents with his guests. Like Scott, conservative columnist Laurie Lynn, is a transplant to Appalachia. The two of them talk with Rick Wilson, of the American Friends Service Committee and a native of West Virginia. In this conversation from The Front Porch podcast, Rick shares a few tips on how to speak Appalachian. And just a small warning- Rick also shares some of his favorite Appalachian cusses. 

  • Kirk Hazen, a professor of linguistics and English at WVU. Hazen and his students are working to map West Virginia’s dialects and accents, and he’s finding that just within West Virginia alone there’s a cornucopia of different ways of speaking.

  • Amy Clark, the co-chair of the UVa-Wise Appalachian Studies Program, and the co-editor of a new book Talking Appalachian.  Clark is a professor of English, at WVA’s College of Wise. She’s been there for about 15 years.  Amy Clark writes about this issue in a new book called Talking Appalachian. WMMT’s Benny Becker talks with Amy about how Appalachian dialects came to be. In this interview, Amy also shares her personal journey of learning to embrace her voice.

Professor Amy Clark with her family
Credit Amy Clark

Professor Amy Clark suggests one of the best ways to deal with judgments because of the way you talk is to know the history of our dialect. So here are a few words and phrases that came to Appalachia hundreds of years ago with Scotch-Irish settlers. These are from an article written by Michael Montgomery from the University of South Carolina. He cataloged hundreds of phrases that came over from Scotland and Ireland.

How many do you know?

1) airish “windy, chilly: “It’s right airish out today.”

3) beal, bealing “an abscess, boil, festering sore: “Mary had a bealing on her neck.”

4) bonny-clabber “curdled sour milk.”

Retired Coal Miner Ed Austin with his family in Fireco, West Virginia, near Beckley, 1974. Worked in the mines from 1925 to 1956.
Credit U.S. National Archive Jack Corn

5) kindling “twigs, pine needles, and scraps of wood to start a fire”: “Before we began the fire, we made sure we had plenty of kindling.”

6) let on “to pretend”: “She let on that she didn’t care.”

7) mend “to improve physically”: “He’s mending very slowly.”

8) muley “hornless cow”: “Come on, Robert, let’s get our little muley-cow to work again.”

9) nicker “whinny”: “Sure enough in a few minutes four lank horsemen were dismounting at the gate amid much nickering of horses and yapping of hounds.”

10) palings “upright stakes (of a fence)”: “That’s what the mountain people called them, palings.  They’re split out just like boards.”

11) piece “distance”: “It’s a far piece to town and back.”

Cover of the Book, "Talking Appalachian", which was co-edited by Amy Clark.
Credit Amy Clark

We had help producing Inside Appalachia this week from WMMT in Whitesburg, Kentucky and The Front Porch podcast.

Music in today’s show was provided by Andy Agnew Jr., Ben Townsend, the Hillbilly Gypsies, and Dinosaur Burps. Our What’s in a Name theme music is by Marteka and William with “Johnson Ridge Special” from their Album Songs of a Tradition.