My dad was born and raised in the Appalachian Mountains of Breathitt County, Kentucky. He would always say that he was so far back in the mountains that he would barely catch a glimpse of sunlight most days. Seeking better job opportunities, he moved north to the metropolis of Newport, Kentucky. But as the old saying goes, you may be able to take the man out of the mountains but it’s almost impossible to take the mountains out of the man. That’s why I talk the way I do.
Appalachian English is a “thing.” It is recognized as a distinctive American dialect and is studied by linguists and college students alike. Hey, it even got a mention in the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project. Purists recognize distinctive differences in dialect dependent upon the region of Appalachia you inhabited. For instance, in Virginia when referring to either a single person or group, the word “you-ins” is used but in Kentucky, it’s “y’all.” My primary language is Appy-City English—a mix of eastern Kentucky Appalachian with a bit of northern Kentucky/Cincinnati thrown in to keep it interesting.
I know my pronunciation of words can cause confusion. Over the years, I’ve had to repeat myself, often finding synonyms of the words I’m saying in order to be understood. For instance, when we were living in Virginia, our electric was out and I called a friend to see if they were affected as well. I asked, “Do you have power?” except it came out sounding “Do you have par?” After several exchanges of “What?” and me repeating myself, I finally said, “Lights? Electricity?” And then I got, “Oh pow-er… I had no idea what you meant!”
I also have “Aints.” Not as in, I “ain’t” gonna do this or that. My “Aints” are my dad’s sisters or the women married to my uncles—Aint Mag, Aint Polly, Aint Rose, etc… (I have read where this particular pronunciation and also pronouncing the word “cannot” as “caint” is regionally distinctive to eastern Kentucky.) You may get tired, I get “tarred.” I use a match to start a “far” with the “farwood” in my “farplace.” If you get a job, you were “hard.” I like to listen to the “reddio” in my car. And speaking of cars, I get the “ol” changed in my car every 3000 miles. In my defense, I do not “worsh” my hands in the “zink.” That is not to say I don’t “wash” my hands, I do—often and with soap. But for as many words as I slaughter, how I ever got those two words right is beyond me!!
The Double Negative in Appalachian English is not positive but negative as in, “I don’t know no better” which would imply that “I know better” but in Appy-English, I really don’t! And the “A”-Prefixing which is adding “a” to a verb so you would have something like “She’s a-going to the store” or “I’ve been a-meaning to get that ‘ol’ changed in the car” is distinctive as well.
For your edification, I’m including a few more terms. While I may not use them much now, I heard them quite a bit growing up.
Poke—A brown paper bag. Grandma would give us a poke filled with goodies for the car ride home.
Spell—To rest. When my dad would mow, he would ask us to “spell” him so he could take a break.
Ill—Bad tempered. While it might come as a surprise, I’m sure I’ve been a little “ill” at times.
Pop—A carbonated drink. Now I’ve switched to Coke, which is another word for any carbonated drink.
Blinked—Something that’s soured. Is that milk blinked? (Or blinky?)
And so for now, I’ll be a-finishing this piece because I don’t know no more to add!