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Mountain Dialect

The Appalachian people have a marked Scotch-Irish strain, one would expect their speech to show a strong Scotch influence.  So far as vocabulary istrilliumanddelphinium concerned there is really little of it.  A few words, caigy (cadgy), coggled, fernent, gin for if, needcessity, trollop, almost exhaust the list of distinct Scotticisms.  The Scotch-Irish as they are called, were mainly Ulstermen, and the Ulster dialect of today bear little analogy to that of Appalachia.

Scotch influence does appear, however in one vital characteristic of the pronunciation: with few exceptions the highlanders sound “r” distinctly wherever it occurs though they will never trill it.  In the British Isles this constant sound of “r” in all positions is peculiar to Scotland, Ireland and a few small districts in the northern border counties of England. 

Throughout Appalachia such words as last, past, advantage, are pronounced with the same vowel as is heard in man.  In the early 20th century it was noted that the average mountaineer’s vocabulary did not exceed three hundred words.  This may be a natural inference if one spends but a few weeks among these people and sees them only under the prosaic conditions of workaday life.  But gain their intimacy and one shall find that even the less literate among them have a range of expression that is truly remarkable.  Seldom is a hillbilly at a loss for a word.  Lacking other means of expression, there will come “spang” from his mouth a coinage of his own.  Instantly he will create (always form English roots, of course) new words iby combination or by turning nouns into verbs or otherwise interchanging the parts of speech.

Crudity or deficiency of the verb characterizes the speech of all secluded societies.  In mountain vernacular many words that serve as verbs are only nouns of action or adjectives or even adverbs.  “That bear ‘ll meat me a month.”  “Granny kept faultin’ us all day.” “Are ye fixin to go squirrelin’?”  “Sis blouses her waist a purpose to carry a pistol.”  “This poke salat eats good.”

A verb will be coined from an adverb: “We better git some wood, bettern we?”  Or from an adjective: “Much that dog and see won’t he come along” (pet him, make much of him).  “I didn’t do nary thing to contrary her”.

Conversely, nouns are created from verbs.  “Hit don’t make no differ.”  “I didn’t hear no give out at meetin’” (announcement).  “You can git ye one more gittin’ o’ wood up thar.”  “That Natahala is a master shut0in, jest a plumb gorge.”  Or from an adjective:  “Them bugs – the little old hatefuls!”  “If anybody wanted a history of this county for fifty years he’d git a lavish of it by reading the mine suite testimony.”