Speaking mountain language

By Steve Roark

Tri-State Outside

If you read my stuff much, you know that I am unabashedly proud to be mountain bred. I love our southern Appalachian Mountains. The terrain, the climate, the plants and animals, the culture and history, all blend together to form a unique place to live.

Part of that uniqueness is our dialect, referred to as Appalachian English, Southern Mountain English, or (my favorite) Mountain Speech. Old words and how we pronounce them, old phrases and sayings handed down from our parents and grandparents are different from anyplace else.

It’s not southern, though we share some things. It’s not mid-western, and it’s dang sure not northern. It’s mountain, brought in by second generation American settlers from Scotland, Ireland, England and even German during 18th century settlement. It is said to possess remnants of 16th century “Elizabethan English”, along with some 18th century “Colonial English”. And while surrounding regions changed over time, the isolation of the mountains allowed mountain people to retain a lot of the old dialect and words, making Mountain speech one of the oldest varieties of English in the country.

What prompted this article, and occasional future articles, is a book I ran across called Dictionary of Smokey Mountain English, by Michael Montgomery and Joseph Hall. It was a 10-year project that focused on collecting mountain language of mostly the Smoky Mountain area, but their research did include east Tennessee and Kentucky, and southwest Virginia.

It’s a UT publication that’s out of print but can be accessed through local regional libraries. I’m in the process of going through the 6,000 words and expressions included in the book to see how many I have heard used by my or my wife’s family. I thought I would share some those with you and if you’re local I bet you will find many of them familiar. To you non-locals, consider this an great education opportunity. I’m going through the book alphabetically, so here goes:

Addle: To daze; “He fell down and looks addled”

Afeared: Concerned about; “He’s powerful afeared of snakes”.

Age on: Becoming old; “He’s startin’ to get some age on him.”

Aim to: To intend, plan on: “I aim to eat me some supper.”

Ain’t: Am not, still widely used; “He ain’t telling the truth.”

Airish: Cool weather, breezy; It’s feeling airish today.”

All-fired: Excited or upset about; “She got all-fired up at the meetin.”

All a twitter: Excited; “Settle down, you’re all a twitter.”

Allow: To think or supposed; “I allow this barn is over 40 feet long.”

All to pieces: High anxiety; “He heard the news and went all to pieces.”

And all or an’ all: Everything else; “We picked up groceries and all”.

And such: Smilar things; ‘For supper we had dumplings and such.”

Any ways: At any rate; “There ain’t much money left anyways.”

Arsh: White or “Irish” potato; “We only grow arsh taders.”

Steve Roark is a retired area forester from Tazewell, Tennessee.