Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Code Switching = Changing the Way you Talk

On yesterday’s post about being stove up, Ron Stephens left the following comment:

“Been there, done that as we say these days. I use ‘stove up’ to meet a kinda all over stiffness and soreness. Sounds like some folks use it similarly to “stubbed” for fingers and toes. I had never in my mind made any connection between ‘stove’ and ‘stave’ but it makes sense. That is, ‘staved in’ means ‘busted up’. I’m with you about not having alternatives that convey the same idea as well. I want to hang on to my Appalachian dialect expressions. The idea that we all have to talk like a Midwestern newscaster is just sad. I’m curious. Do any of you all change how you talk depending on who you are with? If so, do you know when you change or is it unconcious? I’m actually unsure whether I do or not. I think I might. But is it a matter of courtesy or is it ‘gettin above our raisin’ or is ita mixture of both? (Actually I’m old enough now I don’t think about it except as a reflection back across the years.)”

—————

In today’s modern world changing your speech to better fit the people you are talking to is called Code Switching.

Why would anyone change the way they talk? The most common reason is to be perceived in a better manner by those you’re speaking to.

Do I change the way I talk depending on who I’m talking to? Even though I don’t like to admit it…I sometimes do change my speech.

If you’ve ever heard me talk in person, you know erasing my accent would be pretty much impossible. But I do find myself in situations where I try to use better grammar and word usage.

Here’s a comment LG left yesterday in response to Ron’s question:

“To Ron Stephens. Years ago I was in the Cleveland clinic. A nurse mentioned my hill accent and asked where I was from. I put on the dog a little bit and gave her the speech she expected. I guess I was feeling briggidy. Briggidy is a word I commonly use. LG”

Maybe you’d call what LG did reverse code switching? I don’t know, but I do know I’ve done the exact same thing. When I feel like someone is making light of the way I speak or treating me as a lesser person because of where I’m from, I narrow my eyes and lay it on a little thicker for them.

The girls recently had a college class where code switching was discussed. The class was split down the middle. About half the students said they always spoke in a different manner when they were in a professional setting. The other half of the class said they never changed the way they spoke no matter what people thought of them. Chitter and Chatter said after listening to the debate they could see both sides of the issue.

This is a portion of the comment Tamela left on yesterday’s post in response to Ron’s question:

“As for changing the way I speak according to the company I’m in, I do that both consciously and unconsciously. Sometimes my more casual speech comes out simply because I’m very relaxed and comfortable and I know the folks I’m with will understand the phrases I use. Other times, I must be more “formal” or “professional” so as not to confuse the “audience” with terms and phrases, even inflections they may not be familiar with or may misinterpret.”

I think Tamela explained why I sometimes change the way I speak perfectly: “I must be more “formal” or “professional” so as not to confuse the “audience” with terms and phrases, even inflections they may not be familiar with or may misinterpret.”

Code switching – I don’t like it even though I’m guilty of doing it on occasion.

A few thoughts I had while writing this post:

  • Appalachian accents are often thought to indicate a lack of intelligence-which is totally a false assumption
  • What does it mean that I sometimes try to alter my speech to fit in or be accepted by the very people who belive that falsehood
  • Maybe code switching is just one more necessary trapping of modern day life
  • Maybe saving your true speech for those you care about the most makes it even more special
  • What if code switching eradicates even more of our rich colorful Appalachian language

When the girls were in middle school they had a school trip to visit the outer banks of NC. I tagged along and greatly enjoyed the trip. We rode a ferry across to see the wild horses. The girls and I were sitting together near where one of the boat attendants was working. We kept catching pieces of his speech as he talked to other people. The girls and I looked at each other-we were all thinking the same thing. We thought he was trying to mock our accents. He noticed us staring at him and started asking us questions about where we were from. I quickly realized he was too nice to be making fun of us so I told him what we thought. He said “Well that’s funny I thought you were trying to make fun of me!” He then went on to tell us he was born and raised on the Island of Ocracoke and that’s where his accent came from. I said “Well we’re born and raised in the other end of the state in the far western corner of the mountains in a place called Brasstown and this is the way people from there sound.”

Accents are unique and beautiful no matter where you hail from.

Tipper

 

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37 Comments

  • Reply
    Luann
    September 15, 2016 at 10:10 am

    Tipper, I really enjoyed this conversation! I, too, had not heard of the term ‘code switching’ before.
    When I was in college, I had a job one summer in Arizona at a YWCA camp. The first day I worked with the campers, one of the girls asked me where I was from. When I told her “Oklahoma,” her reply was, “We could tell you weren’t from here.” Till then, I never thought I had an accent!
    I do so enjoy your blog and share it with lots of folks.

  • Reply
    jane childers
    September 5, 2016 at 10:21 pm

    I am from Ala. We moved to Ft Lauderdale, Fla with my husband’s job. One day my kids came in really mad and said, ” Mama , those kids are making fun of us.” They were saying to them over and over, ” It’s shake and bake and we helped!’ My husband drove through a drive thru store that sold bread, ,milk and cokes and other common things you often run out of.
    He asked for a gallon of sweet milk. They looked at him like he was from another planet. But I took some accounting classes and my instructor after I had read a problem said to me, ” I love your accent.” I answered him with ” Thank you, I am proud of it.” Being away from the south several times through the years I could hear a southern accent way across a store. I made some friends that way. My sister married a man from VA but he had lived away and talked like a yankee. She completely changed her way of talking much to our amusement. When she wasn’t around we made fun of her. I try to use better english when I am out and about but don’t try to change my accent. I have read that if you go to certain places in England and some other Euorpean countries there are pockets of people who talk just like us. I feel bad that some of the old saying are going by the wayside as older people pass away and their kids and grandkids forget the things they said. My grandma used to say when I would ask her if I was pretty; Pretty is as pretty does. And when my sisters and I became teenagers and put on lipstick she would tell us that our lips looked like a fox’s a$$ at poke berry time. I actually changed the way I talk as I wrote this. is usually say me and my sisters and them instead of those. I hate to see bad english used when people post on facebook. Looks worse than hearing them speak it.

  • Reply
    Glenda C. Beall
    September 4, 2016 at 6:43 pm

    Although I grew up in south Georgia and i have a southern accent, I never liked the south Georgia accent I had and heard around me. I wanted to be able to drop it when I spoke before a group. I don’t like the nasal sound and a speech therapist told me I could learn to speak differently before a group and still go back to my normal speaking voice when I left the podium. I tried and it was true. The way I used my tongue and the way I pushed air out of my mouth when I spoke helped me drop that nasal sound. But I was too lazy to stay with the training and I still speak with the same dialect I grew up using. I love all the different dialects we have in this country and when I travel, I tune into the way people speak. I think we tend to slip into the way others around us talk. I had a south Georgia friend who moved to Wisconsin when she married and a few years later when I saw her, she sounded like she had grown up with her husband. She said she never tried to change her way of speaking, but it just happened. My husband, when he called on dealers in New York, said he put on a heavy southern accent because it drew all the salesmen in the store and he could make his presentation to more than one person. He was from N GA but was in the Army, stationed in California and Germany and when I met him I could not tell he was from the south. I believe we should keep our southern accents, our dialects, but if we know proper grammar, we should use it. It isn’t the dialect that makes us sound dumb, but the improper grammar that makes us seem we have no education when we actually do have a good education. I really enjoyed this post and all the comments.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 3, 2016 at 9:11 pm

    Ron, My Daddy was Mr. Ammons. My name is Ed.
    I have a friend Carmen who was born in Puerto Rico. She speaks perfect Spanish and perfect English. She is what I called a code switcher. She could switch languages mid sentence. Our company hired many Spanish speaking people. Carmen, in addition to her normal tasks, served as translator for the higher ups (upper management) . She would use English as much as she could when talking to the Spanish speaker. These workers came from all over Central America and some from the Caribbean. Carmen says none of them speak the same dialect. She sometimes ran into a person she simply could not understand. After getting frustrated with trying communicate with one individual, she looked at me and said “I don’t know if he has a dialect I don’t understand or if he is just stupid.” I said, “It could be both.”
    Carmen had, at the time, three little boys. Her husband spoke only English. He didn’t want her to speak Spanish around the boys. What a missed opportunity! Those boys could have learned to think in both languages. There is a difference in speaking more than one language and thinking in them.

  • Reply
    Nancy Schmidt
    September 3, 2016 at 6:47 pm

    My children were raised in Kansas, and they could always tell when I was talking on the phone to my a daddy or brother back home in Kentucky. I think it happens without thinking about it. If you have an ear for speech, you just tend to talk like the folks you are with. I notice President Obama talks differently when he’s with home folks. I think everybody does if they have more than one way of talking. It’s a good thing.

  • Reply
    Jim keller
    September 3, 2016 at 5:12 pm

    As a technical instructor for a German company I find myself in a different location every week. I have tried to not have a strong accent as I do at home when on the road, due to years of comments from students in the north. Over the last 12 years I have found myself in the UK, Scotland and Novia Scotia it seems odd that I hear the same same mountain words there as here at home in these places. It is always a joy to hear a mountain accent when returning back home.

  • Reply
    Ann Applegarth
    September 3, 2016 at 4:53 pm

    How interesting! Yes, I do that unconsciously. I still have what other folks call “a Southern accent,” but all I have to do is talk on the phone for 2 seconds to someone back in East Texas and I immediately lapse into the deeper accent that I once had (sort of country/hillbilly/down home). But I always use the wonderful expressions that you put in your vocabulary tests, Tipper. Those colorful words are necessary, no matter whether I drawl them or not! I’ve noticed, though, in visiting in other parts of the country, that young people have practically no regional accent at all. I think this is the unfortunate result of TV. The different ways of speech that have always been so charming and interesting are apparently dying out. Sad.

  • Reply
    Don Casada
    September 3, 2016 at 4:12 pm

    Having spent the morning mowing the cemetery grounds and then taking a nap, I’m coming to this mighty late. But it is a subject that I feel really strongly about.
    I suspect that my mountain accent isn’t quite as strong as it was when I went away to college close to half a century ago, but one thing I can say for sure is that I never, ever have intentionally shed it.
    I’ve worked and taught classes to engineering professionals in 42 of the 50 states, in Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia, and love hearing local accents and dialects. To shed my own would be to deprive them of a bit of exposure to a culture other than their own, and more importantly, to dishonor my own upbringing.
    If you find yourself in an occupation that you believe requires “code switching” (a term that is completely new to me), then I truly feel sorry for you. I’m afraid that I can’t see things both ways – like Chitter and Chatter can.
    Have there been times when my ways of talking led folks to think they were superior to me? Absolutely. When teaching a class in Florida a few years ago, a fellow who was clearly not a native Floridian tried to take issue with me on an engineering detail, and did so in a way which was clearly intended to illustrate his superior knowledge. He enjoyed himself for a minute, but then I gave him the opportunity to apply his view to a real world example. He completely embarrassed himself – and had nothing to say the rest of the day.
    Ultimately, I ended up starting many of my classes by saying that I was a certified western North Carolina hillbilly – and that it said so on my birth certificate. And you know what – a good number of folks just flat out respected that.
    All these personal views aside, there is no question whatsoever that we have seen a huge loss of not just mountain accents, but mountain identity in the last few decades. That is really, really sad. And it is why the work of Blind Pig and the Acorn is so important.

  • Reply
    Maxine
    September 3, 2016 at 3:50 pm

    Appalachian dialects are beautiful gifts left to us by our mountain ancestors. We need to use, protect and preserve the language as the treasure that it is. Be mountain and be proud that you’uns are!

  • Reply
    Tamela
    September 3, 2016 at 2:20 pm

    Fascinating topic! I love the melodic and rhythmic diversity not only of languages but also of dialect, especially the spoken word. But it can present challenges.
    We had a foreign exchange student (in the late 80’s) from Switzerland when our kids were in HS. He was quite proud (and rightfully so) that he was “fluent” in 5 languages, conversant in 2, and able to “get by” in a few more. However, we threw him for a loop with our central Texas speech (his English instructor was a Scotsman) and the fact that we picked him up from the airport in an old GMC van rather than on horseback.
    -But back to the point: the boys always rented tuxes for Proms so when the spring gala rolled around, I took Ralf to be fitted for his tux. He was unusually quiet and seemed to be concentrating quite “hard” during his fitting. Finally he tugged my arm and said in a puzzled and somewhat irritated tone, “Mom, I thought you didn’t speak any other languages!” The problem . . .the tailor was from the Bronx (definitely out of context in Central Texas) and had a very strong accent which had Ralf totally bewildered and unable to “decode” what was being said.

  • Reply
    Ken
    September 3, 2016 at 1:02 pm

    Tipper,
    I’m like Cindy, I never heard of Code Switching. For many years I built Plastic Injection Molds (Strain Reliefs) for ESCOD Industries. Their Headquarters was in Myrtle Beach, but I worked for the Taylorsville Division. Bob Planchak was the General Manager there, and he and I hit it off very well. He was from Rochester, N.Y., and loved to hear me talk. I loved that bunch of folks, but I thought it was them that talked funny.
    My son-in-law is from Aurora, N.C. and when he was in school, he had to take a Ferry across the Pamlico Sound River each day. One time we were Trout Fishin’ in our beautiful Nantahala where the Tail Race joins the rest of the river. After he caught one, I asked him if he liked our River. He said “yeah, but where I come from
    we call this a creek…the Pamlico Sound is half a mile across.” …Ken

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    September 3, 2016 at 12:57 pm

    I bristle when I hear some outlander questioning the IQ of someone with either a mountain accent or a deep south accent. I spent my career in aerospace engineering and I remember two friends, one of whom had a deep south accent and the other a strong Southern Appalachian accent. One of them was one of the world’s experts in Electromagnetic Interference (EMI). Our company was constantly loaning him out to other companies and governments around the world who needed his unique expertise. The other guy, I am convinced, never forgot anything he ever saw or heard, and could recall the details instantly. He was so greatly thought of that our company sent him to the MIT Sloan School of Management to work full-time on his MBA on full salary and paid living expenses! Yep, just a couple of dumb yokels!
    The fact is that every person on the planet is completely unique and deserves for us to get to know him or her as an individual without taking the easy way out by categorizing according to appearance, accent, or other outwardly apparent characteristic.
    We should be celebrating the uniqueness of each of us.

  • Reply
    Paula Rhodarmer
    September 3, 2016 at 12:46 pm

    Hi Tipper, I have been enjoying the conversation. I code switched during my professional career but I think I was conscious of it. As an English/history teacher I would have been in big trouble if I talked at school the way I talked while growing up. Now, I still filled my speech with similies and metaphors from the mountains, but I was careful with my grammatical construction. Now that I have retired, I find myself being much less careful. I love our dialect, and I love to hear people who speak that way naturally.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    September 3, 2016 at 12:35 pm

    I used to joke that I was bilingual- as I’ve gotten older, I find that I’ve left a lot of what Mitchell calls “fancy talk” (in my case a more refined southern accent) behind. I do have to confess that I love throwing a ten dollar word into conversation when outlanders give me that condescending “here’s a dumb hillbilly” look. Short circuits their brains everytime!

  • Reply
    Jeanne
    September 3, 2016 at 12:17 pm

    I never even thought about language and phrases much growing up in Wisconsin. From North to South I must say I never noticed anything significantly different. Maybe I have bad hearing for such, as you seem to speak of regional differences within your states.
    I came out to SW Virginia for an ancestral family reunion and was asked to speak and tell about my ancestry and just how I fit in. Later, I was speaking with a few people when a young girl came up to me and said, “I could have listened to you talk all day. You have the neatest accent.” I laughed and said to her, “That is funny to me because I thought you folks were the ones with the accent.”
    We all have our unique twang and phrases and it is all beautiful….as long as we can communicate. I onced asked a scientist who was going to an international conference in Russia if language was a problem and he said, “No, as English is the language for all scientific conferences. ” I always thought that that might be so, but regional accent of the speaker still might be a problem.
    Oh, my….What we do for unity, inclusion and conversation. Even if conscious or not.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    September 3, 2016 at 11:45 am

    I don’t want to appear condescending but the word you and others have used both today and yesterday should be subconscious not unconscious. Subconscious means your brain is working at a level that you are unaware of. Unconscious means you are totally unaware of yourself and your surroundings. Your thought processes are completely shut down. Out like a light! **^**
    I thought at first maybe it would be perceived as trivial (nit picking) and just letting it pass. Then I thought how it fits into today’s subject. If it was me, I would hope that you would suggest another word (in private of course). I would hope I could do the same for you. That is what you do when you are family (and I do consider you family). Some people, however, cannot accept criticism in any form, but that is a whole nother problem.
    The most common cause for Homogenized Speech is an invention called television. When most people are going out for the evening,etc, they hire a babysitter or take the baby to Grandma. When they are home, which is majority of the time, they prop the kid up in front of the TV. That is where they learn their words and speech patterns. I hate to admit it but both of my grandsons were taught to speak by purple dinosaurs and big yellow birds. Both their parents are as country as cornbread but you can’t tell it by how the boys speak.
    It is a shame we are ever-increasingly having to listen to this new language called Bland.
    PS: I have never heard your girls speak in person but from videos and audio recordings I can tell they didn’t spend much time in front of the TV. I love it! It makes me feel like I am home!

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    September 3, 2016 at 11:45 am

    Yes. I definitely change the manner I speak with different groups of people. When talking with my old shipmates from the Navy, I revert to sailoreze. Many of the words and expressions we use are incomprehensible to civilians. You had to be there. Also the pastor would probably not condone our language.
    I also find myself using the grammar and diction of the person or group I am talking with. I love talking with children and getting down to their level. They appreciate the fact that you talk with them and not down to them.

  • Reply
    Sherry
    September 3, 2016 at 11:20 am

    The video I saw was Facebook, Michael Dyess, on “Understanding the Southern Accent.” You will love this…

  • Reply
    Sherry
    September 3, 2016 at 11:13 am

    I recently listened to something about this very thing. Sometimes people actually think our “hillbilly” accents show a lack of education or whatever and this linguist said that if you speed up our speech on a recording, that we sound more like our ancestors (England). She gave an example and it blew me away! So interesting. If that don’t beat all get out, I don’t know what does.

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    September 3, 2016 at 11:01 am

    Tipper,
    Thanks, for your blog. Being in US Army with my husband for 22 yrs. and stationed in the US and Germany, etc. we had plenty of dialects and cultures. He was in the Guided Missles. We were always located around all the large cities and farmer towns. Our son took to Herr Verner and was always on the tractor with him and picked up the German dialect . He lives in Wisc. now and coming to visit next week. He can change this northern accent to southern Cherokee hillbilly in a few seconds. He reads your blog.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    PinnacleCreek
    September 3, 2016 at 10:57 am

    Today’s posts are extremely interesting including all the comments from the readers. I had never heard of code switching, and am so glad they came up with a better term than I have heard in the past when using your best speech was called “puttin’ on the dog.”
    As much as I truly love our Appalachian speech, I realize there are unkind folks out there who must criticize so they can feel better about themselves. So, as we change our clothing for different settings, we must also change other things depending on the situation. I would never wear faded old jeans to a class reunion any more than I would fall back into the pronounced mountain accent of my youth. I go with the flow! Although I love the Appalachian region, I know there are those who don’t have the depth to appreciate the differences in cultures and nationalities. So I guess I don’t always remain true to myself.
    Once many years ago worked where many northern tourists passed through. I always thought Michigan had the nicest Yankees. One young boy told his Mom I sounded like Rosalynn Carter, the president’s wife. Anyway, I had the misfortune of getting a testy Brit who decided to criticize the whole U.S. including my accent. I finally tired of this and looked at him and said, “At least we don’t have a queen.” With that ice breaker, he burst out with a big laugh.

  • Reply
    Charles Ronald Perry, Sr.
    September 3, 2016 at 10:45 am

    There is another expression from the South that goes “Rode hard and put away wet” referring to riding a horse hard and leaving him wet and sweating. People used a rag to wipe down the horse so it wouldn’t “stiffen up” (another Southern phrase). People would say that they felt like they had been rode hard and put away wet when they felt stiff and achey (Is achey another Southern phrase?). I love to hear these old Southern slang.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    September 3, 2016 at 10:25 am

    Great post Tipper and great comments ! I had never heard of code switching. I wish it had come up in high school.
    I am conflicted about changing my speech. If I were aware, I would resist it. But in my working life I was in hundreds of meetings, many public, where I had to present or otherwise speak up. I think I started code switching to avoid embarassing myself and my co-workers. But when I do realize it, I feel shallow and two-faced to some degree and I do not like that.
    I think we each have to wrestle with it for ourselves. When we have been raised right, we’ll come out alright still being true to ourselves and our heritage while being willing to bend a mite for present company. It isn’t all bad but as has been posted herebefore, it feels tragic if it means ourheritage is fading. You are helping to keep it alive and well. Thank goodness.

  • Reply
    Ron Banks
    September 3, 2016 at 9:52 am

    I am guilty of code switching, although I didn’t know it had a name.
    The job I was in for 30 years exposed me to a lot of different people from all over.
    The county I was living in was experiencing a population explosion and people were coming from all over the country to work in the metro Atlanta area. I found myself speaking more and more with a nondescript accent. Even my family up in the hills would comment on it. I look at it as a form of adaptation. We tend to adapt to our environment in more ways than one. I still have my accent from the hills and now that I’m retired and a stay at home dad I hear my true accent eking it’s way back and I am very happy about that!
    I have never been ashamed or embarrassed about my Appalachain heritage nor did I try to hide it. I am very proud of the fact that I’m a son of the Appalachains and I’ll tell anyone who cares to listen just how wonderful it is.
    Great post today, I love hearing everyone’s thoughts on it.
    Thanks Tipper!!

  • Reply
    Dan O'Connor
    September 3, 2016 at 9:45 am

    It is interesting how people assume someone is smart or poor or less intelligent or rich based on how they talk. I grew up in in northern VA 25 miles south of Washington, DC. This is where the foothills meet the piedmont. There was a mix of accents with the military bases and government workers from all over the country. But the only folks that shared the accent you have were from the very poor, rural, farming part of the area. It was not till I went to college at VA Tech was I ever exposed to folks with that accent that were obviously very bright. Obviously I changed my perception. My wife, whom I love dearly, has that accent. I have known many uneducated, as in didn’t go to high school, in east TN with accents so thick I had a very difficult time understanding. But they were some of the smartest people I have known.

  • Reply
    Jackie
    September 3, 2016 at 9:43 am

    When we moved to Arizona the Anglo folks thought I was from Texas. The Mexicans commented that my Spanish was ‘formal’. I learned Castelan. One example: I said, “Prenda la luz.” while they said, “Abran la luz.” They were saying, “Open the light.”
    Anytime someone comments on my accent my response is, I don’t have an accent. I speak English correctly. You’re just listening wrong.”
    My wife corrects the young folks a lot when they call us, “Guys.” She tells them, “I’m not a guy, I’m a y’all.”
    None of us really speaks true English. We speak American.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    September 3, 2016 at 9:42 am

    I think it is an unconscious event. I kept my Southern accent until I went to work outside the home, I could hear myself gradually changing the way I spoke. My a’s flattened was the first thing I heard. I find myself returning to my heritage when around people who speak the way I used to. I wish we could all keep our way of speaking heritage, as it is a heritage.

  • Reply
    Brian P. Blake
    September 3, 2016 at 9:28 am

    No, I do not change my accent or vocabulary in different circumstances. The idea strikes me as condescending, an insult to the company I keep. Having lived in Boston for four years and in England for three, I have acquired an unconscious but noticeable British lilt; in New York City years ago when I asked a stranger for directions he snarled, “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” Tough. I am who I am.

  • Reply
    Zelma
    September 3, 2016 at 9:20 am

    I was raised in southwest Virginia, and went to college in the midlands of SC. Folks there thought I talked funny, because I have more of a mountain accent. Their drawls sounded like molasses to me. We each thought the others speech was odd. I find myself mimicking speech depending on where I visit. I can fall into a thicker accent when with family or friends from my area, and I can fall into a thick SC accent when with friends from there. It is natural to me to do so; it is not making fun, but rather a natural reaction to different speeches. I have a good ear, so I think it is a product of that. (I don’t read music, so I always have sung by ear, which is a form of mimicry.) I love language differences, and love to learn new words and phrases.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    September 3, 2016 at 9:05 am

    Tipper–There’s no question whatsoever in my mind that our distinct, delightful southern Appalachian dialect is fading away like a milkweed seed carried by a September thermal. That’s so sad.
    I’ll offer a personal example. Several years ago br’er Don and I were in the Ingle’s store in Robbinsville laying in some groceries for a camping trip up on Big Snowbird. The young cashier who checked us out was country as cornbread, mountain as sorghum molasses. When she started talking Don and I immediately looked at one another and he then complimented her on how pleasing it was to hear real “mountain talk.” I suspect it all baffled her a bit, but it sure did tickle our fancies.
    One aspect of code switching you don’t really touch on is when dialects are so distinctively different that two people speaking the same language have trouble understanding one another. Years ago I spent a good many months in Scotland as a research fellow at the University of Edinburgh’s Institute for Advanced Studies in the Humanities. One day I was walking the streets of Edinburgh seeking a bookstore and asked an older fellow directions. We were both speaking English but neither of us was understanding much of what the other said. Eventually I pointed to the name of the place in a guidebook I had, and he started laughing and pointed in turn. The bookstore wasn’t a hundred yards away. We were, in effect, separated by dialect even though speaking the same language. Incidentally, I had no trouble understanding or being understood by most Scots–I think this was just a fellow with a really distinct brogue.
    Jim Casada
    P. S. If any of your readers aren’t familiar with the video, “Mountain Talk,” which was produced in Raleigh a good many years ago, I recommend it in the strongest possible fashion.

  • Reply
    Eleanor Loos
    September 3, 2016 at 8:36 am

    Tipper, this is a fun blog to read. My birth home is northern Ohio with German parents, but I grew up to speak “plain old English” whatever that might be. We’ve friends in southern Ohio who have a bit of an accent. And years ago when I was first aware of an Appalachian politician speaking on TV someone in my group said “he sounds as though he doesn’t know much” …. referring to his accent. Well, that bothered me to the point of telling this family member “but he probably know more than the whole bunch of the rest of those from Washington”. So I try to be loyal to ALL folk, whether they’re from my corner of the world or not. I love hearing various dialects!
    Eleanor L., still in OHIO, and enjoying your writing each day!

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    September 3, 2016 at 8:29 am

    First, I never knew I had an accent until I went to college and had people tell me, in their funny way of talking, that I talked funny. In college, I was told that I was “too smart” to sound “so ignorant” by professors I really admired.
    I wish I could say I have never changed the way I talk. But I have. I do. I’m not proud of it. To Ron’s question, it is always conscious for me. I used to practice saying something in my head over and over until I could say it without any hills in it. I was very self conscious about it…except at home.
    But it did occur to me at one point, about 10 years ago, that I have to work with these people but live with myself. I pretty much don’t care anymore.
    I don’t want the accent to go away. That’s why I try to take the kids home as much as possible. My Mom said a few months ago that she could tell who spent the most time with the kids. James, she said, was a momma’s boy and had that Cleveland accent but Alex was a daddy’s girl and “talks just like us.”
    This is an important issue and I’m glad your daughter’s school addressed it. The kind of awareness you bring to these issues is how we preserve our way of life. Being proud of it is a powerful weapon against language and culture loss.

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    Steve in tn
    September 3, 2016 at 8:16 am

    I agree that all accents are beautiful. I guess I sold out when I worked. I determined that the goal was to communicate and I changed my tone, accent and choice of words not to impress but so that the language didn’t overshadow the thought. Ever notice how accents, especially foreign, make for effective salespeople? Almost put you in a trance.

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    Miss Cindy
    September 3, 2016 at 7:34 am

    I sometimes try to talk a little better when I’m around folks who don’t understand country. During my working career in the Asheville area of NC (still western North Carolina) I worked with a fellow who would occasionally say to me “Cindy, your country is showing.” He was a good friend so I usually replied with ” And Neal, you Yankee is showing.” This was all said in good fun but the truth is we all talk different depending on where we grew up.
    I’ve never heard the term Code Switching. I’ll have to think on it a bit but I don’t think I like the term. It’s a little on the uppity side.
    Tip, when you first started the Blind Pig I watched to see the voice of the blog would sound like. I was so pleased that you write just like you speak and it’s real and true to your Appalachian culture.

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    anita griffith
    September 3, 2016 at 7:16 am

    Tipper,I didn’t know that was called code switching.This subject should be interestun.
    LG

  • Reply
    B. Ruth
    September 3, 2016 at 6:34 am

    Tipper,
    I loved your post today and very nearly commented on this very subject when some of your other guests commented on changing speech. Alas, I had already used up too much space as I always do.
    Sometimes store clerks do not always have their heart in their work. Having to greet customers over and over with a smile and all familiar question, “Welcome to (store), how are you today?” Well when this happened to me, I looked her straight in the eye and I answered with my favorite “shock” phrase, “Well, I’m finer than frog hair and gooder n’ snuff!”
    She laughed and said, “You made my day, I hadn’t heard that expression in years!” Her smile then spread on to the next customer with sincerity.
    I think I have told you about using another favorite “shock” phase at the check out when a bored check out clerk asks, “Paper or plastic?” I look them straight in the eye and say, “I’ll take one of them pokes!” Do you know at times a very young high school clerk will say, “A what?” That’s when I get to explain that we mountain folks always called a brown paper bag that we tote stuff in a poke! Yes, it gets another smile. One even said to me and I relish it as a high compliment! “You remind me of my Grandmother, she used to talk like you, and I sure do miss her!”
    I think that about sez it all!
    Thanks Tipper,

  • Reply
    Eldonna Ashley
    September 3, 2016 at 6:03 am

    This is very interesting! I definitely have used code switching. I did not know the name for it til now.
    Both my husband and I acquired more education and good jobs in professional fields with lots of exposure to the public. He is from a different state than I am, he uses different words, intonations, etc. Both of us code switched big time. I rarely speak with anyone with whom I can code switch back to the language usage of my youth.
    I mourn the loss of the richness of the regional speech I grew up with. Hubs’ job has taken us to an entirely different part of my state with different speech patterns. Even though I have adapted, I still have times that I need to explain what I mean.
    As you know, I am teaching my grandchildren some of the beautiful and colorful words and phrases. I want them to have an understanding of their heritage. Maybe one day they will be able to code switch back to those words.

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