Appalachia Appalachian Dialect

Porch Conversations

Today’s guest post was written by Shelia Parker Nelson.

Pap sitting on porch

Pap on Granny Gazzie’s porch

One of my favorite childhood memories is the memory of my family talking. My maternal grandparents had a comfortable, good-sitting front porch and my family gathered there every summer evening after the supper dishes were done. We’d walk to their house and soon my entire family was there-aunts, uncles, cousins and maybe a neighbor. The grownups would find a place on the porch, or on the steps, and they would begin to talk. We children would ride bicycles, climb my Mamaw’s sweet-smelling mimosa trees, play ball or hide-and go seek and end the evening catching lightening bugs in the twilight.

As I grew older I would catch bits and pieces of the adults’ conversations. I was fascinated by their stories, memories, jokes, and opinions and I would find myself leaving the play in the yard to listen to them talk.

Now that I am a grown woman I appreciate more and more the cadence, flow and dialect of their language. I have heard it called “East Tennessee Twang,” but I call it my mother tongue. It is definitely not the slow drawl everyone associates with the South. East Tennessee Twang has bite and snap, odd sentence structure, and words you’ve likely never heard before. I fear that one day it will disappear, to be replaced by new and dull dialects made popular by modern media.  

In my narrative “Talkin’ on the Porch-A Narrative of my Southeast Tennessee Family’s Porch Conversations,” I have tried to capture the rhythm of my family’s East Tennessee Twang speech pattern, in hopes that, years from now, if it does disappear, someone will read it and love it as much as I do. 

“Talkin’ on the Porch My Family’s Porch Conversations Spoken in Tennessee Twang”
Written by Shelia Parker Nelson (Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee) 
 
“Back thi’en I thought ever’body talked like us. I’d heard the same kind of talkin’ ever since I’s born, settin’ on the porch in the ev’nins with Daddy‘n Momma, Mamaw‘n Papaw, Aints ‘n Uncles, all talkin’ ‘n tellin’ stories. 

Us kids would play in the yard ketchin’ lightnin’ bugs, or ridin’ aur bicycles aroun’ the house. The grownups would set on the porchan’ thay’d start talkin’ an’ thi’en thay’d all laugh. I’d ride my bicycle close to the porch an’ I’d wonder what thay was’a laughin’ at.

Well, the sun would start to go down over the mountain an’ I’d ack like I was gittin’ tard. I’d go set beside my Momma or Mamaw or one’a my Aints on the settee. I’d lay my head in thayr lap an’ close my eyes an’ listen to thi’em, an’ I thought ever’body talked that away, rich an’ hearty, funny an’ wise.

“Thay was a snake in the outhouse, he took a hoe to it. Everwhat happened to thi’em people that lived up the road? Well, thay say she run off. He was a’burnin’ a brushpile an’ I run an’ got my arn skillit to thow in it. I bin cleanin’ winders all day. I’m a’goin’ t’trade t’mar, do any of yuns need to go? Somethin’s dead somewhurs, I c’n smell the kyarn.

Billy Graham’s a’preachin’ on the tv t’mar night. Thi’em Kennedys is Cath’lic. The truth’ll stand whi’en the world falls! Reckon yuns’ll come out on strike? George Wallace, the Gov’ner’a Alabama. We might could tare that part’a the floor up an’lay down some tongue n’groove. That shore was some good okree we had for supper. Martin Luther King Junyer, Thi’em long hay’erd Beatles is from Englan’. 

Hey kids! Yuns stay away from the road now, and don’t be ridin’ ‘s fast off’a that sidewalk!” I couldn’t git to sleep last night to save my life, my piller felt like it was full’a rocks. He got two dollers in the mail today an’ a note sayin’ I’m sorry I stole yore dictionary whi’en we was in school, No it wadn’t signed.


Wonst I found all my Christmas presents that Mother hid in the cellar, thi’en I told her ever’thing I wanted, ever’thing I found in the cellar t’ make her feel good, an’ she said ‘you’ve been a’prowlin’ ain’tche?’ C’mere kids and getchuns a banana popsicle.

He dug a new toilet hole and the’im boys’a his’n jumped in the hole and played in it before he moved the outhouse over it. He went coon huntin’ and somebody musta been tryin’ to aggravate me while he was gone. It was dark outside and whoever it was was hittin’ the side of the house, tryin’ to skeer me and Mother. I opened the front door and fard the shotgun up in the air. Never did hear nothin’ else the rest of the night.” 

Sometimes the talkin’ would stop an’ it’ud git real still and quiet, ‘cept for the whippoorwills an’ nightbugs, an’ I’d hear the family that lived up the road, settin’ on thair porch, the night air carryin’ thair laughin’ an talkin’an’ I reckon that was another reason I thought ever’body talked like we did, rich an’ hearty, funny an’ wise.

Then I grew up and found out right fast-like that I was wrong. I didn’t hear many invitations to ‘pull y’self up a cheer and set awhile with us’. And you’re not likely to get anywhere much if you eat supper instead’a dinner, or say ‘do ye reckon?’ instead’a ‘do you suppose?’ and ‘ya’ll’ is fine, but don’t say ‘yuns’ or people will think you’re ignert.

Leave your native tongue at home, rich and hearty as it is, you’ve got to leave it on the porch where it belongs and talk homogenized talk out in the world. It’s as bland as unsalted butter, but it’s acceptable and nobody will take you seriously if you spit out ‘let’s go over yonder.’‘ I’ll be there dreckly’ or ‘how about a cole drank a’water?’

But those childhood days are like honey to me, smooth and golden. They ended with ‘g’night, love yuns’, a walk home in the dusky dark, and the beginning of the school year. They disappeared completely with cable television, air conditioning, decks, and the busy-ness of our modern lives. 

Grownups don’t spend too many evenings talking and visiting with one another on the front porch these days. Children no longer play in the yard; they have playgrounds and play dates. We all have our own rooms, our own TVs, different sets of friends, and our own lives. But we’ve all got cell phones, contact lists and social media, So I reckon…..I mean, I suppose….that’s what our children and grandchildren will be remembering in about fifty years time. 


I hope you enjoyed Sheila’s post as much as I did. I remember with great fondness the same sort of conversations from my childhood.

Tipper

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35 Comments

  • Reply
    Gigi
    April 16, 2022 at 8:38 pm

    Thus was a wonderful post. I remember these times. Us kids would play ball or tag and even high in go seek.The grown ups would talk about what they did that day and what they were going to do the next day. Same kind of talk.

  • Reply
    Robert
    March 28, 2022 at 8:40 pm

    Adding to the theme of this wonderful post, I guess that most folks under 75 yo wouldn’t have any idea how to carry on a ‘porch conversation’ because they never experienced it. Most folks today don’t know how to carry on a long conversation, is what I’ve observed. They don’t know how to hold their tongue, not speaking over or interrupting the one speaking. My Pa held this to be the worst of bad manners and punished it accordingly. If you’ve never heard the ebb and flow of conversations on the porch on a Spring or Summer evening, you would have no clue what the proper manners and protocols should be. For example, a person waits to be addressed with a question before speaking or waits for a dead spot in the conversation to speak. Usually the things a person says tended to nominate the next speaker and even lead to the next topic. I was always amazed that topics could be abandoned in favor of others almost on a whim . . . or a thought inspired that superseded continuing the former topic. Being in the middle of my 80th year, I well remember those conversations among adults in the evenings after the war and well into the 50s. Television and air conditioning drove people indoors and forever silenced conversation and destroyed the art.

    It is a shame and a significant loss to civilization.

    • Reply
      Robert
      March 28, 2022 at 8:42 pm

      That’s my Pa in the Avatar taken sometime in the late 1920s or early 30s. He was born in ’94 in Swain County.

  • Reply
    kathy patterson
    March 26, 2022 at 11:03 pm

    In the Blue Ridge Mountains we would get together between dinner (lunch) and supper at Grandpa and Grandma’s house. The adults would sit on the porch and the children would play in the creek or play ball in the yard. The women would sit on one part of the porch and talk and the men on the other part of the porch. The men would smoke (most of the them were WWII or Korean Veterans) or chew tobacco. The women would always talk about what was for supper (dinner). Then, some of our mothers would holler for an unseen child (ung-un) or a child that had gotten into trouble throwing rocks or sticks. Behaviors were corrected and all of us went back to playing. Somehow the adults knew the exact time and everyone started getting pocket books and children gathered up for their short trip home. Everyone loaded up their cars and trucks and headed home when it was time to milk the cows (about 5 PM) and get supper ready.

  • Reply
    Patricia Price
    March 26, 2022 at 1:24 pm

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! East Tennessee Twang! That is MY people. I hate it when outlanders think all Southern dialects and accents are the same. The Three States of Tennessee (West, Middle, and East) do not even begin to sound alike. My people in TN right across the mountain from Miz Tipper in Western NC do sound a lot alike, to my ear, though.

  • Reply
    Nancye Chambers
    March 25, 2022 at 8:33 am

    Very sweet memories, very well written. Memories are truly the corridors of our mind. Reading Shelia’s words was a walk down those corridors. I grew up on top of a mountain and Shelia grew up at the foot of that mountain but the similarities in our lives were there, in her words. My mountain has changed and her valley has changed but the memories remain!

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    March 24, 2022 at 9:52 pm

    Tipper,
    My Mom was uneducated as far as formal education was concerned, but she could put most college students to shame with her mastery of grammar, spelling and such. I give her much credit for having excelled in some of my studies in school. She was artistic, mastered sewing, mastered any craft that she desired, as one woman told me once, “Your Mother was the hardest working woman anywhere around.” Mom used many of the older words, but always tried to teach us current grammar.
    Mom was a master Gardner and Food Preserver. Mom took care of things at home while Dad worked on a public job and together, they spent their lives trying to make things easier for all we children (seven (7).
    I sense that you and your family have the same love for one another.

  • Reply
    donna sue
    March 24, 2022 at 6:41 pm

    I loved this post and all these comments! What wonderful words to think on. I wish the whole world had front porches again, and everyone spent their evenings visiting with each other.

    Donna. : )

  • Reply
    Christine
    March 24, 2022 at 6:20 pm

    Sheila’s post was kind of like a walk down memory lane. It took me back to my childhood home front porch where my mom, family, and neighbors hung out talking while us kids played games in the driveway or in the small front yard, or road our bikes up and down the road in front. There was always conversations about the latest news, recipes, sewing projects, school events, music, gardens or town happenings. Like Sheila, I too cherish and miss those sweet days of front porch gatherings and conversations. I too think it’s sad that children now days will never have such precious memories as these.

  • Reply
    Tina Huffman
    March 24, 2022 at 5:20 pm

    I remember momma and daddy porch sitting with our neighbors growing up. Momma and daddy were from Arkansas and Alabama. The neighbors were from Kentucky. They would get to talking and it was very different. My parents had a much slower drawal, the neighbors talked a mile a minute. Where my parents would say something like “well”, the neighbors were more like a “welt”. I always loved being a part of those conversations. I knew to sit and listen. Conversation from me as a child wasn’t necessary or usually welcome. No one was harsh but when parents were talking with other adults, it was a watch and listen on my part. I actually learned many things doing it this way. My parents always welcomed us into the kitchen when card playing but again it was a watch and listen situation. I learned rummy, euchre, rook, Hollywood rummy, and poker in no time. It was great when I was let into my first game. It was like a right of passage. I sure do miss my parents!

  • Reply
    Karen
    March 24, 2022 at 5:10 pm

    I do miss the by-gone days of sitting on the porch talking and sharing. In the 1950’s, as a little girl, we lived in an apartment in a huge converted hotel that my grandfather bought and turned into apartments. Several of my Nanna’s relatives lived there as well. The back of the house, where our apartment was, had a big porch. In the summer my relatives and several tenants would gather and talk, share, laugh and discuss opinions on various topics. “Us kids” would run around in the yard, no shoes, and have the best time. Every other Wednesday night we would go into my maternal grandparents house for supper. They lived in Reading, but after supper it was the same. The adults would sit on the porch, but this time the conversations would be “up and down and across the street”. Everyone knew everyone. You would hear people inquiring about the health, job situations, and views on just about anything from the neighbors on their porches. In the city we could roller skate up and down the sidewalk, play hopscotch, or hide and go seek. It was always magical when the street lights came on.
    Thank you for bringing to mind a fond memory.

  • Reply
    Charline
    March 24, 2022 at 12:43 pm

    Both of my sets of grandparents had these porch gatherings; one in East Tennessee and one in Western Arkansas. For me, it was just a different set of cousins to play tag or catch lightening bugs with. The grown up conversations had such a colorful rythm, with much of the cadence and language Shelia so aptly described. In Arkansas, there was more music with my Dad and his brothers.
    Homogenized is what happened to my accent when my immediate family moved to Central Florida, as I didn’t want to be ‘different’. Sad.

  • Reply
    Cynthia
    March 24, 2022 at 12:07 pm

    This was a great post! In the summer we’d gather on my maternal grandmother’s back porch, and it was so shady and cool with the trees around it. Nanny (that’s what we called her) had the biggest yard of anyone I knew. Later I found out it was 3 lots, and it once was the county, but in the early 1900s the city of Richmond annexed it. Wild mint grew in the back yard and it smelled so good. The grownups talked about everything, and I’m sure we heard some things we shouldn’t have heard. I played outside until after dark as a child, and we caught lightning bugs. Our girls did too.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 24, 2022 at 11:53 am

    Nobidy had enough cheers fur everbidy ta set. When tuh kids wudden out playing in tuh yard they’d set on tuh porch’s edge and dangle thur lags er set on tuh steps if thur was eny. The women got the cheers (sometimes pronounced churs) an tuh menfolks squatted.
    You better shut me up! I can talk this language all day long!

  • Reply
    Ron Bass
    March 24, 2022 at 11:31 am

    Fantastic post!!! Love the description “homogenized”. Unfortunately this is true not just in language but in lifestyle as well. When I was working I dealt with people from all parts of this country and other countries as well. I had to speak this homogenized language as best I could when dealing with them. I never could get there completely and didn’t want to. I never have changed my morals beliefs and have no intentions to. I’ve taught my kids and grandkids to hold on to our heritage and be proud of it. We’re not the ones with an accent, everyone else is. We have to be patient with those not fortunate enough to have grown up with our dialect and beliefs. There are 4 priorities: God, famIly, country and banana pudding.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    March 24, 2022 at 11:22 am

    I’ll admit I am ignert. They won’t!

  • Reply
    AWGRIFF
    March 24, 2022 at 11:18 am

    I can relate to this growing up in E.KY. The language and the setting are the same. I don’t hear yuns or you uns anymore, but I used to work with some men that were from the hills of S.OH. and that was common for them.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    March 24, 2022 at 11:03 am

    When I write using the vernacular of the 1950s North Carolina Piedmont it almost overloads my spell check and all the red lines under what it considers misspelled words red lines my OCD!

  • Reply
    Charla
    March 24, 2022 at 10:45 am

    When I lived in Knoxville, a local teacher and friend of the family, got married and moved to Pennsylvania with her new husband. She would write and tell us of her life up there and one of the funnier encounters she had with her class was when she was teaching about syllables. They got stuck on the word, ‘boy’. She’d say the word and ask, ‘how many syllables does boy have’ and the kids would keep telling her two. Her teacher’s aide was laughing so hard she was in tears and finally managed to explain that she was pronouncing it, ‘bow wee’.

    • Reply
      Karen
      March 24, 2022 at 4:52 pm

      Reading your comment brought a smile to my face. Was born in south east Pennsylvania, and other than a few months when I lived in Marietta, Ga, lived here my whole life. I could just picture that teacher trying to teach syllables to her class. Made me smile.

  • Reply
    Melinda
    March 24, 2022 at 9:58 am

    Wow, what a great job of spelling out a dialect. Like your reader, Sallie the Apple Doll Lady, my grandmother was a teacher so we didn’t use much of the interesting language that Shelia shares, although we heard some variations in SW Ohio.

    Memories of the grownup conversations for me centered on the dining room table after big extended family dinners. My siblings & I were raised in the old ‘Homeplace’ settled by ancestors. Therefore branches that had move away came back for visits. Being the oldest child I hung around the adults overhearing their conversations like Shelia did.

    Wonderful memories! Thanks Tipper & Shelia

  • Reply
    Mint2Bee
    March 24, 2022 at 9:44 am

    This reminded me of my childhood except we didn’t have any family around but we did have neighbors that gathered on the front porch to visit with each other. And us neighborhood kids were always playing outside until after dark. Now days the only ones sitting on the front porch are me and hubby and the neighborhood kids are not playing outside because they are inside attached to their devices instead 🙁
    Thanks for this great post; it brought back nice memories. I also love reading the different dialect.

  • Reply
    Leslie
    March 24, 2022 at 9:44 am

    Laying your head on mama’s lap and listening to the grown ups talking.
    Nothing would put me to sleep faster. That was a lovely essay.

  • Reply
    Shirl
    March 24, 2022 at 9:34 am

    It was purty easy fur me to read through Sheila’s story right fast on counta them words are in my family dictionary. I heered my family talkin the same talk as they rared back in a chair on the front porch. Mommy would tell how she tuck a hoe to many a rattler when she was a picking berries.

  • Reply
    Rita Speers
    March 24, 2022 at 9:27 am

    Tipper, this post is worth it’s weight in gold! I’m so thankful that I experienced this lifestyle growin’ up! “Homogenized” is the word that came to my mind when I realized that TV and blending schools started makin’ everybody sound alike. My second grade school teacher made a big deal about pronouncing words correctly. I remember her saying that you should always say the word “from” instead of “FRUM” or you would sound uneducated.

  • Reply
    Randy
    March 24, 2022 at 9:15 am

    As a child, we had no air-conditioning, of course, so it was customary to sit out on the porch where it was cooler. Adults discussed everything from local politics, to the weather, to farming and what crops they were gonna grow (or were growing) to family news.
    My favorite front-porch story is my grandmother dipped snuff. Now to me, that’s the nastiest stuff imagineable but she thought right highly of it. We’d be sitting there, and us kids were expected to be quiet while they talked. Grandma would get this far away look on her face and then screw up her face …. AND SPIT! She’d almost always hit a wasp buzzing around one of her begonias. It was the most amazing thing to watch as a child. She always told us if we didn’t behave (like a katydid) she’s spit our eye! It scared the bejeesus out of us so we believed her!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 24, 2022 at 9:12 am

    I really enjoyed this post! It has so many of the ways of expressing that I heard as a kid. Much of the Tennessee way of expressing is what I heard. This brings back memories from my childhood. I actually lived in Tennessee for a couple of years as a child.
    This brings back memories, Thanks!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    March 24, 2022 at 8:52 am

    Sounds like the 1950’s and early 60’s to me; my growing up years. The porch or porches were extra living room(s) to spread out in. When the house got hot such as in canning season, the porch was the place to be. On my wish list of a place to live is somewhere that people have front porches and use them. Along with it is an item about getting behind a tractor on the road or having to wait while two fellas in pickups have a meeting in the middle of the road. I’m sure those places still exist. But I do suspect they are few and far between anymore.

  • Reply
    Cheryl W.
    March 24, 2022 at 8:42 am

    This brought sweet memories back and tears to my eyes. Both my parents were born over 100 years ago. One raised in southern Indiana and one in Florida, both on farms . My dad worked in the auto industry in Michigan after the war, so I was a city girl. But because of many trips back to visit the families, I was blessed to experience the country porch stories and playing in the yard with all the cousins, just like the author. Sometimes I would hear the soothing Hoosier accent, or the south Florida country twang. The love that was nurtured through real live contact with one another is what is missing today. It breaks my heart that these human experiences are being lost.
    It would be wonderful if Shelia Parker Nelson would make a recording of this.

  • Reply
    Patricia Wilson
    March 24, 2022 at 8:37 am

    Sheila, I enjoyed this post so much…thank you! I deliberately “homogenized” my speech, too, to fit into the business world, but the speech patterns of my childhood are just under the surface and when I am back home in Kentucky, they come out from hiding without my consciously inviting them. I slip easily back into the comfortable dialect I grew up in and I catch my adult children smiling at me and I know what they’re thinking. The one thing I never shed, for some reason, was “fixin’ to.” Every time those words slipped out of my mouth at work, I would catch a puzzled look – especially from those whose native language was not English. Maybe it’s because as a unrepentant procrastinator, I’m always fixin to do something rather than actually doing it. 😉

  • Reply
    Cathy Byers
    March 24, 2022 at 8:17 am

    This morning my heart and mind are remembering many late afternoons described in today’s post. I’m recalling the precious faces of those gathered on my Grandparents’ front porch, sharing stories, news and their memories. I know I am blessed beyond measure to have these memories and so thankful to have been born and spend my life in Appalachia.

  • Reply
    Martha Justice
    March 24, 2022 at 8:16 am

    How wonderful to have these memories ❤

  • Reply
    Sanford McKinney
    March 24, 2022 at 7:49 am

    Tipper,
    Having grown up in Northeast TN, none of these words were foreign to me. One word that I used to hear always drew my attention: ears pronounced as years. If my years keep growing, I am going to have elephant years.
    Another one: heard pronounced as here’d. I here’d them dogs abarkin all nite long. They musta been runnin a fox.
    England: Pronounced as Anglan same as in Angle Iron. From his talkin, I think he is from Anglan.

  • Reply
    Sallie the apple doll lady
    March 24, 2022 at 6:39 am

    Boy! Tipper! This post sure brought back some vivid memories. I grew up in an isolated holler just across the mountain from where Sheila
    did. Although probably because my mother had been a school teacher when my older siblings were younger we didn’t really talk like this but many of our family and friends did. Some still do and I’ve learned to treasure that language. I miss the weekends when family and friends dropped by to visit my grandmother who lived with us. Our porch, high off the ground, was the center of conversation. Friends and neighbors or even strangers were welcome on the shaded porch. Like Sheila, I remember the fun we kids had playing games, catching lightning bugs, listening to Katy-dids, hunting dogs on the distant mountain trails and the grown-up conversations. She has a great way of bringing back those memories. Thanks for sharing. I’d like to read more of her writing. And thanks to Sheila for preserving a special part of our heritage.

  • Reply
    J. David Chrisman
    March 24, 2022 at 6:10 am

    Love this! It sure brings back a lot of long-gone memories…

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