Appalachian Code Switching

Many people's Appalachian accents grow stronger when talking with mountain family.
Many people's Appalachian accents grow stronger when talking with mountain family.

Appalachian accents are like no other. A mash up of influences—British Isles, German, African dialects, probably some Native American—all mixed together and baked in our secluded hills for a couple centuries.

Some say that the resulting sound is more like Elizabethan English than the contemporary accent in England. I’m not sure how to confirm that without a time machine, but I do know that the minute Appalachian natives leave the mountains, that accent sets them apart.

You know how it goes. A friend from, say, New Jersey is deaf to his own thick intonation but doesn’t hesitate to reference the Beverly Hillbillies or Deliverance when poking fun at yours. Some folks call it vocal imperialism. I just call it mean.

But it works. Countless mountain people are ashamed of the sound of their own voices, some going so far as beating the accent into submission with diction classes.

This pitiful pattern set today’s guest blogger Chelyen Davis to thinking. A Southwest Virginia native who lives in Richmond, she sees “code switching” among Appalachian folks all the time. That’s when someone switches dialects depending on the circumstances.

Chelyen, who also writes on her own blog Homesick Appalachian, asks an important question—now that we’re constantly exposed to people from other regions, is code switching just a fact of life or are we losing a key piece of our mountain heritage?

We’d love to hear your thoughts. Be sure to leave a comment below.

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NPR recently started an interesting conversation on Twitter by asking if public radio voices are “too white” and if those white-sounding public radio voices are limiting the audience, shutting out people who don’t necessarily choose to listen to people who don’t sound like them.

The discussion grew out of an African-American professor and hiphop artist who did some radio work and noticed that he talked differently for radio, and was considering why. From what I could tell from the Twitter discussion, folks of other ethnicities weighed in, and then people started talking about how public radio voice isn’t just white, it’s a sort of standard, non-accented white. You don’t often hear regional accents on NPR, no matter what race the speaker is.

That’s an interesting and valuable conversation to have, and it gets into all kinds of issues — race, ethnicity, regional dialects, the value placed on how we talk, how we sound, the words we choose, how others judge us by all that, etc. An interesting comment on that is here.

But it got me thinking off on a specific related tangent — Appalachian code-switching. This probably would apply to any strong regional accent (hi, Boston), but Appalachian accents are my own experience.

I don’t think everyone in Appalachia (or the south, or another region with a strong accent) code-switches. Not everyone needs to. My uncles and cousins mostly still live in the small communities where they grew up, and I doubt they talk any differently at work on the strip job than they do at home. They might change their words a bit when they go to, say, the doctor’s office in Bristol or Johnson City. But largely, their lives are lived around people who talk the way they do.

But I grew up hearing my parents code-switch, because they left those communities. They were both the first in their (large) families to go to college, and we lived in a town — still in Appalachia, but outside the more isolated, small communities where they both grew up. You could hear my mother’s voice change when she called her parents on the phone. To neighbors where we lived, it was your basic “Hi, how are you?” To her own parents, it was “Howdydo. Howre you’uns a-doin?”

She still does that when she calls her dad or brothers, or when we visit them. And so do I. It seems you only need to code-switch when you leave. (Or become a radio/tv host.)

I am an adopter of accents. I think there’s actually a word for that but I don’t know it — I unconsciously mimic the accent of the person I’m talking to, if I talk to them for long enough and if their accent is distinctive enough. I don’t mean to, and they aren’t necessarily flattered by it, and I don’t always do it strongly. I first noticed it when I spent a month in England in college.

But my own accent is softly Southwest Virginian. I’ve lived away a good long while, so it’s not as strong as, say, some of my cousins’ accents. And probably it never was, because we lived in town and my parents went to college and I grew up watching public TV and, as I noted in a previous post, I was the kind of kid who thought “ain’t” wasn’t a proper word. But it’s there. People here, away from the mountains, sometimes comment on it, or ask where I’m from. It’s a great way to find fellow mountain folks here — we can hear each other talk, and believe me, if I hear an accent that sounds like it’s from Southwest Virginia, I’m going to ask that person where they’re from.

My sister’s accent has mostly faded, but mine hasn’t. I think I’m just prone to an accent. Also, I lived back home for a couple of years after college, so maybe it sort of “set” then. It gets stronger if I’ve had a glass or two of wine, and it gets stronger when someone asks about it. It knows when it’s being talked about, and it likes to show off.

I have a professional job, but I rarely consciously talk differently than I would, say, at a party or at home. The primary exception has been at public events — say, if I’m on a speaking panel — or the occasional times when I’ve been a guest on a radio show (public radio, at that!). I think the accent tightens up a bit then, tries to behave itself. I probably make some different word choices than my colloquial speaking voice, although I know I’ve said “might could” on the radio.

My writing changes some, too. I’m rereading this post and it sounds awfully formal. If you and I were sitting down and just chatting about this, I would probably say things a bit differently.

But that’s all code-switching, I suppose, to an extent. I also know I talk differently when I call home to Mom, and even more so when I call my grandfather. I talk differently when I visit my parents’ families. My boyfriend tells me I talk differently when I come back from a visit home. So I code-switch both ways, to a lesser accent and to a stronger one.

And I’m glad. I’d rather switch than talk blandly all the time. I don’t want to lose my accent, my word choices, the colorfulness of Appalachian ways of talking. I’d be fine with that accent getting stronger. I know many people outside the mountains assume someone with a strong mountain accent is a dumb hick, but I figure that’s their problem, not mine. I love using terms like “might could/should/would” — and it is so handy, perfectly describing that point between “I could go to the party” and “I only MIGHT could go to the party.” I love having that vocal connection to home, to a place and a culture and a history.

My boss once told me he had heard a theory that we talk like where we want to be. I miss home, so I love talking like people back home. People who are glad to get out of the mountains (and there are some such misguided souls) probably welcome the disappearance of their accents, consciously work to shed them. The boss had come from a poor, flat farming area in North Carolina. He didn’t seem to much miss it, and he didn’t talk like his roots either.

I’m not a linguist. I assume there are studies and papers and research and opinions out there about this subject, about Appalachians shedding their accents in the flatlands. I know there are many papers and studies and ruminations about the broader issues of the homogenization of language, the pernicious effects of TV (and radio!) on making us all sound the same, the value judgments placed on word choices and on speaking “proper” English, and all that.

But I love accents and words that change by region. Perhaps because I value them so highly for my own sense of culture and place, I’m all for everyone else having their own too. Why should we all talk the same? Language should be colorful. So while I love public radio, I hope it doesn’t Henry Higgins us all, stamping out accents and strange pronunciations and weird words.


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344 Comments

  • Helen

    I was reared by a western Kentucky family who were big proponents of education-I am 55 and my grandmother had a masters and taught at (now Western) Bowling Green College. My mother came from Central Ky and her people were educated- my grandfather was an attorney and a judge. I am (along with my sibs) very educated- so when a new colleague was going on and on about dumb hillbillies here in KY (we work in Northern KY and she lived in Cincinnati) I asked how many degrees her immediate family has…..I told her that I am the dumbass in my family- I have only one masters- my sibs have doctorates, my parents had 3 masters (dad had 2) and my grandparents all were college educated. But I reported this information in my thickest drawl….you know, ’cause Imma dumb hillbilly……

  • Gary Slemp

    I have worked in most States and regions of this Republic. We are definitely different. I personally have never tried to switch the way I talk. Working up North, and in certain Western States, urban region in the west, it is a given that as soon as you open your mouth you are branded as stupid and slow. This can work to a Mountaineers advantage. As stated by Mickey Free to Tom Horn when travelling with the Apache as US Government representatives during the Apache wars, a rabbit trap will catch a wolf, but it will not hold him. It is the heights of arrogance to assume your accent or dialect is correct, or makes you better or smarter than someone else. My Dad was in the Air Force when Chuck Yeager, from West Virginia, broke the sound barrier. Daddy said it was funny to hear all of the pilots trying to talk with a West Virginia accent!

  • Susan G.

    I still have my East Tennessee accent. And when I’m up in Yankee territory its more pronounced.

  • Annomous

    I grew up in WNC as well. As a child learning to read and grammar, I remember thinking to myself…”the rules youns teech and the way youns say them words a’int the same atall!”
    We never diagramed a single sentence with youns, howarewadoin, or I’aint! However, if we tried to speak correctly, people back home said we was trying to talk “northern.” We had wonderful strict English teachers who taught the correct way, but spoke exactly the way everyone else did. We received a great education in Elementary and High School! But, college and life after moving away changed a lot for me in the way I spoke.
    As an adult, I remember being at a vegetable stand in another state reading the words “Irish potatoes.” I stood there for a long time thinking I had never heard of an Irish potato, then it occurred to me that an Irish potato was what my family called an “Arsh tater!” I giggled to myself!
    I love and appreciate my roots, but over the years, I have lost a lot of my accent from being away from home. But…the minute I cross the NC state line, my family says I immediately go back into the accent and slang…even tho, I don’t seem to notice. I think I automatically code-switch so no-one thinks I’ve gotten above my “rasin,” or thinks I’ve gone off and forgotten who I was.

  • COLONEL(R) Don Potter

    Having spent 26 yrs in the Army, all over the world, I always got the “big eye” once I spoke. My think hillbilly accent casued me to either be readily accepted, or cold shouldered from the start. But it also caused many to underestimate me and resulted in many a success by that “old hick”. The accent and colorful sayings/stories and just sounding different made a positive impression the vast majority of the time. Change it, taint naiy a chance of that!

  • K Cardwell

    Here’s one fer ya. It has been studied and has been found that the southern dialect is the perfect accent for customer call centers (although because we have been shamed for our accents we tend to try and hide them) It is a dialect that once heard, automatically puts callers at ease and they even find themselves in conversations that they wouldn’t normally have if it were any other voice.

    When I worked at a call center my customer support rating was through the roof and when they found out I wasn’t hiding my accent or “toning it down” as was suggested when I was hired they left me be and folk started tryin to mimick it.

    I will never tone my accent down. I am proud of my heritage. And if God blessed you enough to beborn and raised in these hills you shouldn’t ever be ashamed of the dialect He also gave you.

  • Susan

    I am from Southwest VA and now live on the Chesapeake Bay. I lost my accent in college–so much so that an interviewer in Richmond remarked on how I didn’t sound like I was from the mountains. I am glad someone finally gave it a name. I see it as a survival technique. I learned to adapt to my environment. My husband says my accent comes out when I talk to my mother. Interesting article!

  • Tina S

    I code switch everyday multiple times on purpose. It helps my patients to relax and converse with me and I think it makes me a much more effective nurse. I have narrated books for years, and a good friend from Boston insisted he enjoyed his characters all having a distinct southern Appalachian drawl, even those from Maine!

  • Robin

    I’m from South Central Kentucky and now live in South Dakota. My husband noticed I talk differently to people here than when I talk to my family back home. We were camping one summer and happened to meet a man from Kentucky, we stopped and talked for a bit. When we got back to our campsite my husband commented that both the gentleman’s and my accent had became stronger as we talked. Both of us had been away from Kentucky over 15 years.

  • Kay S

    I grew up in East Tennessee and have lived here all my life. We have been fortunate to have traveled through all the lower 48 states. I love to see people’s reaction when they think I have an accent. Once as we stopped to gas up I noticed my sister in law just clammed up. Not me, I’m a natural born people person. When I asked why she got so quite she said didn’t you notice how they were just listening to your accent? I said of course and I tried to give them a good dose of it, I’m sure it made their day but not near as much as it did mine!! Proud to be a Southern Hillbilly!!!

  • Arlynda

    I’m from Hillsville originally. My accent comes from there but is modified by the very distinctive Staunton accent, where I’ve lived for 15 years. Now I’m in Toronto, pursuing a PhD. Whether my accent is “Elizabethan” or not, one odd thing I’ve discovered is that English people in particular *love* it. It may be what’s termed a “stigmatized accent” in the US, but in Canada and the UK, it’s perceived as musical and charming. I’ve been told, “I could listen to you all day!”

  • Jenni kirby

    I grew up in Marion VA and now live in RVA. I would love to grab a coffee or dinner with you to discuss this topic.

  • Kelly Black

    In the Appalachian Code article I would love to know who is in the picture. The dark headed one on the right looks exactly like one of my aunts. Who would know who these people are and where the picture was taken?

  • Leah NWM

    Lots of thoughts on this one. I’m from a small town in eastern Kentucky, and similar to K Cardwell, I worked as a telemarketer for a short time. At the end of the first week, I had the highest numbers in the center. Folks I called didn’t hang up on me and many commented on my accent and how cute it was or how friendly I was. I think they were biased about my being friendly because of the way I sounded.

    I’ve lived in West Virginia, North Carolina, and now Florida. I still have an accent, but it’s warped now. I remember first being aware of it when spending some time with people from Pittsburgh. They poked fun. I was young, unsure of myself, and it made me even more insecure. I spent energy trying to “fix” my accent. Now reflecting over my comment, I realize I’ve been a little traumatized by it for a long time. I don’t mind my accent now and actually wish I hadn’t tried so hard to change it. It’s part of who I am and where I’m from. Those things are an integral part of me; they’re my foundation. If you have an accent, cherish it. Don’t be ashamed of the accent and don’t be ashamed of where you’re from. It’s society that tells us we must be a certain way because of how we sound or where we’re from. I have seen black people and gay people recoil from me a bit when I tell them I’m from eastern Kentucky. They’ve had bad experiences or they may assume that my origins dictate my behavior and beliefs. I hope articles like this one help remove those stereotypes. I hope for more open-mindedness and inclusivity for all of us, regardless of where we’re from or how we sound.

  • Mark Lynn Ferguson

    Kelly, that was shot at a family reunion in Rural Retreat. Do you have people in that area?

  • Kim

    I’m from East Tennessee and now live in the DC area, where there is a definite prejudice against southern accents. I was asked to narrate a scientific video by a European only to be told by an American that southern accents sounded “less intelligent”.

  • Joyce Joines Newman

    Folklorist Bill Mansfield: “People should sound like where they come from.”

  • Jackie Adams Seamster

    My family is from Richlands, Tazewell County, VA. I was reared in Roanoke and now live in Eastern NC. I lost most of my Appalachian accent when I moved away from home for school, marriage and career. I seldom thought of my accent and the role it played in my life until reading your comments. I agree, we do tend to talk like where we want to be. Not like where we are from. And in the later years of my life, I find I am searching for my Appalachian words and thoughts. It seems it is true, you talk like where you want to be.

  • Jan

    In the family of my youth, there were beloved elders who drawled. It was simple: because I loved them, I loved the way they talked.

  • Susan Farmer

    Yeppers. Wise Co., VA roots. I’m with you on the “micry” aspect. What tends to come out of my mouth is what goes in my ears.

    I teach college biology. I had a student once that decided my class was going to be an Easy A because I sounded like a complete hick.

  • barbara mcgaha

    i am a RN case manager in home health. I AM APPLATHAN to the core, and work in east tn. when i admit people to home heath services 99% of the time my patients tell me i made them feel like i cared and thank me for being so nice to them, but im just being my southern appalachian self . if icall you honey it means i have compassion for you. i tak like my momma , and never offer an apology. if you think your better than me because of the way i talk , i offer more kindness. you cant help it cause your ignorant at being a human being. god bless your little heart. maybe i can open your eyes to how a human treats another human.

    .

  • Sherry Keith

    I thoroughly agree…. I love stories from home in the hills, old tales and such and sayings from everywhere in America… the fact that each area is different, to me adds interest…. who wants us to be clones of each other? Please! I, too, try to keep the old phrases alive by using them all the time… You know even in West ( By God) Virginia , there are many areas with slightly different many accents…. I am sure all states are that way, really…. It is so cool. There is no place like home. Love y’all.

  • brenda keener

    I was born and raised in WNC and no matter where I go Colorada when my husband was in the army , NYC where mt daughter lives and Florida where the othe daughter lives and people love my accent and if they don’t well too bad im proud of my heritage, both daughters have lost theirs, one in NYC sounds like a yankee, bless her heart I love her, the one in Florida more refined but each their own!

  • Laura Cheatham

    I’m a transplant from Maine to the south where I’ve almost spent more time than where Im from. I married a southern man from rural swva, and have noticed code-switching for him all the time (especially in talking with anyone back home), and even I’ve adopted somewhat of a southern accent since living in Roanoke for 13 years and now rural WNC for 3 years. I’ve come to appreciate the different dialects of the mountain people, heritage, and culture I’ve fallen in love with, as I often feel like I was meant to be born in the south. I recently read a new anthology of short stories about code-switching and what it means to leave Appalachia that I think a lot of y’all would appreciate called “Walk til The Dogs Get Mean.” Thanks so much for sharing this piece!

  • David

    Sadly much of this is true. I use to live in Washington state, an found myself thinking before I would speak. Wanting to make sure to hide my accent as much as possible. But I found out a lot of people actually thought it was cool. Thank goodness I’m back in the hill country an don’t have to worry about that.

  • Robin

    I grew up in western NC, but for a couple of years (1998-2000), I lived and worked in Whitehorse, Yukon Territory, Canada. My job there working for the Territorial government required me to answer the phone fairly often. There was inevitably a long pause after my greeting “Yukon Bureau of Statistics, may I help you?”. Many times I was asked where I was from and occasionally I’d ask the caller where they thought I was from. No one ever got it right, of course, but their responses were interesting, ranging from the obvious Canadian idea of a southern accent: “Texas”, to the Canadian idea of a strange Canadian accent:”Newfoundland”.

  • Nancy

    Love the comment by anonymous about Arsh tators. I had not thought about that but not once did I ever here my parents say Irish potatoes and certainly not my paternal grandparents. My dad , his siblings,and my paternal grandparents had very thick southern accents . It actually was often difficult for outsider to understand certain words and saying they used.

  • Patricia

    I am from Ohio. My parents are from Kentucky. I talk like them cause that is what I heard growing up. I have lived in Ohio all my life but when people hear me they ask what part of the south I am from. I LOVE IT! I have a cousin from Kentucky and everyone thinks she is from the north but her parents are from Kentucky as well. I don’t intend to change. None of my sisters talk like me. We were all raised in Ohio. I have one brother that was born in Kentucky but he doesn’t sound like it. I guess I am the odd ball. One of my sisters used to try and change the way I talk but finally gave up. Her husband was raised in the north but he talks like me but his dad and grandparents are from Kentucky. When he says here he says “hayer” but when he heard me talk he told her not to say anything about his words anymore! Not sure about his mom, pretty sure she is not from Ky but she could be. Doesn’t talk like it tho. My husband is from Virginia and talks more northern than me. When I ask him if he wants aggs(long a sound) he tells me they are eggs. I am who I am, I like the way I talk, been doing it too long to change now.

  • Charlene McKnight-Massey

    I loved reading these stories….I remember when I was stationed outside of Pittsburgh PA with the Army; I would go “home” to visit in the SW Virginia and upon my return to PA my neighbor and good friend would say “Char, you picked up your accent again!!!!” It would last a couple of days and then slowly I would start losing my thick accent; however I never said “you-ins”, it was always “y’all”. I like the term code-switch, as I have noticed myself that my accent gets thicker if I am talking with family and friends from “home”. Those mountains will always be my home and God willing my final resting place. I am proud of my heritage, it made me strong in more ways than one.

  • Gail Zeigler

    Years ago while in NYC with my Bristol and Knoxville family we were on soda fountain stools recounting our day when the Asian young man behind the counter asked “Do you come from your country by boat”? Then, in the taxi back to the hotel the conversation lulled and with the thickest New York accent possible the driver said “Keep Talking.”

  • Joyce Harper

    I appreciate this discussion,I love to hear the accents. I have a habit of saying “ant” and “aunt” that I switch. I’m not aware of how I learned to do that. Does anyone have an idea??? Any other sayings from the mountains?. I am from W Tennessee. When I was little we moved to Michigan. I thought I had to change to fit in, but some of the folks liked the accent. I moved around a lot and my accent comes out around other “southern” sounds. Now live in FL and hear many speech patterns with space center, Disney, cruise ships bring people here. An acquaintance started collecting “sayings” from her family that I thought would be great to have but she has died. Don’t know what happened to collection.

  • Cynthia M. Putman

    Great summary of many of my thoughts. My father is from Unicoi County and my mother is from the Lowcountry of South Carolina. Because my father was in the U.S. Air Force I had a fairly Midwestern dialect until we moved to South Carolina. through the years, like the author, I have found myself imitating the dialects of those I am around, whether British, northern, or various southern ones. We have shared some parallel experiences in this regard.

  • Beth McKenzie

    That’s called an idiolect. It’s switching out accents to make listeners more comfortable/at ease and at times to avoid what we’ve experience as negative attention. An example is in the church scene with Cal in To Kill a Mockingbird. Jen asks Cal why she speaks differently when she’s at the black church than she does at the Finch’s home.

  • Melissa Yoder Ricks

    Ah… might could. In high school I wrote a poem. Used the phrase ‘might possibly could.’ Wanted to enter the poem into a contest, and the teacher would not let me. Said it was not grammatically correct, and that I must change it. I argued the point that it was a POEM, and I was using the language poetically, for emphasis, to make a point. She was not convinced. Mr. Sizemore, I remember. And you are still wrong.

  • William

    I was told in college I had to lose the accent or not be taken seriously in my field ( Art History). Now I have this generic mid Atlantic news casters accent. However I go back to Appalachia and within a day I find my old voice. This happens in all countries and cultures though. Language grows and is fluid

  • Dog Henry

    I’m from the hills of Arkansas. Our dialect is very similar to y’all’s in Appalachia. The reason being that our area was settled by folks that came from Appalachia. In fact, Knoxville, TN has a mountain and road named after my family.
    I get the switching of dialects, but find I often turn on my “country talk” when I am dealing with folks up North or in areas where Country talk isn’t the norm. I find that those folks often find the accent and phrases endearing. Likewise, if I’m talking to folks that are used to my natural way of talking, I use it to show that I come from the same background they do.
    Now, I admit to dialing it down with folks in Little Rock as it is needed, but I feel self conscious in doing it. I’m proud of how I was raised to talk and hope my kids talk the same way. It’s a part of my heritage and I hope I never lose it, even if I may give it up every once in a while.

  • Rob

    I live in E TN and have my whole life. I don’t have a strong accent as neither if my parents did despite being from a Appalachian town. Mom’s parents were from Alabama and my paternal grandfather from Claiborne County,TN. My parents didn’t use ain’t or other “bad” grammar. But I remember noticing once that my dad referred to one specific aunt as Aint, probably because that’s what he’d heard everyone call her.

    The private elementary school I attended taught us to read by phonics, so I learned the proper sounds of words and diction. When I first made friends with some English folks, my parents would tell me I automatically would slow down and speak more distinctly when on the phone with them. I can tell where in England immigrants came from who settled in different colonies when I hear their accents in America.

    I don’t mimic accents, but I hear accents very readily. At work now I’m on the phone and enjoy identifying where callers are from. When someone comments that I don’t sound from here, I can turn it on for them. I have a coworker who is originally from Washington state, but lived awhile in NC. I can tell when she’s got an Appalachian caller as she turns on a thick mimic accent unconsciously which is funny because it’s not her normal speech.

  • Karen

    Interesting post. I grew up in the Midwest. I’ve lived everywhere from the coast of California to Chapel Hill and points in between. I still have my flattened vowels that some recognize. The rest of my accent is a mash up of everywhere I’ve lived and everyone I’ve known.

  • Carol Anne Crowe Phillips

    I grew up watching a lot of PBS especially the British shows on television. At age 4 I could do a very good British accent. I have been doing what you call code switching for most of my life. I just didn’t have a name for it. I had a teacher that tried to teach our accents out of us. We were told, for example, that saying ‘it’ instead of ‘hit’ or ‘cain’t’ instead of ‘can’t’ was simply incorrect grammar and should be corrected. After I was grown, I found through various sources that these were actually part of my ancestors…something special handed down to me from them and a part of my roots and who I am. I have made a conscious effort to retain that part of the speech from my parents and others that I grew up around. I also write differently and adapt to certain situations. I have been asked at times if I am from here because of this. It makes me very mad that people want to take away our heritage and part of our ancestry by abolishing the speech patterns of our ancestors.

  • Jennie

    Lovely article 🙂 I grew up in western Kentucky and now live in North Carolina; my job requires me to talk to people on the phone who are scattered all over the state. NC has several distinct accents and I love ’em all.

    I probably sound southern to most Americans, and I’m fine with that. I’ve never once felt the need to change my accent. ALL accents are beautiful and nobody should ever be ashamed of theirs!

  • Dr. Deborah Louis (PhD in Human & Social Development & Behavior)

    That “standard” non-dialect English is like Swahili, that developed as a trade language in Africa so that people from several linguistic backgrounds could communicate–that’s why people with several types of regional or ethnic dialects use it in public speaking–it’s comprehensible to all, unlike many of the derivative dialects.

  • Marty

    As an up-and-coming college administrator many years ago, I attended a management seminar where they had an “expert” on how to present yourself in such a way to promote your advancement. She told me I had to “lose the accent.” She was clearly able to detect my disgust in response to her advice. I walked out on her, and continued on to the senior levels of administration without taking her advice. The accent is still intact, though it strengthens on a trip home to WNC.

  • Nancy

    I am 57 and grew up in Greenville, SC and moved to Asheville, NC (60 miles above Greenville) when I was about 20. In Greenville we said Y’ALL. I never heard anyone say Y’UNS (you ones) until I lived in the NC mountains. Sixty miles is not very far, but the way the native people speak in these two areas is very different. I definitely have an accent. The upstate SC and lowcountry (Charleston area) SC accents are very different, and my upstate SC accent is very different from how the people in the western NC mountains speak. I now live in eastern NC, and the accent here sounds a lot like where I came from in SC, but they use a few different phrases here. I used to try to lose my accent (especially while married to a man who spoke very precisely without an accent). Then I later married a man who was born in Kentucky and raised in Louisiana, Mississippi and Boone, NC. His accent was thickly southern. During my 15 years with him, I began to sound more southern than ever! I guess that is pretty normal though. We tend to fall into rapport with the speech patterns of others. My friend from the mountains of NC moved to the Boston, MA area to attend graduate school at Tufts (and then lived there several more years). It was amazing how much her accent changed. I am pretty good at learning languages and at mimicking accents, and I think this gift was passed on to my daughter. She is a fluent Spanish speaker and is a voice over actress by profession. She can do all kinds of accents. I think we all have an ear for accents, but some people perhaps perceive the nuances in voices more distinctly… like comedians or actors who can do convincing impressions of famous people. Perhaps the people who flip back and forth the most are the ones whose ears naturally pick up verbal and nonverbal communication cues. They sense the need to speak like their parents or friends back home when they are with them because it creates intimacy. And they speak more precisely and carefully around others because they sense some sort of judgment and wish to be taken seriously. It’s perhaps a pairing of intuition and a good ear. I hope regional dialects and accents never disappear. The world would be so boring if we were all exactly the same. These days I just TALK, and I sound like me! But I do notice that I subconsciously do this “code talking” you are talking about.

  • Nancy

    Not code talking… code SWITCHING! Sorry about that!

  • Rod

    I was raised in the foothills of the Great Smokie Mountains here in East TN. Many of my ancestors were raised and lived their whole lives in those mountains. I am sure I had the accent that accompanied the region, that is until I went off to the Navy for 22 years. Folks here back home, and some not from here, ask me where I am from. Apparently I lost my Appalachian accent. I suppose it was from my being around so many other accents that my speech got confused and made one of it’s own. I don’t like not sounding Southern Appalachian, for I am Southern Appalachian. I’m proud of my Appalachian heritage. We are not dumb hillbillys, we may not have the education, but we damned sure have the common sense!

  • Jeff Adkins

    I wrote a book about growing up in Eastern Kentucky and dealing with code switching in my family and moving to California. We were taught to code switch deliberately but not to eliminate our accents but to adapt so we wouldn’t be judged when looking for jobs out of the region. I remember once we were doing a play for a competition and our rivals came uninvited to watch– we all switched to the thickest drawl we could manage just to inspire overconfidence in our neighboring school.

  • sherry chafin

    My hubs was from Mingo County… Matewan, WVA. First time he took me there, I was befuddled… I’d never seen such wild beauty… and yet I felt a bit claustrophobic with all the mountains etc. But my first night there, sleeping upstairs with a window and seeing the moon loom large over the mountain… it was magical.. no place else like it in the world. When I hear the genuine ‘speak/accent’ from the area.. Iove it.. ‘gives me chills!

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