Aint Ant Aunt

I suppose the most “authentic” and unaltered mountain-talk I’ve been around since moving north from Alabama was at an impromptu meal at the home of Ray Hicks, storyteller and along with the rest of his very gracious family, keepers of the language of the mountains.

But then, I guess I grew up with a double dose of language-baggage, being both southern and Appalachian. So most of the words and phrases in this article about Appalachian language seem commonplace, or at least familiar.

Makes me remember my AINT Sara who once when I was small offered my brother and I a glass of SWEET MILK. To our disappointment, it turned out to be only not-buttermilk.

Ann and I heard some terms only after moving to southwest Virginia in the mid-seventies, and it took us a while to KETCH on–like the first time some country neighbors asked if “YUNS wanna come ta dinner at AIR house directly?

Lots of older folks still DRAP the first letters of THAT and add an H to it and change words like ruined to RURNT and it all sounds quite normal to our ears now.

For those who don’t come from these mountains, if you heard such language from a visitor, would you think them simple and backward? Could you accept them as an intellectual equal? Is there any wonder that those who must make a living in the larger world outside the hills and hollers often abandon the “native tongue” now spoken by fewer and fewer until some day, our children’s children will only read about it, and listen to a few old WAV files and laugh.

Share this with your friends!

Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

Articles: 3013


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

  1. I grew up in a place where those accents were heard occasionally. It is hard to accept a person who talks that way as an intellectual equal, but I am certain that some of them are smarter than lots of us in common sense, if not in “book larning”. You have to listen to what they say – not how they say it.

  2. I had to smile as my WV family were well acquainted with “directly” and “ruint.” My children still harass me for using “worsh” for wash and “tar” for tire.” Several years ago I read an article about Elizabethan english still existing in pockets of WV.

  3. i also read an article about a lot of the “language” of the mountains actually being the queen’s english preserved b/c of the isolation of the mountain people. it will be a shame if it dies out.

  4. I’ve lived in Floyd County my entire life. I call my aunts “Ant”; and I usually drop the “g” off words ending in “ing”. And I’m sure there are English professors out there who would be more than happy to point out all the other “mistakes” in my speech. Yes, school “corrected” a lot of my speech, but I’ve been told by complete strangers that I must be from Floyd County by the way I talk. I’m not offended by that. The “dialect” is part of my heritage. It was the language spoken by my grandparents, who lived a simple lifestyle, but certainly weren’t backward. Despite their “Elizabethan English” and the fact they never graduated from high school, they were among the most intelligent people I’ve ever known. I hope we never lose all those variations in speech. Otherwise, some day we’ll all sound the same. How boring will that be?

  5. With my South Boston accent, I had to learn to pronounce my R’s. Too many people were going around thinking I was a ganster type …and not understanding me.

  6. hi fred,
    as you are aware, my family & i hail from henry, floyd & patrick counties.
    when i worked in se alabama, a native co-worker and i used to have fun talking to each other in the dialects of our respective grandmothers, who, had they actually ever heard one another, probably couldn’t have understood a word the other said.

    my grandma’s speech is light and quick, as in, “louise CARRIT me up t’ town,” where her grannie’s was a long, slow drawl, as in, “ah wuzz ovah to thuh chu’ch yaahhstidday.” half-way thru that sentence my grandmother would have quit listening, while my friend’s would have probably had to have had my grandmother repeat hers “slowly” about 3 times!

    take care, susannah

  7. My mother and father moved from Martinsville VA to Southern California before I was born. My father, I believe, made an effort to cover his native speech patterns. My mother just kind of lost hers over time. My mother was college educated – – an R.N. by profession. My father was possibly the only person to teach at USC without having a college degree himself. I sometimes wonder if he would have been able to do that with his VA accent.

  8. Appalachian speech isn’t a purely Southern phenomenon, as the linked article implied. Use of “You’ns” continues as far north as central and western Pennsylvania, for example. And northern PA has a different but related accent.

  9. I wonder if some of these aren’t just “southern” instead of “mountain”? (My Dad, from north AL, said aint for aunt and daince for dance.)