Enduring, declining speech features in Appalachia


The Associated Press



Below is a list of speech features studied by the West Virginia Dialect Project, some of which remain common and others that have become rare.

Led by linguist Kirk Hazen, the project’s researchers have interviewed dozens of native speakers around the state over two decades and used audio software to analyze and catalog individual words and sounds. The research has allowed Hazen and his colleagues to write articles showing that some stereotypes of Appalachian speech are outdated.

Below are examples of what Hazen calls enduring and fading features of speech in the state.

Fading features:

• The perfective “done”: Used to show an action is complete (“I done walked the dog”), the perfective done has become rare in West Virginia. It has also been associated with other southern states and England.

• “A”-prefixing: Once used with present-tense actions (“I’m a-going to the store”), this now-uncommon feature is still associated with mountain speech because of portrayals in movies and television.

• The demonstrative “them”: The construction substitutes “them” for “these” or “those,” (“them apples taste the best”) Hazen’s research indicates the demonstrative them — which has been found among English speakers around the world — has declined dramatically in West Virginia.

• For-to Infinitives: This occurs when speakers combine the preposition “for” with an infinitive verb, often in places where it could be left out (“Would you like for me to come with you?”) Hazen’s team says this feature is fading.

Enduring features:

• Pleonastic or redundant pronouns: This can be found when a speaker follows the subject of the sentence with a redundant pronoun (“My parents, they’re really strict.”) The use of these pronouns appears to be steady.

• The quotative “be like”: The relatively new feature uses a form of the phrase “be like” to introduce a quote (“He was like, ‘I’m not going.”’) Researchers say it appears to have originated on the West Coast and come to West Virginia in recent decades.

• Consonant cluster reduction: This occurs when the sound of one consonant in a series, such as “t” or “d,” is reduced. (For example, “bes’ buddy” instead of “best buddy.”) Used by young and old, the feature is likely to remain a part of West Virginia speech and can be found among English speakers around the world.

• Vowel mergers: Some speakers will use a single sound for vowels that are typically pronounced differently, such as those in “pin” and “pen,” a common vowel merger in the South. Another example, involving the sounds in “cot” and “caught,” appears to have started in Pennsylvania before spreading. Both types of vowel merger are increasing in West Virginia, the researchers say.

Source: Academic articles by West Virginia University professor Kirk Hazen and his colleagues.

The Associated Press

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