English dialect words in Virginia

As I’ve said, the English language in all its various dialects interests me, especially as it illustrates that aspect of our heritage from England. Yesterday I posted an excerpt from a book called The Word-Book of Virginia Folk-Speech, from 1899.

Here, the writer lists some examples of Wiltshire and Cornwall dialect words found in use in Virginia.

Wiltshire words in Virginia speech_wordbookofvirgin00gree_0013

Anyone familiar with the various Southern American dialects of English, (at least as they existed before all the demographic and cultural changes that have swept over the South) will recognize many of these usages. I can pick out several of them in the above excerpt. For instance, the word ‘yellow’ pronounced as ‘yalla.’ Granted, it was mostly rural and older folk who retained this into our era, but my grandparents and their generation spoke that way. Likewise, the pronunciation of the word ‘seven’ as something like ‘seb’m‘. It can’t have been uncommon in England, as I’ve heard it from older speakers in the UK, and they were educated speakers, by the way. Same with the word ‘eleven’ as ‘eleb’m‘, roughly.

Why do I bring up these quirks? I think it’s important to point them out, not just for curiosity’s sake, but because far too many Southron people have been persuaded that everything about the Southern American dialects represents ‘ignorance’ on the part of Southron folk. Many of these old expressions and pronunciations were not ‘ignorant’ or the result of a lack of education; they were simply hold-overs from the dialect(s) our ancestors spoke when they arrived from England 400+ years ago. Some of those usages have long since died out in the UK, as language change does happen, but that does not mean that the older usages that survived here were in error. They were simply archaic, from the viewpoint of our cousins back  in the mother country.

In the quote above, another odd pronunciation in Virginia (and in my Texas childhood) was the word ‘rinse’ pronounced as ‘rench.’ My mother, being from the North, disdained this kind of ‘mispronunciation,’ seeing it as backward. Sadly many Northern people believe that the Southron dialect is a sign of low intelligence. Maybe if such people recognized that the different usages are simply ‘old-fashioned’ usages, or dialect variances, they might not be so disdainful.

The second paragraph in the quote mentions the habit of dropping the final ‘g’ in words ending in ‘-ing’. In my experience this is not a Southernism but is widespread across the United States and Canada. It’s also heard on the other side of the Atlantic.  (I remember the carping American media raking Sarah Palin over the coals for “dropping her ‘g’s”, as if a large proportion of Americans don’t do the same thing, regardless of regional origin or level of education. Funny how snobbish the self-important ‘journalistic’ classes can be.)

Books have been written about the Southern American dialect, or dialects. I can’t do the subject justice here, but I will return to it at times. It’s important for us to know that so much of what we take for granted about our culture, including our language, did not originate here. It is part of our ‘old inheritance’, and knowing these things should enhance our sense of identity, and remind us of our origins in Britain.

 

 

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