Thursday, August 23, 2007

"Is There an Ozark Dialect?"

Vance Randolph
Folklorist of the Ozarks

In the February 1929 issue of American Speech (Volume 4, Number 3, page 203-204), Vance Randolph poses a question that is -- for me -- very interesting: "Is There an Ozark Dialect?"

He asks because he has noted that H.L. Mencken, in his influential book The American Language (New York, 1921), in chapter 5 on "The General Character of American English," had claimed:
There may be slight differences in pronunciation and intonation -- a Southern softness, a Yankee drawl, a Western burr -- but in the words they use and the way they use them all Americans, even the least tutored, follow the same line. One observes, of course, a polite speech and a common speech. But the common speech is everywhere the same, and its uniform vagaries take the place of the dialectic variations of other lands. A Boston street-car conductor could go to work in Chicago or San Francisco without running the slightest risk of misunderstanding his new fares. Once he had picked up half a dozen localisms, he would be, to all linguistic intents and purposes, fully naturalized.
Randolph's choice of Mencken was not simply due to Mencken's prominence as an expert on the 'American' language. Mencken was also an outspoken critic of American boobies and leveled his satiric wit at the 'fundamentalists' populating places like the Ozarks. Randolph, although not from the Ozarks, had married into an Ozark family, fallen in love with the region, and taken it upon himself to defend the 'uniqueness' of its inhabitants.

In 1929, therefore, having spent some years crisscrossing the region, seeking out its more isolated locales, he published his article, merely two pages, asking "Is There an Ozark Dialect?" As a way of answering his own question, he composed the following monologue of what an old 'residenter' of "the more isolated parts of the Ozark highlands" might say:
Lee Yancey allus was a right work-brickel feller, clever an' biddable as all git-out, but he aint got nary smidgin' o' mother-wit, an' he aint nothin' on'y a tie-whackin' sheer-crapper noways. I seed him an' his least chaps a-bustin' out middles down in ol' man Price's bottom t'other ev'nin', a-whoopin' an' a-blaggardin' an' a-spewin' ambeer all over each an' ever', whilst thet 'ar pore susy hippoed woman o' hisn was a-pickin' boogers out'n her yeller tags, an' a-scrunchin' cheenches on th' punch'on 'ith a antiganglin' noodle-hook. D'reckly Lee he come a-junin' in all narvish-like an' tetchous, an rid th' pore ol' trollop a bug-huntin' -- jes' plum bodacious hipped an' ruinated her. They never did have nothin' on'y jes' a heap o' poke sallat an' a passel o' these hyar hog-mollies, but he must a got hisse'f a bait o' vittles some'ers, 'cause come can'le-light he geared up his ol' piedy cribber an' lit a shuck fer Gotham Holler. The danged ol' durgen -- he should orter be bored fer th' simples!
Now, I gotta admit that this 'dialect' is beyond my 'ken' in some of its details (and Randolph has exaggerated a bit for didactic purposes), but in the general tenor, I can follow it, for my Granma Hodges and 'Granpa' Archie -- the man that she married after losing my Granpa Hodges to a tree-felling accident -- both spoke something like this.

Actually, I recall a point that Randolph doesn't thematize. Both Nora Hodges Dillinger and Archie Dillinger, who came from isolated parts of Fulton County and lived together on a farm at the end of a dirt road, used the inflected form "ye" for "you" in much of their speech. For example, they might say something like:
If I'd knowed y'as a-gon' ter do thet, I'd a-tol' ye not ter do it.
Translation (if required for some):
"If I'd known you were going to do that, I'd have told you not to do it."
Granma Hodges was born in 1895, and Archie in 1899 -- if I rightly recall. My kinfolk might correct me if they happen across this post, but I'm reasonably sure that those two could have spoken this sentence.

As for the long monologue from Randolph, a little glossary might help, so I'll attempt to supply one tomorrow if I have time. I might not be able to that soon, for I'm off on a two-day retreat with the other Kyung Hee University faculty and won't return until tomorrow evening (i.e., Friday evening, August 24th, 2007, Seoul time).

Meanwhile, amuse yourselves identifying (or guessing at) word meanings...

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At 5:42 AM, Blogger Deplorably Bonnie Blue said...

I am pretty sure you meant to type 1895 and 1899, right?

At 5:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Cynthia, thanks for catching that.

I suppose that I was thinking "last century" just as I used to back in the 1900s, but I should be thinking "the century before last" now that we're living in 2000s...

Jeffery Hodges

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At 10:15 PM, Blogger Hathor said...

I would proably understand it better if I heard it with its cadence.

At 11:59 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Isolated English dialects do indeed sound similar, be it Ozarks or ancient Appalachians in the Gaspesie peninsula.

While my speech does not reflect where I grew up, I have recognized people from my home town by a single overheard sentence in a restaurent amid 'cultured' city dweller speech.

It's not simply the words spoken, but the particular lilts. The utterance of the word "get", becomes "git" with a long i and slight pinching of the vocal chords. There's a subtle shrillness to it.

As in, "Git off me bike son! Yer gonna brayk it!"

Which translates to, "Please remove your self from my bicycle, as you are damaging it."

Interesting stuff.

At 8:58 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hathor, I bet that you're right. Ozark dialect has a lot in common with Southern dialect generally and thus also with African-American dialect.

I recall hearing a young black man in Berkeley refer to somebody being "out of pocket." I knew exactly what he meant.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 9:00 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Lexiphanic, I'll provide even more when I get back from this two-day meeting.

Interesting stuff is right. You might use your university access to find Randolph's articles online. A lot are available.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 8:27 PM, Anonymous University of the Ozarks said...

We have a few college students online from college of University of the Ozarks and we love your blog postings, so well add your rss or news feed for them, Thanks and please post us and leave a comment back and well link to you. Thanks Jen , Blog Manager University of the Ozarks.

At 8:47 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Jen, you posted this same message on another blog entry, so I'm now wondering if this is legit. If so, then let me know.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 2:08 PM, Anonymous Owen said...

The reason the Ozark dialect sounds so much like the dialect of Appalachia is because Ozarkers are descended from Appalachian families. I am a native Appalachian (from Tennessee) who moved to the Ozark Mountains. I do use the dialect among family to keep in touch with my roots

At 2:43 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Thanks Owen. My own Hodges clan has family memories stretching back to the Appalachians.

Jeffery Hodges

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