|Issue 3:1 | Non-Fiction | Kristina Holland McBride|
Kristina Holland McBride
“School didn’t take up ‘til 9 o’clock when I was a young’ n,” Granny announced with authority. I paused, remembering my high school days.
“Really? It took up about 8:30 when I was in high school.”
“Well, 8 o’clock is just way too early for school to take up. It’s just too hard on the young’ ns.”
My daughter looked up at me, wide-eyed with curiosity and asked, “What does took up mean, Mom?”
With her question, I realized I slip into speaking Appalachian English, my native dialect, as easily as I slip into my favorite winter coat and bask in its warmth. It is the language of my ancestors, the people who have loved me, supported me, taught me to love Appalachia while also teaching me to love and appreciate the world outside of my Appalachian home. All of my family speaks Appalachian English, but each of us with our individual nuances, and with each less-isolated generation, our native tongue more closely resembles the Standard American English myth. What I realized, during this simple morning chat with my husband’s grandmother, is that I will never leave my native dialect behind. It comforts me. It speaks to my soul.
* * * * *
I nervously awaited my religion professor’s comments. He had asked me to stay after class, and I couldn’t imagine what I had possibly done wrong. I wasn’t just a good student, I was a straight-A, never give the professor any trouble, kind of student.
I sat in the front row and waited as he began to speak.
“You know, I love your accent. There’s absolutely nothing like it. I could sit back and listen to you talk all day. But, everyone is not going to find the way you speak as endearing as I do. You’ll never be taken seriously unless you learn to speak without it. I would suggest when you transfer to Wake Forest; you take some speech classes to help you.”
He had seen me through the difficult first two years at Brevard College. A first-generation college student, I had taken all of his advice during those two years. Never wavering his support, never questioning my ability to succeed, he always had my best interest at heart. I knew this conversation must have been difficult for him, letting me know I didn’t measure up in some way to societal expectations. Yet, he had the courage to tell me what others were thinking.
* * * * *
I left my Appalachian home for the first time and drove onto the campus of Wake Forest University. I learned immediately the stereotypical images of Appalachia had already arrived on campus. I was not only ostracized in my dorm, I was criticized openly by my professors. Only one professor thought the Appalachian dialect was something to be celebrated. I met him on the first day of class, and he boasted of his rural roots.
“If anyone can tell me the meaning of stob or poke, I’ll excuse you for the day.”
I knew. Of course, I knew. A stob is a fence post, and a poke is a paper bag. Granddaddy never said post or bag, and I never questioned why. I could sit and listen to Granddaddy for hours. He would tell stories of growing up in Macon County, North Carolina, and how he moved to Walla Walla, Washington, as a young man, only to return to his Appalachian roots. But at that moment, I denied knowing. I refused to raise my hand and acknowledge my own heritage. It was too embarrassing, too painful.
I sighed in relief as I walked back to the dorm among the laughter of my peers as they belittled the professor and questioned his ability to teach us anything.
I majored in Speech Communications.
* * * * *
Over the years, I’ve made a conscious decision not to intentionally reduce my accent. My long i’s and extra syllables keep me grounded in my heritage. At home, with my friends and family, I slip easily into my dialect as well. In the summer, I love to go a-swimming to find relief from the sultry Southern sun. Appalachian English feels comfortable. It is a reflection of my identity.
However, when I am teaching, I only speak with my standardized version of English. As an English professor at my alma mater Brevard College located in my hometown of Brevard, North Carolina, Standard American English is expected. I have learned to shift from Appalachian English to Standard American English with ease. My ability to shift allows me to navigate two of the most important priorities of my life—my family and my career. It is my answer, not the answer. People must navigate their own language use. Ultimately, this concept is the foundation of my teaching pedagogy-trying to assist students in their language choices-always remembering the role both their heritage and goals play in their language use.
As for me, on any given Sunday afternoon, you will find me relaxing in my Appalachian home, enjoying the stories of my family and friends while I bask in my native dialect.