Ozark speak is unique among Southern dialects, and is closer to Appalachian English than to the typical Southern “twang” or “drawl” that people know of from the Deep South and Texas. Vance Randolph wrote a wonderful book on the subject called “Down in the Holler” which goes into pronunciation of the dialect as well as laying out quite a few unique Ozark words.
Being from the Ozarks I’ve grown up hearing certain ways of talking. Words like “cain’t” instead of “can’t” “far” instead of “fire” and “yeller” instead of “yellow” are just a few examples. I find myself going back to those old ways of speaking every now and then, especially when I’m around other Ozark speakers. It just comes out of me, I cain’t help it. Our language is one of the folkways that make us unique. I used to hate the way my family talks, but I’ve come to realize that this is a part of our culture that needs preserving just like any other.
I’d like to set down here a few examples of the Ozark dialect that are recorded in “Down in the Holler” just to give y’all some examples of the language. These passages come from stories, plays, and newspaper clippings, all written in Ozark dialect by people from the area. Don’t expect to understand the context of all the passages, they’re just examples to show the dialect written out. Some of the words and ways of talking I’m familiar with, others have probably died out over the years, or are preserved in the more isolated areas of the Ozarks. Randolph has a lot more examples than the ones below, but these were the ones that had the least amount of dialectical mishaps, such as the assumption we say “crick” when clearly Ozark people say “creek,” and “purdy” instead of “purty” for the word “pretty.” A lot of the mistakes writers have made in the past is assuming Ozark people either talk like other Southerners, which isn’t the case, or that they don’t know how to talk at all. If anything a real hillbilly is going to talk real slow for you, especially if you’re a “furriner.” I might make additional posts about this later on. There are lots of unusual words and phrases I’d like to mention, and also the interesting verb system that Ozark speak has. But for now, let this be a little taste of the beautiful Ozark dialect.
“Yisterday I got me a new pair o’ britches over to Lem Tucker’s store, and as Mary allus has to cut em off in the laigs, she cut one laig and fixed it at the same time she was watchin’ the cookin’ of her grub. And be-dog my cats! Hyah, hyah, hyah! when she come back from cookin’ to fix the rest of my britches, she got all flabbergasted, and instead o’ cuttin’ off tuther laig, she cut off the same one, leavin’ tuther long enough to drag my tracks out and flung ‘em over to me. She never noticed till I had ’em on ready to come over here-hyah, hyah, hyah! And so I dug this green shirt that she’d colored for cyarpet rags, outen the smokehouse and come in style, be-dog my cats!”
“Now whenever you are a-sparkin’ an’ mention somethin’ about th’ stars, hits a shore sign yore a-wantin’ to be kist effen yore th’ gal. An’ effen yore th’ boy hits a shore sign yore a-aimin’ to try to kiss her.
Th’ ole horse got half-way crost th’ creek-ford an’ stopped to git hisself a drink. Th’ young folks didn’t hear th’ gal’s brother, th’ masterest person to tease, come a-ridin’ his horse right up a-hind ’em, but he did hear his sister up an’ say ‘Oh, aren’t the stars numerous tonight?’
Th’ mountain boy, too green to make shuckin’s fur roastin’ ears, instead uv kissin’ her, looked up at the stars an’ sez ‘Gee yeah, an’ aint thur lots uv em’!’”
“Hit’s jest a lot of onery, lazy folks, mostly moonshiners an’ hoss-traders, a-livin’ up yere on this hawg-back whar the land is so pore an’ rocky that the river bottom farmers don’t want hit even fer pasture…The furdest house is where Zack Kady lives. He’s got three growed-up daughters an’ one that’s married to Fil Siler, an’Fil’s got two purty goodsize girls, an’ that makes five, an’ they have a daince up thar might nigh ever’ Saturday night.”
“Wal, if you’ve got t’ know, hit was some dried beans and a lot of other grub…They had some fried taters an’ some biskits, that’s all I et, they mighta had some other stuff, but I didn’t run acrost hit. Oh yeah, an’ they had some sop, too. I poured hit over my biskits.”
“Hit was that purty little man come down from Springfield to keep the school…Well, the four of us finally got Gum off him, an’ breshed off the school teacher, an’ wiped some o’ the blood off him, an’ got some water from the spring an’ throwed on him…Gum come to hisself, partly. An’ he took a look at that pore little no-account book learner that he knew Hildy wouldn’t a-thunk of twice.”
“So one time there was a big, fine carload of New Yorkers who came to the Ozarks. They saw a barefoot hillbilly woman out in the yard washing her clothes. They stopped the car. The young man went in and asked, “Lady, what was this little village we just came through?” She says, “I-dun-know. I haint never been thur.” “Well, you knew about George Washington.” “No, I never did know him.” “Well, undoubtedly you knew about Abraham Lincoln?” “No, I never heard tell of him nuther.” “Well, lady, you know that there’s a God and that he died for you, don’t you?” “Well, if his last name is Damn, I’ve heard my ole man speak of him a heap of times, but I didn’t even know he wuz sick.”