"Why North Carolina Is the Most Linguistically Diverse State" Discussion Thread

Welcome to the discussion thread for the story, Why North Carolina Is the Most Linguistically Diverse State. You can share your comments and thoughts about the story in the conversation below.

2 Likes

Hi, just curious about the following sentence in this piece: “Whopperjawed” means something is out of true."

While in these truth-challenged times I find the expression “out of true” to be quite charming, it leaves me a bit flummoxed as to what the word “whopperjawed” means.

Thanks!

1 Like

Out of true sounds more like a nautical or carpentry term. It does not refer to truth in the sense of a verbal expression being valid or not but to a line being straight or not, or to something similar.
For example: 1. exactly or accurately shaped, formed, fitted, or placed, as a surface, instrument, or part of a mechanism.
Or As a verb:

  1. to make true; shape, adjust, place, etc., exactly or accurately: to true the wheels of a bicycle after striking a pothole.
  2. (especially in carpentry) to make even, symmetrical, level, etc. (often followed by up): to true up the sides of a door.

Unrelated to this, I found the article fascinating. I am 71 years old and my grandmother spent her entire life in Macon and Augusta Georgia. She very clearly exhibited the curl – coil phenomenon. I noticed this when I was very young but only after studying a little linguistics in college did I realize how unusual it was. It took this article for me to actually understand it in a proper linguistic perspective.
In addition there was a term which I assumed, as a child, to be universal, but which was, I imagine at this point, limited to the south. It was “hoity-toity“ and it referred to anything pretentious in social behavior, particularly referring to upper class, aristocratic, but snobbish behavior. I now realized for the first time that this must have referred to the Dialect and society corresponding to it in the article, the Hoi Toiders

2 Likes

I grew up in Raleigh in the 70s. I distinctly remember talking with my aunt about this topic when I was 9 or 10. She talked about mountain folk, beach people (she had a specific word for them that I can’t remember) and hill folk like us (white Piedmont dwellers). She was born in the depression era and traveled in the state for her work a lot. Those older voices have been fading my whole life it seems.

1 Like

Is “whopperjawed” the same thing as “whomperjawed”? That is to say, “crooked, not straight” as in “You couldn’t have put that quilt on that bed any more whomperjawed than it is.”

Strangely, within the last couple of months I was chatting with a person who is not from around here, who asked me where I grew up. “I’ve lived in Craven County since 1947. Why do you ask?” Turns out, it was because I referred to what others call “the trunk” of a car as “the boot.” A few weeks later, chatting with a group of friends about 10 years younger than i who grew up in next-door Pamlico County, I learned that they, too, have always referred to that part of a car as “the boot” and what others call “the glove compartment” as “the pocket.” One of them had also been questioned about the oddity of our nomenclature.

While I was born and raised in eastern North Carolina except for 3 years during WWII, my mother was from North-central Alabama. Therefore, I bake and eat pe-CON pie while my neighbors eat PEE-can pie.

4 Likes

I’m skeptical about “Most.” Louisiana is well known for pidgin French in Acadiana. First time visitors to New Orleans are surprised to hear natives with sort of a Brooklyn accent. Travel north and hear Ozarks and in other parts a Southern accent. One state west is Texas which has multiple dialects, including Spanglish, Southern, Native American, Western, Hill Country, Panhandle, and a cosmopolitan mix in the four major metropolitan municipalities.

2 Likes

As a Canadian, I can say that I’ve never heard any one of my countrymen or women say “oot” (out) OR “aboot” (about) in my life! (Unless they were Scottish immigrants, of course.) I, for instance, say “oot”, similarly to the way one would pronounce, “owl”.

Very interesting and well documented article.

However, IMHO here are two major issues:

(1) The author writes that " it’s really only in the past couple of decades that linguists have studied African-American English as a dialect, rather than as an incorrect or broken form of “standard,” white American English." Actually, Labov started studying Black English seriously in the 1960s - as did others such as Dillard and Stewart (it is true, on the other hand, that these were all white men). Anyway, by my mathematical computation, that’s much more than a couple of decades ago.
(2) There is no mention whatsoever of Gullah. Even though that is predominantly a coastal region /sea islands of South Carolina and Georgia thing, extreme SE North Carolina does have some Gullah pockets.

1 Like

By the way, I just realized that, in keeping with the maritime themes of the Hoi Toider dialect, Hoi Toid is high tide!

1 Like

This entry is eye-opening for me! My father went into the Army when his family moved to Craven County in 1947. His three younger sisters grew up there and lived there for most of their lives. Now I understand why “the boot” was used by the sisters and not by my father.

I grew up about 15 miles from Pembroke and studied English at Pembroke State University in the late 70’s and early 80’s. I was privileged to meet Dr. Wolfram on a couple of occasions at the invitation of Dr. Bob Reising who taught in the English department at PSU. These two guys taught me to honor the various dialects that I heard. Many lesser educated folk and, too often, well educated folk viewed those who spoke nonstandard English as ignorant. In reality, Wolfram and Reising impressed upon us, these folks were actually speaking the language as it had been spoken in the past, sometimes retaining vestiges from 400 or 500 years ago. In doing so, these gentlemen also taught us respect for diversity in a larger sense. Sadly, I’ve noticed over the past 40 years that the dialectal differences are fading. The Native American dialect of the region, while still distinct, is nowhere near as different from standard English vernacular as it was when I was in college.

1 Like

I grew up in two different places. A suburb Of Detroit and Flint, Michigan. Flint was a landing spot of Kentucky and Tennessee transplants working in the auto plants. I also lived in Southern Florida and a bit in North Carolina. I’m always asked where my accent is from. I also have trouble with my iPhone, it doesn’t understand me.

1 Like

I’m fascinated by this topic, as I’m a native of England now living in Western North Carolina. Accents and dialects have always intrigued me as I spent many years as an actress and in fact produced a series of training programs to help American actors learn some of the many British accents. It seems to me that the main sound that distinguishes the N.C. accent from the rest of the south is their pronunciation of the word “oh” (as in goat or coat). It’s very tight and reminds me of what we would call a “posh” accent in England but only in that one specific vowel sound. Any thoughts on how that came about?

1 Like

My roommate at UNC-CH was from westernmost NC. He used a neo-Elizabethan dialect. “Are you not going to stop?” “Sit yourself down”. Having grown up in NYC; it was a new language. (Youse guys tawk funny / Y’all tahk funny) But once I mastered it; I could read Shakespeare as quickly as “American” and Chaucer like it was Shakespeare. Actress Emily Proctor from CSI Miami was from Raleigh. Upscale speakers pronounced it “Due-k”; as opposed to “Dook”. Coastal NC had Scottish “aboot the hoose” like in Nova Scotia. Keep up the good work!

I’m definitely not a linguist but I do have an interest in language. English is my second language and have known it for over 20 years and am currently living in Scotland. I also agree that the stereotype of Canadians saying “aboot” is exaggerated, specially when compared to Scotland.

I do still use “about” to try and figure out if someone is from non-Maritime Canada or the Northern-Central U.S. but I’d say that, to me, the actual, most common pronunciation is closer to “aboat”. Peace oat.

There’s one key statistic missing from this article: a count of the number of languages and dialects spoken. In the absence of that number, I want to suggest that NYC and, specifically, Jackson Heights, Queens in NYC are the most linguistically diverse places, not just in the States, but in the world. NYC has over 800 distinct languages spoken in the homes while Jackson Heights, a zip code in the borough of Queens, has over 120 languages. Can North Carolina compete with this?

I love the Outer Banks. My wife and I have been there many times; in fact, we were married there.
Okracoke, being the most isolated of the islands, is where you are most likely to hear that distinctive dialect. It is not uncommon to meet someone there who can trace their lineage back to the days of piracy, so, if you want some idea of how Blackbeard spoke, take the ferry from Swan’s Quarter across the Pamlico Sound or drive down from the bridge at Kitty Hawk to Okracoke. You won’t regret it. It’s an utterly charming place with miles of pristine protected beaches. I pray for those islanders. Climate change has been particularly rough on them, and I wonder how much longer they can hang on.

1 Like

I am also suprised that there is no mention of the Gulla dialect in your article.

I spent childhood summers in Fayetteville in the southeastern part of the state. Even as a kid I could tell that the accent was very different than my own. The one distinct memory I have is of a newspaper seller who would stand on the same corner everyday shouting “Ei-bar, Ei-bar”.

1 Like