Cheesy's good

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An AP story a few days ago publicized work by Kirk Hazen to document and de-stigmatize Appalachian varieties of English. From the version published on the Fox News web site:

In a county beyond the reach of any four-lane highway, a young couple chuckles and swivels in their chairs as they start telling for posterity the story of how they met.

"You want me to tell the story, or you tell the story?" asks Pete Culicerto, 20, who's seated next to his girlfriend before a pair of black microphones.

"I'll tell it, because you'd make it all cheesy," says 17-year-old Ginger Smyth, each of her syllables snaking through a black cable into a high-end audio recorder ticking the time off on a green digital screen.

"Cheesy's good," says West Virginia University linguist Kirk Hazen, encouraging a relaxed conversation that allows the accents and speech patterns of their mountain community to flow unhindered by the self-consciousness that sometimes keeps them in check.

The story also mentions Amy Clark's work:

In southwest Virginia, English professor Amy D. Clark has held summer workshops for 15 years for rural teachers to help them teach students to write effectively without shaming them about their speech.

And her website will lead you to an interesting set of popular-press articles, including "The Art of Vernacular Voice", NYT 2/17/2014.

Ironically, someone at Fox News edited the AP story's headline into incoherence: "After a century of mocking, a push to restore pride in how Appalachians' speech and self-image".



  1. J. W. Brewer said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 10:07 am

    I saw this story a few days ago and was impressed by how good it was for mainstream media coverage of this sort of issue (better than, ahem, a recently-discussed NPR piece for example . . .). But I thought it was unfortunate that they didn't really quote the interviewees as using any examples of still-current regionalisms in syntax as opposed to pronunciation. The "Both sides, they always ask" construction doesn't strike me as much of a regionalism, but seems to be common in many varieties of AmEng for emphasis (e.g. whatever you might think of the internet cliche "The stupid, it burns," it's unlikely to be "whoa, why are you talking like a hillbilly?"). The piece did note two particular more syntactic features stereotypically associated with Appalachian English that have apparently fallen out of use in younger generations, but I would hope there would be some left. Have younger West Virginians also lost, e.g. the "I might could do that" construction?

  2. KevinM said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 11:32 am

    My mother (northern WV) never said "might could" (which I've only heard in TN). She does use "any more" in the positive, a locution I associate with WV/western PA/Ohio. (I.e., "He does that any more" to mean "He still does that.")

  3. Paul Reed said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 11:36 am


    No, the double modal construction is alive and well all over Appalachia and the South. If I can insert a shameless self plug, you can check out our website:

    Also, many of the regional forms are phonetic/phonologic in nature, and thus hard to capture in a news article (although you can hear in some of the versions with video, see
    and–29364871?playlistId=10212 )

  4. Gregory Kusnick said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 12:07 pm

    each of her syllables snaking through a black cable into a high-end audio recorder ticking the time off on a green digital screen

    There's more flavors of cheesy here than just the Appalachian kind.

  5. Michael Watts said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 4:23 pm

    I knew an elderly Jewish woman from Atlanta, GA, who routinely used double modals.

  6. Bloix said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 9:09 pm

    I recently read Barbara Kingsolver's novel Prodigal Summer, which has a character who marries into an Appalachian family and observes and comments on regional English. One construction that gives her trouble is "don't care to" meaning "don't mind" – "I don't care to walk" means I don't mind walking.

  7. Mark Mandel said,

    July 16, 2015 @ 11:34 pm

    @Bloix: Oh, lord, does that flash me back, to the summer of 1965. I was a New York boy, one among many northern (and elsewhence?) urban teenagers participating in the Ethical Culture Society's Encampment for Citizenship, held that year in Corbin, Kentucky, in old coal country. One day I was assigned to walking to the houses along a road along with a local teen who was also part of the project, inviting the residents to a meeting about starting a co-op, part of something called the Poor People's Corporation.
    (Pause for web search… Oh, if only this folder 304 were online!)

    After the third or fourth or fifth house I was getting pretty dejected at all the negative responses. My partner must have picked up on that, for he told me that around there "I don't care to" means "I wouldn't mind". They weren't negative at all: quite the reverse.

  8. Tye said,

    July 17, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

    I am from the Pacific Northwest but lived in East Texas for a number of years. One of my jobs there involved public speaking. Folks from East Texas would sometimes comment on my accent in ways that indicated it sounded more educated than their accent. This bothered me because I enjoyed hearing and exploring the differences. But when I would ask people about certain phrases or comment on an interesting pronunciation, my simple curiosity was taken as gentle mockery. I regretted that speech patterns could be a source of division instead of enriching our conversations and relationships.

  9. Mark Mandel said,

    July 17, 2015 @ 8:11 pm

    @Tye: Texas is strange. I have this on good authority: my sister, who moved there from Connecticut many years ago.

    Of course, I suppose any place is strange if you're not from there. Still…

  10. Mark Mandel said,

    July 17, 2015 @ 8:13 pm

    @KevinM, @Paul Reed: I've adopted double modals into my own usage for occasional use, mostly (meseems) "might could".

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