Eureka Springs Independent Newspaper Column for March 26, 2014

One day I walked into a local automotive place just as a man boldly declared, “I’ve eaten groundhog, but I’ve never tasted possum.” Now, maybe you hear that same sort of thing in a Boston muffler shop, but I’m guessing not. From the sound of the man, I’d say he was local.

I do wish I had a better ear for regional accents. When I hear a tourist from Minnesota speak, I know they’re not from Mississippi, and I know the Mississippian isn’t from Maine, but I can get tripped up by about anyone else.

How does an Ozark native sound? Some knowledgeable about such things recognize the existence of a distinct Ozark dialect, while others do not. Some simplify it to the point that here in the Arkansas Ozarks we speak “Southern,” but go into the Missouri Ozarks a few miles and the citizens of Golden and Eagle Rock start speaking “Midland” or “Midwestern.”

Historically speaking, the Ozarks were isolated enough that certain words and speech patterns stayed in usage longer here than in other areas. My granny, Betty (Southerland) McCall was born near Rockhouse on the Kings River and would say things like, “I swan” or “pshaw,” words that some dictionaries label as archaic.

On the other hand, I used to hear local older men exclaim, “Shoot fire!” or “Man alive!” and I hadn’t heard those expressions elsewhere until David Letterman said them on television one night. Isn’t Dave from Indianapolis?

Maybe they aren’t Ozark expressions, after all. Maybe those expressions are more generational than regional.

One thing is clear after speaking to people about the Ozark dialect, though. Locals seem to think it’s dying, or at the least has become diluted, perhaps with the proper American English we tend to hear on television and in most movies.

I just know that having lived elsewhere at times, I’ve always enjoyed coming home and hearing the local speech patterns again. I love listening to my grandmother, Lola (Wolfinbarger) Weems, and my aunts because of the almost musical quality of their speech. It sounds very much like home.

 

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