A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

Wendy apologizes for the lack of Monday book this week (she’s in DC lobbying on behalf of rural health provision), but at least I got the Wednesday guest post out on time!

Our friend Amy teaches Appalachian Studies up the road at the local campus of UVA, but she has to attend a conference elsewhere today and on Friday. So I will be guest lecturing two different groups of students on the links between the Scots language and the Appalachian dialect.

I usually start with a brief geography lesson as it’s painfully true that the majority of folk over here, even many with a strong pride in their Scottish ancestry, really don’t know where Scotland is. Not only that but there’s a lot of confusion between The UK, Great Britain, England and Scotland (most Americans just say England regardless). Despite that, Scotland has a surprisingly strong ‘brand image’ around the world and most folk will readily come up with lots of examples of things they think of as peculiarly Scottish.

Then when it comes to the movement of the settlers to this area, most people don’t really know what is meant by the ‘Scotch-Irish’. So I cover a bit of history, explaining how lowland Scots were ‘encouraged’ to move to the north of Ireland, how their children (born in Ireland) then moved on to Pennsylvania and eventually to this neck of the woods. They are the ‘Scotch-Irish’ – also known as Ulster-Scots.

They brought with them their culture, including songs, ballads, fiddle tunes, food recipes, a strong suspicion of government power, as well as their language.

Of course I have to explain that Scots isn’t just a dialect of English, but a language in its own right but with obvious similarities; rather like the relationship between, say, Spanish and Portuguese, or Danish, Norwegian and Swedish.

The legacy still to be heard in Appalachia involves vocabulary, sentence structure and pronunciation. However in Scotland, Ulster and Appalachia speaking anything other than standard English was historically frowned on and it’s only relatively recently that appreciation of these languages has been encouraged.

While family names and place names in Appalachia are a strong clue to where the settlers came from, there are many others strewn around and hiding in plain sight!

I find myself being asked more and more to give presentations like this and find it both enjoyable and stimulating. There are usually lots of questions at the end.

Finally – I have to try my best to avoid politics, but the current Scottish political scene is so volatile and fast moving that I find myself continually having to bite my tongue – and language is a political weapon in Scotland, Ireland and Appalachia.

Many tongues, many voices – – –

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3 Comments

Filed under Big Stone Gap, folklore and ethnography, Little Bookstore of Big Stone Gap, Scotland, small town USA, Uncategorized, VA

3 responses to “A Turkey Poke or a Pig in a Poke?

  1. sagecat22

    I would love to sit in on one of those classes; just this little bit you’ve shared here is fascinating! My ancestry is heavily Scottish, but there is so much that I don;t know. Perhaps it does help explain why I’ve always felt so drawn to Appalachia.

  2. priscillaking

    I have more Irish and English than Scottish ancestry, but cousins have modelled two different tartans. I’m bemused by the similarities/differences between Scotch-English and English-English, and also Scots-Gaelic and Irish-Gaelic; there does seem to be a Norse influence on both…

  3. Janice Brooks-Headrick

    Jack, on a trip to Ireland, Mom gathered information about the Scots-Irish. When I opened up the brochure, there, in all her make up was Dolly Parton!! It was about the links to the music. If that stuff floats to the top, I’ll send it to you. Jan

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