People love Appalachia, but still have fun celebrating Hillbilly Days in Kentucky. AP

People love Appalachia, but still have fun celebrating Hillbilly Days in Kentucky. AP

The quiet town of Rainelle, West Virginia in the Appalachian region. AP Photo

The quiet town of Rainelle, West Virginia in the Appalachian region. AP Photo

Some families go back generations and generations.

Some families go back generations and generations.

The sun sets over the Appalachian mountains. AP Photo

The sun sets over the Appalachian mountains. AP Photo

The region of Appalachia

The region of Appalachia

Code-Switching

Posted: September 1, 2015

A kid in the Appalachians might grow up eating pancakes for breakfast. But he would call them flannel cakes. He might also carry his lunch in a brown paper bag. But he would call the bag a poke. When he says the word tire, it might sound like tar. When he says grass, it might sound like grace. To his neighbors, those words and pronunciations seem normal. But to people outside of Appalachia, they sound anything but!

Imagine the boy grows up. He goes to a job interview far from his mountain home. Suddenly, his accent disappears. He knows that if he speaks in his usual way, he might not be understood. He is doing something called code-switching. Code-switching happens when people change their usual languages or dialects. They do this to fit different situations.

Many years ago, people from Europe and Africa settled in the Appalachian Mountains. Some Native Americans settled there too. Each group brought its own ways of talking. Soon, their different dialects started to mix. But they didn’t mix with the dialects of lowland Americans. The mountains kept the people too separated for that to happen.

Language isn’t just for us. We use it to serve others too. Sometimes that means we have to learn a new way of talking. Do you have an accent? Have you ever code-switched?