“Highfalutin’ Language and Sigogglin Learnin’: Stitching Together My Appalachian Heritage and My Education”

My father was born and raised in southern Kentucky, as was his father and mother before him, and his grandparents were from the mountains of North Carolina and southwestern Virginia. Growing up, I encountered many Appalachian expressions used by my grandmother in everyday language and in her tales. Unavoidably (as I saw it as a child), I would echo some of these expressions in school, for instance saying “yonder” for “over there” or using “poke” to refer to my lunch bag. The reactions I got from classmates were always ones of puzzlement or amusement and, from teachers, stern disapproval. So I learned to be word cautious, for fear of sounding “uneducated.” It was not until I came to college that I became less self-conscious and more conscious of the value of my cultural heritage. As a college English professor, I have tried to spread that awareness to my students in an attempt to increase their appreciation of linguistic and cultural diversity for all sub-cultures. I share my grandmother’s language and stories with my students when we discuss the linguistic concept of “code switching” as examples of multiliteracies and adaptations to varying discourse communities. Not only are students entertained by this sharing, but they also develop a new respect for other dialects that fosters an acceptance of difference and helps mitigate tribalism and “othering.” My presentation will discuss my experiences as a child and my work as an educator (imitable, I hope) to expand students’ “book learnin’” to the “real world.”