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— One of the things I discovered when I started to school years ago was that the English we were learning in school was different from the English we spoke.

In those days we spoke Ozark English, so even though we weren’t from Mexico or China or France, we were learning English as a second language.

When people came in who were “not from these parts,” we soon noticed that they talked funny.

Some of them talked like the way our teachers were teaching. And sometimes they were a little slow to learn our language because they seemed to think theirs was better. Very often they had pretty much the same words as we did, theyjust didn’t say them right.

Ozark English on paper looks much like English from other areas, but orally it sounds different.

One of the first things Ilearned in school was that in school English, “ain’t” ain’t correct. In school English there ain’t no such a word as “ain’t.” “Ain’t” is against the rules. That ain’t so in Ozark. In fact, on that point, Ozark is more efficient, because “ain’t” takes the place of several words. School English uses “isn’t” and “aren’t” and “am not” to say the same things that “ain’t” says. In school English, you would say, “I am not tired,” “He isn’t tired,” “They aren’t tired.” In Ozark, you don’t need so many words. You would say, “I ain’t tard,” “He ain’t tard,” “They ain’t tard.”

The word “tired” points out one featureof the Ozark language that a newcomer needs to understand. In some kinds of English, “tired” is pronounced “ty-yerd.” In Ozark, the pronunciation is “tard.” You learn from the spelling what the word is, but you cain’t get the sound from the spellin’.

To learn to say “tired” you need to get help from someone who has experience in the Ozark oral tradition. They’ll pernounce it fer ye, if they ain’t too tard to fool with it. Here is a rule you can use in pernouncin’ Ozark words spelled with the letters “ire.” If it is spelled “ire,” you pernounce it “ar.” Examples are words like tire, wire, hire, fire and mire.

On the west coast, they say those words like ty-yer, wy-yer, hy-yer, fy-yer and my-yer. In Ozark that ain’t right at all! It’s tahr, wahr, hahr, fahr and mahr!

Another thing you haveto learn about Ozark language is that some letters are nearly always silent at the end of certain types of words. The letter G is a case of that rule, especially following the letters “in.” In some parts of the country, “ing” is pernounced with a G sound, like in king. In Ozark, the G in “ing” is usually silent.

So, a word like wedding is pernounced weddin’.

The word singing is pernounced singin’. Walking is walkin’.

Actually my example of the word singin’ raises another characteristic of Ozark speaking. Singing is actually pernounced saingin’. To the Ozark ear, the sound of the letters “ing” is kind of sissified,so Ozarkers change sing to saing, thing to thaing, ring to raing and bring to braing. That way they won’t sound too sissified. To an Ozarker, bein’ sissified isthe worst. It is plumb pitiful awful. Besides that, it is embarrassin’ and humiliatin’.

I think that is why I had trouble learning to say “isn’t” and “aren’t” in school. Like, how could a red-blooded American boy, raised on Otter Creek, say them words? Talk about sissified words, them two words were sissified, straight up; at least they were in 1948 in Pea Ridge.

After awhile, I got where I could say them in class, to give the right answer to the teacher, but no way could I say “isn’t” or “aren’t” outside of class.

What if I had said to one of my friends on the softball field, “You aren’t holding the bat properly?” I would have been laughed off the field and out of the fraternity of boys. The right way to say that was, “You ain’t holdin’ yer bat right!” That was the manly,respectable way to say it.

Later in life I discovered that moving from Ozark Arkansas to Plantation Arkansas is a culture shock.

East Arkansas is more like the old South. They talk funny over there. And the funny thing is, they think we talk funny. One contrast I had to get used to in the east was that the letter R is used very differently.

In the Ozark language, we pronounced R with a hard, strong sound. In the east, R is often almost silent.

In Ozark, we pronounced “where” as “whurr.” In Plantation English they say it, “whey-ah.” In midwestern English, “wear” is wear, in the Ozarks wey-yer, in east Arkansas wey-ah.

Moving has a person learning an English that’s a little different.

Contact Jerry Nichols by e-mail at, or call 621-1621.

Community, Pages 5 on 11/11/2009

Print Headline: Now & Then English in America varies with local pronunciations

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