Crvnetters may enjoy the following posting from today's _Washington
Coordinator, Center for Research
Email: [log in to unmask]
Vermont Mourns Its Past, So to Speak
By Pamela Ferdinand
Special to The Washington Post
Monday, March 16, 1998; Page A8
STOWE, Vt. – Sonny Davis is what folks heaah call a
Born and raised a quarteh of a mile from whar he
lives now. His voice full of ays and ehs and clipped
endin's when he turns on the accent. An attitude less
than welcomin' to the "flatlanders" takin' over his
"I kinda feel like a strange-uh in mah own town, I
guess," said Davis, 66, a onetime baseball pitcher,
carpenter and builder, and a civic fixture in this
ski resort town. "It's pretty sad, because we're
goin' to sound like New Jersey."
Massachusetts has its cahrs, bahrs and Hahvahd Yahd.
Mainers, bidding farewell, say "Bum-bye." New Yorkers
have Lohahn Guylan. But few people outside the Green
Mountain State realize that Vermont is struggling to
preserve its own subtle linguistic charm against an
onslaught of outsiders.
As an unprecedented number of non-natives arrive, as
family farms slip away and the influence of
television spreads, the dialect and colloquialisms
that helped define Vermont are retreating to its
remotest corners. Barely more than half the state's
roughly 580,000 residents were natives in 1990, down
from a reported 72 percent in 1960, and an increasing
cultural homogeneity reveals itself as much in
everyday conversation as in the proliferation of
microbreweries and Wal-Marts.
Locals believe more is at stake than their manner of
speaking. Vermont expressions, like all dialects, are
significant because they enshrine a way of life in a
region known for its independent streak, dry wit and
lean syntax. A game among farmers once involved
retelling the same story over and over again with
fewer words, and native humor runs along the lines of
"If thar's anythin' I can do, hesitate."
"People care about the Vermont dialect because, like
all dialects really, it represents their affiliation
and lifestyle," said Julie Roberts, an assistant
communications science professor at the University of
Vermont who is studying the state's dialect and
sub-dialects. "They are concerned if that changes, is
their way of life also changing?"
Parents here say they rarely hear their children
pronounce words with the choppy-sounding Vermont
twist or use the colorful phrases of their own
childhood. Farmers mourn the passing of sayings such
as "cocking hay," for bundling hay. But newcomers,
known among natives as "transplants" or
"flatlanders," are still baffled by what remains of
old-time speech patterns.
"It's not only hilarious, but it's pretty hard to
understand," said William J. Maris, 23, who moved
here from New Jersey five years ago to run an
The trademarks of native Vermont speech are a product
of Yankee, Canadian and Native American influences as
much as of the geographic isolation imposed by
national borders, mountains and lakes. In the
northwest, for instance, Vermonters may resemble
French-Canadians speaking English with sharp nasal
tones, while lockjawed eastern Vermonters drop their
r's and use almost no intonation, said speech expert
David Alan Stern.
Features of the Vermont accent generally include:
Dropping the "g" from "ing" and pronouncing the hard
"i" as "oy." Expanding one-syllable words such as
"cow" into "ka-ow." Swallowing words with "t," in
what linguists call the glottal stop, to say "kih'en"
instead of "kitten" and "nah" instead of "not."
Unlike Massachusetts, where accents thicken closer to
Boston, traditional Vermontese remains more
pronounced in rural areas, particularly among older
men and women who grew up on farms. In the far-flung
region of the Northeast Kingdom, where cows seem more
plentiful than people, you will still hear the polite
"Jeezum Crow" for "Jesus Christ," the word "wroight"
for "write," and the phrase "over street" for going
Where Helen Laramee lives in Irasburg, a village in
the northeast Vermont wilderness, "worn't" means
"weren't" and "ploughing your dooryard" means
shoveling your driveway. "When we first moved here,
someone said to me, 'I got done.' I said, 'You got
what?'" said Laramee, a 37-year-old mother of two,
referring to the native term for laid off.
Native speaking habits will not disappear overnight,
but may soon be watered down enough so as to be
indistinguishable, according to Roberts. She said the
question is, "How much change can the Vermont dialect
absorb before we can't call it the Vermont dialect
Norman Lewis, who grew up on a "10-cow starvation
farm" in the Northeast Kingdom, appreciates that
better than most. A 69-year-old retired school
superintendent, Lewis created a fictitious alter ego,
known as Danny Gore, who embodies the traditions of
rural Vermont. Gore, a‚k‚a Lewis with a slouched hat
and thick accent, ran for governor from 1962 to 1994
from a mythical district known as "Averysgore"
(motto: Milk Cows, Not Taxpayers). And even received
Switching with ease from standard English into his
taciturn incarnation's native cadence, Lewis recites
his campaign trail spiel.
"Aym a native-born Vermon'er. You've never seen one,
you don' wan'a see one, you didn' come ta see one,"
he said. "Too late, yer lookin' at one."
© Copyright 1998 The Washington Post Company
Center for Research on Vermont
University of Vermont
Nolin House, 589 Main Street
Burlington, VT 05401-3439
Email: [log in to unmask]