West Virginia Mountain Culture & Heritage

Appalachia was America's first frontier. Coming from diverse backgrounds [Native Americans, Irish, English and Scots, and later Germans and Poles], they all blended together yet they kept many of their traditional folkways and music. As mountain life was isolated, traditional cultures tended to be preserved, and old ballads and fiddle tunes were handed down through generations. No one can dispute that mountain people are wonderful songwriters and storytellers. Music was always an important part of their lives, and they adapted old, traditional ballads into songs that told the story of their new lives in America.

The language spoken in Appalachia is unique, and was influenced by early settlement patterns. Research suggests that the grammar of Appalachian English derives most directly from Scotland and Northern Ireland, while its pronunciation relates to that of southern England. The Scotch-Irish predominated in the settlement of much of Western Virginia, and certain elements characteristic of Scotch-Irish speech persist to the present: A-prefixing is common among the Scotch-Irish, for example, as in ‘‘a-hunting’’ or ‘‘a-going,’’ and also common among speakers of Appalachian English. Today Appalachian English is often considered ignorant but it is probably very close to that of the language spoken by early colonists.

Appalachian culture is best revealed through its arts and handcrafts, traditional music, foods, burial customs and somewhat common language. Many of these elements still survive like coon hunting, homemade objects, storytelling, home and herbal remedies, clogging and flatfoot dancing [where the rhythm is beaten out with the feet], tool making, basket weaving, quilting, traditional music played on handmade instruments such as banjo, fiddle and dulcimer. Many other elements have been lost due to urban influences or even embarrassment or shame as many modern-day Appalachians try to distance themselves from the "hillbilly" image associated with the region. The "billy" part, however, simply comes from the Scots word for "companion!" See Cultural Landscape.

West Virginia is still a breath-takingly beautiful region of majestic mountains, narrow valleys and winding streams. To those of us who are native, we remain proud of our heritage and our land. West Virginia is truly "almost Heaven."
(See also
"Values & Culture" by Bill Barker, Appalachian Regional Ministry )

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