A worker in the Bank of America Corporate Center in Charlotte who asks you to “mash the button” for the elevator or to “he’p him tote the computer right yonder” would get a quizzical look or a patronizing chuckle for “talking country” in the towering edifice representing the second-largest financial center in the United States. But those who react in condescension may not realize that this way of speaking was the dialect norm in the city just a couple of generations ago—and probably in the residential home that once stood on this site. As one elderly Charlotte resident, born in 1919, recalled: “I remember when Discovery Place was just a little neighborhood store.”
Language and dialects are culture, but like other aspects of our heritage, they have sometimes existed under the cultural radar. In part, this is due to the historical and political subordination of the South. Southern speech has become increasingly different from Northern speech since the Civil War, but it was interpreted as inferior due to the stereotypes of the South by outsiders. The effects of linguistic prejudice are just as harmful as other types of prejudicial attitudes, perhaps more so because their workings are often invisible. It takes time to raise linguistic awareness by countering myths and stereotypes with formal and informal education about the legacy of dialects. North Carolinians deserve to know and understand the truth about its distinct dialect and language legacy.