Seldom Ask, Never Tell: Labor and Discourse in Appalachia

By Anita Puckett | Go to book overview

PREFACE

This book is probative. Using information obtained through linguistic anthropological approaches to ethnographic fieldwork, it explores how ways of requesting in a rural coalfield Appalachian community construct a local socioeconomy. Responding to recent and theoretically reorienting advances in linguistic anthropology, it asserts necessary, irreducible relationships between verbal and material forms when people engage in socioeconomic behavior. To separate the material from the verbal in these instances of socioeconomic communication, to focus only upon how commodities, goods, and services are consumed, circulated, and produced, is either to dehumanize those individuals (or groups) who initiate or receive the result of such processes, or it is to impose the analyst's own conception of the motivating factors in such material transactions. To focus only on the verbal invites similar critiques of an analyst's imposition of his or her own system of meaning to socioeconomic communicative events. For socially involved, interacting individuals, socioeconomic communicative events reproduce or create behavior meaningful to them. How these meanings are "contextualized" in specific socioeconomic communications and "retextualized," or lifted from specific events so they can be talked about or "retextualized" in other verbal genres, could be the major goal of this work.

But this task, is impossible, given the ascessibility of most coalfield Appalachian communities to new patterns of marketing commodities and services. Residents' own efforts to adapt or adjust to different job markets also preclude a totally closed, static system of language and socioeconomic relations. This book therefore focuses on how tropes, expressions, and other conventionalized verbal forms (metapragmatic designators) designate and interpret imperatives and other speech forms that effect a division of labor for the production, circulation, and consumption of resources in the rural eastern Kentucky community I have given the pseudonym of Ash Creek. These serve two contrasting major purposes: first, they provide a dynamic, interactive means for residents to negotiate how to categorize a

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