Seldom Ask, Never Tell: Labor and Discourse in Appalachia

By Anita Puckett | Go to book overview

1INTRODUCTION

"I am just a simple man."

A foreman of a local work crew very rarely used any speech form but task-focused imperatives with his crew, in keeping with cultural rules of imperative uses. Once in midsummer, however, a worker indicated a "need" to take the weekend off and not cut grass because of an irritating skin ailment. The foreman suggested a solution involving wearing a different type of clothing and long sleeves; the worker indicated it was too hot. The foreman used a bald imperative construction: "You've got to work this weekend or I'll have to let you go." The worker resigned on the spot and was later reported by some to have harassed the foreman and sabotaged some equipment. [notes: 7/85]

A local man reported to me that an outsider visiting the Environmental Center had lobbied locals to put their land into a wildlife preserve; residents thought he was "orderin" them to give up their control over the use of their land; the outsider was warned by a neutral party, but felt that he was "right" and continued to talk about the project. His car was made inoperable, and he left the area soon after that. [notes: 8/85]

THESE ANECDOTES Illustrate socioeconomic situations In which speakers of a highly stigmatized variety of American English contest, in fact, rebel against requests or demands from others to alter their control over two highly valued resources-labor and land. The examples seem to suggest that these individuals are easily upset or perhaps incapable of taking directives from anyone. Perhaps they are incapable of engaging in teamwork; perhaps they live by a "code" of violence in which human life is not valued; perhaps they are so "Other"

-3-

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