How to speak Lowcountry, in five different languages

dlauderdale@islandpacket.comJuly 27, 2013 

A consultant sat at my desk in the newspaper office one day and informed me that Beaufort County consists of five different continents.

He'd been talking to people around the county and come to the conclusion we are terribly loosely connected continents of Beaufort, St. Helena, Sheldon, Bluffton and Hilton Head.

Only those who are grossly overpaid experts and from out of town have such vision.

We have known this since Jean Ribaut discovered Coligny Plaza. Or at least we have known that people speak different languages around our county.

When I moved to the Lowcountry in 1975 right out of college, everyone was talking about diah (deer), biah (beer) and boouts (boats). They all called each other "Bo." And they ended their sentences with, "eh?"

After a few weeks, I asked my wife if she had secretly signed us up for a foreign exchange program.

Years later, I would hear Emory Campbell of Hilton Head Island trying to explain Gullah to a bunch of cumyahs. In his best Sea Island lilt, Emory said: "We it rice and talk funny."

Emory tells of strangers who pull up in Frogmore to ask for directions and speed off thinking they somehow made a terribly wrong turn. They think they're in the Caribbean.

Either Emory or his daughter, Ayoka, tells a story something like this: They leave Hilton Head for Howard University and when they get to the front of a registration line, Emory open he mout and she's told, "Oh, honey, I'm sorry. You're in the wrong line. You need to be down there with the international students."

When Crip Legree of St. Helena Island was honored recently by the state for his indigenous art of cast net making, I wanted to talk to him. My friend Pierre McGowan grew up with Crip on St. Helena, so he volunteered to take me to his home off Seaside Road.

"You're going to need an interpreter, anyway," Pierre said. "When Crip starts talking Gullah it'll be like bullets spewing out ob he mout."

I said, "That's fine, Pierre. But who gone terprit you fo me?"

Sometimes it gets depressing on Hilton Head with all the newcomers talking in foreign tongues. The dead giveaway, and it grates on my last nerve, is that without fail they manage to work "down here" into their conversation. To my ears, it has the same connotation as the doctor saying "bend over."

But when I get depressed, I pick up the phone and call Becky Trask in Beaufort. She's not a Beaufort native, but her sweet Southern accent and quick wit make it like a local call to heaven.

I asked her once about the Clover Club. She said, "Honey, it's a one hundred and twenty-two yiah old women's literary societeh, and I am not a chahtah membah."

That much I can understand.

Follow columnist David Lauderdale at twitter.com/ThatsLauderdale.

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