Boontling is a folk language native to the Anderson Valley of Northern California. Like many regional dialects, it is spoken by a limited number of speakers, and some speakers fear that it will “pike for the dusties,” a way of saying that it will disappear. The language attracted brief attention when it was featured on National Public Radio in the late 1990s, shortly before the death of its most well-known ambassador, Bobbly Glover, but like most folk languages, Boontling is not widely known outside of its home region.
”Boontling” translates as “Boonville Language,” a reference to the largest town in the Anderson Valley. Those who speak the language could also be found in neighboring Anderson Valley towns like Yorkville, Navarro, and Philo. This complex dialect is essentially incomprehensible to non-speakers, as there are Boontling words for a wide variety of situations, and the dialect has its own legends, folk songs, and so forth which were passed down through the generations.
The origins of Boontling lie in the late 1800s, when settlers descended upon the Anderson Valley to log, farm, and fish. Some historians have suggested that it probably started out as a private language spoken by children so that they could discuss sensitive topics in front of their elders, and that because children continued to speak it as they grew up, it slowly spread through the community. In addition to Boontling, Anderson Valley natives also spoke English, naturally, but many English speakers seeded their conversations with phrases and terms from the dialect, which itself contains a sprinkling of the Pomo Indian language, Gaelic, and Spanish, reflecting the diverse settlers of the community.
Most speakers today are codgy kimmers, or “old men,” leading residents of the area to fear that the language may vanish entirely, although some attempts at creating a comprehensive dictionary have been made. Some Boontling references can be seen scattered around the Anderson Valley; for example, Boonville's coffee shop is named the “Horn of Zeese,” which means “Cup of Coffee” in Boontling. Payphones in the Anderson Valley also bear a Boontling title, “Bucky Walter,” which means “nickel telephone,” although users might be dismayed to learn that a Bucky Walter costs much more than a nickel to use today.
The dialect floated to the public consciousness again in 2007, when the Eisa Davis play Bulrusher was shortlisted for the Pulitzer Play. Bulrusher was set in the Anderson Valley, and the play contained a number of Boontling references and phrases; the title roughly translates as “foundling”.