Appalachian English

Appalachia (in white) overlaid with dialect regions defined by the 2006 ANAE. Southern American English is the dominant dialect in the region.

Appalachian English is American English native to the Appalachian region of the Eastern United States. The term theoretically includes multiple varieties of English, predominantly including Western Pennsylvania English as spoken in northern Appalachia; however, most commonly, Appalachian English refers to Southern American English as spoken in central and southern Appalachia.[1] The Atlas of North American English identifies the "Inland South" dialect region, in which Southern American English's defining vowel shift is the most evolved,[2] as centering squarely in southern Appalachia, around the cities of Knoxville and Chattanooga, Tennessee; Birmingham, Alabama; and Asheville, North Carolina.[3] Appalachian English can also refer to an older or more traditional southern Appalachian variety, from which this newer dialect developed. All Appalachian English is rhotic and characterized by distinct phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. It is mostly oral but can also be written and appears in some known literary works.

Appalachian English has long been criticized both within and outside of the speaking area as an inferior dialect, which is often mistakenly attributed to supposed laziness, lack of education, or the region's relative isolation. American writers throughout the 20th century have used the dialect as the chosen speech of uneducated and unsophisticated characters, though research has largely disproven these stereotypes; however, use of the Appalachian dialect is still often an impediment to educational and social advancement.[4]

Extensive research has been conducted since the 1930s to determine the origin of the Appalachian dialect. One theory is that the dialect is a remnant of Elizabethan (or Shakespearean) English which had been preserved by the region's isolation.[5][6] Recent research suggests that Appalachian English developed as a uniquely American dialect as early settlers re-adapted the English language to their unfamiliar frontier environment. This is supported by numerous similarities between the Appalachian dialect and Colonial American English.[7]

Speakers of Appalachian English have no trouble understanding standard English, but even native speakers of other dialects can find it somewhat impenetrable (compare the similar situation of Glasgow English and London English), and foreigners may have some trouble understanding it, while others may find it easier to comprehend. The characteristic syntax and morphology of Appalachian English gives way to more standard forms in schools, public speaking venues, and courts of law, but the phonology is likely to remain the same.



Phonemic incidence

Research suggests that the Appalachian dialect is one of the most distinctive and divergent dialects within the United States.[13]


Conjugation of the verb "to be"

The conjugation of the verb "to be" is different from that of standard English in several ways, and there is sometimes more than one form of the verb "to be" acceptable in Appalachian English.[23]

Divergence from standard English conjugation of the verb 'to be' occurs with the highest frequency in the past tense, where grammatically plural subjects also take the singular form 'was' rather than 'were'. Thus, the paradigm of the verb 'to be' in Appalachian English more closely resembles the paradigm for other non-'be' verbs in English, where the past tense takes a single form, regardless of number or person.[24]

The use of the word ain't is also one of the most salient features of this dialect. While "ain't" is used to some extent in most American English dialects, it is used with much greater frequency in the Appalachian dialect.[25]

Conjugation among other verb types

While the greatest amount of divergence in subject-verb concord occurs in the past tense of the verb 'to be',[26] certain types of plural subjects have an effect on concord across various types of verbs. However, plural subjects continue to show the greatest frequency of non-concord.[27] The example below is taken from Wolfram and Christian:[27]

Conjoined Noun Phrases:

Collective Noun Phrases:

Other Plural Noun Phrases:

Expletive 'there':

A-verb-ing (also known as 'a-prefixing')

A notable feature of Appalachian English is the a-prefix which occurs with participle forms ending in -ing.[28] This prefix is pronounced as a schwa [ə].[29] The a-prefix most commonly occurs with progressives, in both past and non-past tenses. For example, "My cousin had a little pony and we was a-ridin' it one day"[30] Common contexts also include where the participle form functions as an adverbial complement, such as after movement verbs ('come', 'go', 'take off') and with verbs of continuing or starting ('keep', 'start', 'get to'). An example of each being: "All of a sudden a bear come a-runnin'", and "He just kep' a-beggin'".[31]

However, the a-prefix may not be attached to a verb which begins with a relatively unstressed syllable, such as 'discover' or 'retire'.[32]

While much less frequent or productive, the a-prefix can also occur on participles ending in -ed, such as "a-haunted"[33]

The a-prefix has been found to occur most frequently in more animated or vivid narratives, as a stylistic device.[34]

Wolfram & Christian's study suggests that a-prefixing is more common with older speakers. Because of the considerable difference of a-prefixing frequency according to age (the frequency varied between 10% and 50%), the authors state that their findings support the "(...) contention that a prefixing is a phenomenon that is dying out in Appalachia".[35] As their study was already published in 1976, it highlights the demand for research which considers more recent data.

A-prefixing can be traced back to the 16th century: The construction reached its height from 1500-1700 and developed out of using the preposition "on" and a verbal noun ending in -ing. Only used in formal and educated writing in the 17th century, it became nonstandard in the 18th century.[36]

Other verb forms

Double nouns

Some nouns are spoken in pairs, the first noun describing the seemingly redundant second noun, as in "hound dog", "Cadillac car", "widow woman", "toad frog", "biscuit bread", or "rifle gun".[37]

Pronouns and demonstratives

"Them" is sometimes used in place of "those" as a demonstrative in both nominative and oblique constructions. Examples are "Them are the pants I want" and "Give me some of them crackers."

Oblique forms of the personal pronouns are used as nominative when more than one is used (cf. French moi et toi). For example, "Me and him are real good friends" instead of "He and I are really good friends." Accusative case personal pronouns are used as reflexives in situations which, in American English, do not typically demand them (e.g., "I'm gonna get me a haircut"). The -self/-selves forms are used almost exclusively as emphatics, and then often in non-standard forms (e.g., "the preacher hisself"). Second person pronouns are often retained as subjects in imperative sentences (e.g., "You go an' get you a cookie").

Other grammatical forms


In Appalachian English, the form 'liketa' functions as an adverb and occurs before the past form of a verb.[38] 'Liketa' carries a meaning similar to "on the verge of" or "came so close that I really thought x would", where x is the subject of the verb. It also serves as an intensifier.[39] For example:

'Liketa' also imposes a notion of counter factuality on the clause in which it appears, distinguishing it from the word 'almost'. For example, you could say "They almost made it to the top of the mountain", but "They liketa made it to the top of the mountain" would be incorrect. 'Liketa' does not carry the same notion of partial truth as 'almost'.[38]



The Appalachian dialect is part of the greater Southern dialects. In its relation to south of the Midland, it has several terms in common with its North Midland counterpart, including poke (paper bag), hull (to shell), and blinds (shutters). Certain German-derived words such as smearcase ("cottage cheese"), however, are present in the North Midland dialect but absent in the Appalachian dialect.[42]

The following is a list of words which occur in the Appalachian dialect. These words are not exclusive to the region, but tend to occur with greater frequency than in other English dialects.[43]



Early theories regarding the origins of the Appalachian dialect tend to revolve around popular notions regarding the region's general isolation and the belief that the region is culturally static or homogenous.[73] The tendency of Appalachian speakers to retain many aspects of their dialect for a generation or more after moving to large urban areas in the north and west suggests that Appalachian English is conservative rather than isolated.[74] Beliefs about Appalachia's isolation led to the early suggestion that the dialect was a surviving relic of long-forgotten forms of English.[74] The most enduring of these early theories suggested that the Appalachian dialect was a remnant of Elizabethan English, a theory popularized by Berea College president William Goddell Frost in the late 1800s.[75] However, while Shakespearean words occasionally appear in Appalachian speech (e.g., afeared), these occurrences are rare.[76]

Examples of archaic phrases include the use of might could for might be able to , the use of "'un" with pronouns and adjectives (e.g., young'un), the use of "done" as a helping verb (e.g., we done finished it), and the use of words such as airish, brickle, swan, and bottom land all of which were common in Southern and Central England in 17th and 18th centuries.[77][78][79] The use of double negatives wasn't uncommon in England during the 17th and 18th centuries.[80] The use of the "a-" prefix (e.g., "a-goin'" for "going") and the attachment of "-ed" to certain verbs (e.g., knowed), originated in South England.[81] Some speech habits which can be traced back to the rural areas of Southern and Central England include the h-retention (e.g., hit for it), the use of the word right in the place of rather (e.g., right cold), and the presence of words such as yonder.[72]

While the Scotch-Irish and English settlers had a strong influence on the Appalachian dialect,[82] linguistic analyses suggest that Appalachian English developed as a distinctive dialect among English-speaking people in North America.[14] The Appalachian dialect retains a number of speech patterns found in Colonial American English but largely discarded in Standard speech, such as "r" intrusion (e.g., "warsh" for "wash") and a "y" sound in place of "a" on the end of certain words (e.g., "okry" for "okra").[14] The southern drawl is of an unknown American origin, although some suspect it originated in African-American English.[83]

Much of Appalachian English has developed independently in the Appalachian region of North America, and is not a remnant of speech derived from the British Isles, however most of that which can be traced to Europe, does not in fact have its origins in either Scotland, Ireland or Northern England. In fact, the majority of the linguistic anachronisms found in this region of North America can be traced back the regions of England such as the West Country, Southern England and East Anglia.[84][85][86][87]

Native American influences in the Appalachian dialect are virtually non-existent, the exception being place names (e.g., "Appalachia", "Tennessee", "Chattahoochee River", "Cheoah Mountains"). While early settlers adopted numerous customs from tribes such as the Cherokee and Shawnee, they typically applied existing words from their own languages to these customs.[88]

See also



  1. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:148, 150)
  2. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:254)
  3. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:256)
  4. Michael Montgomery, "Language." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 999-1001.
  5. Michael Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" The Journal of East Tennessee History vol. 67 (1995), 17-18.
  6. Cooper, Horton. "History of Avery County", Biltmore Press, (1964)
  7. Montgomery, 1002-1004.
  8. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:129, 131)
  9. Kirk Hazen, "African-American Appalachian English." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1006.
  10. 1 2 Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:248)
  11. (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 69-73).
  12. Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 20-21.
  13. Walt Wolfram and Donna Christian, Appalachian Speech (Arlington, Virginia: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1976), 1.
  14. 1 2 3 Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1004.
  15. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  16. Bridget Anderson, "Appalachian English in the Urban North." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1011.
  17. 1 2
  18. Wolfram and Christian, 58-59.
  19. Wolfram and Christian, 62.
  20. Montgomery, 1004.
  21. MKL Ching (December 1996). "GreaZy/GreaSy and Other /Z/-/S/ Choices in Southern Pronunciation" (PDF). Journal of English Linguistics. 24 (4): 295–307. doi:10.1177/007542429602400405.
  22. David Walls, "Appalachia." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1006-1007.
  23. Wolfram and Christian, 77.
  24. Wolfram and Christian, 77
  25. Wolfram and Christian, 116.
  26. Wolfram and Chrsitian, 77
  27. 1 2 Wolfram and Christian, 78
  28. Wolfram and Christian, 69
  29. 1 2 3 Montgomery, 1003.
  30. Wolfram and Christian, 70
  31. Wolfram and Christian, 71
  32. Wolfram and Christian, 72
  33. Wolfram and Christian, 74
  34. Wolfram and Christian, 73
  35. Wolfram and Christian, 76
  36. Wright, 59
  37. Edward Everett Dale, "The Speech of the Pioneers", The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1947), pp. 117-131
  38. 1 2 Wolfram and Christian
  39. Wolfram and Christian, 91
  40. Montgomery, 1002-1003.
  41. Wolfram and Christian, 101-102.
  42. Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001-1003.
  43. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1002.
  44. 1 2 a form of the older English phrase, "e'er a." The negative form is "nary" (not any), the AE pronunciation of the archaic "n'er a." Both are widely used in AE. When the word "one" follows, the "w" sound is dropped to form one word, "ary'ne" [pronunciation: AR-in]/"nary'ne" [pronunciation: NAR-in]. When the word "one" is emphasized, however, the "w" sound returns ("ary ONE"/"nary ONE"). Example: "Have ye got any money?" Reply: "NO, I hain't got nary penny. Have YOU [emphasized form of "ye"] got ary'ne?" Contrary to a widespread myth current among non-AE speakers, the word is not followed by the indefinite article (which in fact is built into it). See: Richard H. Thornton, An American Glossary. (Philadelphia and London, 1912), vol. 2, p. 601, available online at: Ary'ne: See "Ary."
  45. 1 2 3 4 5 Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1003.
  46. Harold Farwell, "Logging Terminology." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1021.
  47. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001.
  48. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 "NCLLP Appalachian English". North Carolina Language and Life Project. 2008-09-12. Retrieved 2013-11-13.
  49. Susan Brown, "Biscuits and Salt-Rising Bread." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 917.
  50. Luanne von Schneidemesser, "Generic Names for Soft Drinks by County." Retrieved: 25 November 2008.
  51. Benjamin J. Cramer Collection, Archives of Appalachia
  52. 1 2 University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science. "Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English". Retrieved 2007-03-20.
  53. 1 2 Wolfram and Christian, 97.
  54. Described as "Upper Southern U.S." in The American Heritage Dictionary (4th ed.), which suggests it is related to words such as "grease," but it is used more broadly, as in "The children made a big gaum, th'owin papers and books all over the place" or "They really gaumed the room up." See: In The Melungeons: Resurrection of a Proud People (Mercer University Press, 1997).
  55. Shelby Lee Adams, "Of Kentucky," New York Times (Sunday Review), November 13, 2011, p. 9.
  56. Michael Ellis, "Appalachian English and Ozark English." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1007.
  57. University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science. "Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English". Archived from the original on 24 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  58. University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science. "Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English". Archived from the original on 24 September 2008. Retrieved 2008-10-23.
  59. Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1000.
  60. Harvard Dialect Survey - word use: paper container from store
  61. Kenneth Gilbert, "Greens." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 935.
  62. Harry Caudill, Night Comes to the Cumberlands (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963).
  63. See: Tony Earley, Personal History, "The Quare Gene," The New Yorker, September 21, 1998 For an abstract of the article, see:
  64. Montgomery, 1000.
  65. Example quoted from Robert Parke, "Our Southern Highlanders," Smoky Mountain Historical Society Newsletter 3, no. 4 (September 1977), p. 8.
  67. Fischer, 653.
  68. Davy Crockett, James Shackford, et al. (ed.), A Narrative of the Life of David Crockett of the State of Tennessee (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 1973), 18.
  69. "Smart". Southern US Dialect/Glossary. The Dialect Dictionary. Retrieved 4 December 2011.
  70. "American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth edition". 2000. Retrieved 2007-03-31.
  71. Ellis, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1007.
  72. 1 2 Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 30.
  73. Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1000-1001.
  74. 1 2 Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 17.
  75. Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 18.
  76. Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001.
  77. Montgomery, Michael, and Joseph S. Hall. Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English. Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004.
  78. Montgomery, The Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1002.
  79. Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 22-27.
  80. Fischer, 654.
  81. Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 28-29.
  82. Montgomery, The Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1000-1001.
  83. Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 21.
  84. Talking Appalachian: Voice, Identity, and Community edited by Amy D. Clark, Nancy M. Hayward
  86. showed a greater similarity with southern England or the west Midlands and only four with northern England
  87. The Americas and the Caribbean edited by Edgar W. Schneider pg. 429
  88. Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1003.

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