Appalachian English: Wikis


Note: Many of our articles have direct quotes from sources you can cite, within the Wikipedia article! This article doesn't yet, but we're working on it! See more info or our list of citable articles.


From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia


Appalachian English is a common name for the Southern Midland dialect of American English. This dialect is spoken primarily in the Central and Southern Appalachian Mountain region of the Eastern United States, namely in North Georgia, Northwestern South Carolina, Southern West Virginia, Southwestern Virginia, Southern Ohio, Eastern Kentucky, the Upper Potomac and Shenandoah Valleys of Virginia and West Virginia, Western Maryland, East Tennessee, Western North Carolina, and Northeastern Alabama. It is a dialect distinct from Southern American English, and it has more in common with the Northern Midland dialect of Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia than the Southern dialect.[citation needed] While most of this area lies within Appalachia as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission, Appalachian English is not the dialect of the entire region the Commission defines as Appalachia. The Appalachian dialect is rhotic and characterized by distinct phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. It is mostly oral but can also be found in writing.

Appalachian English has long been derided as an inferior dialect.[citation needed] Detractors both within and outside of the speaking area mistakenly cite laziness, lack of education, and the region's relative isolation as reasons for the dialect's existence. Writers throughout the 20th century have used the dialect as the chosen speech of uneducated and unsophisticated characters. While research has largely disproven these stereotypes, use of the Appalachian dialect is still often an impediment to educational and social advancement.[1]

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 that had been preserved by the region's isolation.[2][3] Another theory suggests that the dialect developed out of the Scots-Irish and Anglo-Scottish border dialects brought to the region by some of its earliest British Isles settlers.[4] 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.[5]

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. Standard forms are taught in schools, with the implicit assumption that the Appalachian dialect is inferior to Standard American English. 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.[citation needed]



This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters.

Phonemic incidence

Research suggests that the Appalachian dialect is one of the most distinctive and divergent dialects within the United States.[6]

  • An intrusive R occurs in words such as wash, leading to the pronunciation /wɔrʃ/.[7]
  • An -er sound is often used for long "o" at the end of a word. For example, hollow— "a small, sheltered valley"— is pronounced /ˈhɑlər/, homophonous with holler.[8][9]
  • The "z" sound in certain contractions is pronounced as a d stop. For example, Isn't and wasn't are often pronounced idn't and wadn't.[10]
  • H retention occurs at the beginning of certain words. It, for example, is sometimes pronounced hit, and ain't is sometimes pronounced hain't.[11]
  • Participles and gerunds such as doing and mining end in /n/ instead of /ɪŋ/. While this occurs to some extent in all dialects of American English, it occurs with greater frequency in Southern Appalachia.[12]
  • Word final a is sometimes pronounced /i/, as in okra (/ˈo kʰɾiː/).[13]
  • Intervocalic s as in greasy is pronounced /z/.
  • People who live in the Appalachian dialect area pronounce the word Appalachia with a short a sound, /ˈæpəˈlætʃə/ or /ˈæpəˈlætʃiə/, while those who live outside of the Appalachian dialect area or at its outer edges tend to pronounce it with a long a sound, /æpəˈleɪʃə/.[14]


  • Vowels are pronounced for a slightly longer period of time than those in standard forms of English (e.g., "red" is pronounced "rey-uhd"), and diphthongs can clearly be heard to have two distinct vowels. This tendency, known as the "southern drawl," is also common in Southern American English.[13]
  • In the two-syllable vowel /аɪ/, the second half of the vowel syllable is often omitted, and is thus pronounced similar to [ɑː]. In extreme instances, words such as "wire" and "fire" are pronounced so as to completely rhyme with "car."[15]
  • Lax and tense vowels often neutralize before /l/, making pairs like feel/fill and fail/fell homophones for speakers in some areas. Some speakers may distinguish between the two sets of words by reversing the normal vowel sound, e.g., feel may sound like fill, and vice versa.[16]
  • Short "i" and short "e" have the same pronunciation when appearing before "n" or "m" (e.g., "pen" and "pin" are both pronounced "pin"). Adjectives are often used to distinguish between the two (e.g., "ink pen").[17]


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. The use of the word ain't is one of the most salient features of this dialect. Ain't originated as a contraction of "am not." Today, however, it is used as the negative form of the verb "to be" in the present tense (cf. Scottish Gaelic chan eil) and is used instead of a conjugated form of the verb "to have" plus "not" to express the present perfect tense. An example of the latter would be "He ain't done it" instead of "He hasn't done it." While "ain't" (though considered improper) is used to some extent in most American English dialects, it is used with much greater frequency in the Appalachian dialect.[18]

Whereas standard English makes no distinction aside from context between the singular and plural forms of the second person past tense forms of the verb "to be," using "you were" for both, Appalachian English has "you was" and "y'all were," making for a more balanced paradigm with "was" used for the singular past tense in all cases, and "were" used for the plural. Singular forms of the verb "to be" are often used with pronouns, as in "Them is the ones I want" and "Him and her is real good folks."(For use of real, see Wolfram & Christian 1976)

"Is you?" is sometimes used instead of "Are you?" Pluralized concrete nouns used as abstract nouns call for a singular form of the verb, i.e. "Apples is good for you." "Was" is sometimes used in the third person plural, i.e. "They was there."[citation needed]

Other verb forms

  • Sometimes the past participle of a strong verb such as "do" is used in place of the past tense. For example, "I done it already" instead of "I did it already" or in the case of the verb "see," "I seen" instead of "I saw." "Went" is often used instead of "gone" as the past participle of the verb "to go." She had went to Ashland. Less frequently, "gone" is used as the simple past tense. I gone down to the meeting, but wasn't nobody there. "Done" is used with the past tense (or a past participle commonly used as a past tense, such as "gone") to express action just completed, as in, "I done went/gone to the store".
  • Some English strong verbs are occasionally conjugated as weak verbs in Appalachian English, i.e. "knowed," and "seed."
  • The construction "don'" is used with transitive verbs to indicate the negative, i.e. "He don't know no better." This is commonly referred to as the double negative, and is either negative or emphatically negative, never positive. "None" is often used in place of "any," as in "I don't have none."
  • Verb forms for the verb "to lay" are used instead of forms of the verb "to lie." For example, "Lay down and hush."
  • Participles found in present tense progressive aspect verb forms often have a vowel prefix commonly written with an "a" followed by a hyphen, and this is pronounced as a schwa sound. An example is "I'm a-goin' now."[19] Cf. the composite present of Scottish Gaelic, as in Tha mi a-smochach, or "I'm smoking."
  • "Might could" is sometimes used where a speaker of standard English would say, "might be able to" or "could maybe."[19]
  • Measurements such as "foot" and "mile" often retain their singular form even when used in the plural sense. For example, "That stick is 3 foot long", or "We need 6 foot of drywall". "Foot" in the singular is standard in UK English.[citation needed]
  • The future perfect is all but non-existent.

Double nouns

Some nouns are spoken in pairs, the first noun describing the seemingly redundant second noun, as in "hound dog", "widow woman", "toad frog", "stair step", "biscuit bread", or "rifle gun".[20]

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 that, 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

  • Pronouns and adjectives are sometimes combined with "'un" (meaning "one"), such as "young'un" to mean "child", "big'un" to mean big one, and "you'uns" to mean "you all".[21] Young'n' and 'big'n' are standard in northern UK English.[citation needed]
  • The word element "-ever" is sometimes reversed in words such as "whatever" ("everwhat"), "whoever" ("everwho"), and "however" ("everhow"), but the usage remains the same (e.g., "Everwho did this is in big trouble").[19]
  • The word right can be used with adjectives (e.g., "a right cold morning") and along with its standard use with adverbs can also be used with adverbs of manner and time (e.g., "right loud" or "right often").[22] This is an acceptable formation in some areas of UK English.[citation needed]

Sample vocabulary

  • Afeared: afraid.[23]
  • Airish: cool or chilly.[23]
  • Bald: n. a treeless mountain summit (See Appalachian balds).[24]
  • Ball-hoot: v. to drive recklessly fast on dangerous rural or mountain roads; derived from an old logging term for rolling or skidding logs downhill.[25]
  • Blinds: n. window shades or window shutters. While blinds refers to window shades throughout the English language, in Appalachia and the greater Midland dialect, it can also refer window shutters.[26]
  • Brickle: brittle.[23]
  • Buggy: shopping cart.[27]
  • Caps: popcorn
  • Cat-head: a large biscuit.[28]
  • Chancy: doubtful.[23]
  • Chaw: chewing tobacco.
  • Clean: verb modifier that is used to mean entirely completing an action. Can be used in place of 'all the way', e.g., "He knocked it clean off the table."
  • Coke: short for Coca-cola, but applied to all flavored, carbonated sodas, regardless of brand, flavor or type. Coke is used primarily in the southern half of the dialect region, whereas the more northern-influenced pop receives more usage in Eastern Kentucky, West Virginia and most of Southwest Virginia.[29]
  • Cornpone: Skillet cornbread made without eggs.
  • Counterpane: bedspread.[23]
  • Discomfit: v. inconvenience.[23]
  • Directly: later, after a while, when it becomes convenient, soon, immediately (largely depending on context).[30]
  • Fireboard: Mantel.[26]
  • Fit: used in place of the word "fought".[30]
  • Fixin':
    • a serving or helping of food. Can I get a fixin' of dumplings?,
    • an event, party or social function where food is served. They're having a fixin' at church next Friday.
    • about to, They're fixin' to get hitched.[31]
  • Gaum: n. mess.[26]
  • Flannel cake: pancake.[24]
  • Hull: v. shell, as in to shell beans.[26]
  • Hussy: (pronounced with a [z]) a mean or spiteful woman; a promiscuous woman.
  • Ill: bad-tempered.[23]
  • Jacket: n. vest.[26]
  • Jarfly: cicada.[32]
  • Kyarn: (Carrion) Dead flesh, such as roadkill. That smells like kyarn.
  • Lamp oil: kerosene.[24]
  • Lay out: to be truant (e.g., to "lay out of school" or "lay out of work").[26]
  • Like: lack (e.g., "How much do you like on your homework.")
  • Meeting: a gathering of people for religious purposes.[33].
  • Mess: the amount of a particular food that is needed to be cooked in order to serve everyone present (e.g., a "mess of green beans").
  • Nary: none at all, not any (e.g., "she won't say nary a word about it").
  • Palings: fence posts.[23]
  • Piece: distance (e.g., "He'd have went up the road a piece to get on the main road")[34].
  • Piece: n. snack.[24]
  • Plug: a quid of tobacco.
  • Plum or plumb: completely (e.g., "Son, you're plum crazy")[35]
  • Poke: n. brown paper bag[36]
  • Poke sallet: n. a type of salad made from boiled greens (usually pokeweed). Spelled variously salat, salit, and similar variations.[37]
  • Pokestock/polkstalk: n. a single shot shotgun; historically a rifle with an unusually long barrel popular with Kentucky frontiersmen.[38]
  • Polecat: n. skunk.
  • Reckon: suppose. I reckon you don't like soup beans.[31]
  • Right smart: good deal of (e.g., "a right smart piece" for "a long way").[39][40]
  • Skift: dusting of snow.[41]
  • Skillet: frying pan.
  • Slap: full, complete (e.g., "...a fall in the river, which went slap-right and straight down").[42]
  • Soda: bicarbonate of soda.
  • Sop: gravy.[23]
  • Springhouse: n. a building (usually positioned over a stream) used for refrigeration before the advent of refrigerators.[26]
  • Sugar tree: n. Sugar Maple tree.[24]
  • Swan: (also swanny) swear; declare to be true.[43]
  • Tarpin: Terrapin
  • Toboggan: a winter cap not unlike a beanie or skull cap but usually knit and thicker.
  • Touched: crazy.
  • Tow sack: burlap sack.[44]
  • Trade: to shop.
  • Whistle pig: n. groundhog.[26]
  • Yonder: a directional verb meaning "there" (e.g., "Look over yonder").[45]


  • Co'-cola: Coca-cola, but used in the same sense as "Coke" above.
  • 'Pon m'onor: "Upon my honor", honestly, truly.[46]


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.[47] 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.[48] Beliefs about Appalachia's isolation led to the early suggestion that the dialect was a surviving relic of long-forgotten forms of English.[48] 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.[49] However, while Shakespearean words occasionally appear in Appalachian speech (e.g., afeared), these occurrences are rare.[50] Most European speech patterns and vocabulary that occur in Appalachian English come from the greater British Isles, rather than just England itself.[51]

The earliest settlers in Southern Appalachia, who arrived in the region in the 18th and early 19th centuries, came primarily from the Anglo-Scottish Border country[52] and other areas bordering the Irish Sea.[52] A great number came from Ulster in Ireland, although these were typically resettled Lowland Scots— known as Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots— rather than actual Irish.[53] The English dialect of these settlers formed the core of what would later develop into Appalachian English.[54] Examples of Scots-Irish influence include the use of might could for might be able to (cf. Scots and Ulster Scots micht could), 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.[55][56] The use of double negatives wasn't uncommon in the English Border region in the 17th and 18th centuries.[57] 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.[58] Many Appalachian speech habits were used throughout the British Isles, including 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.[45]

While the Scottish-Irish and Northern English settlers had a strong influence on the Appalachian dialect,[59] linguistic analyses suggest that Appalachian English developed as a distinctive dialect among English-speaking people in North America.[7] 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").[7] The southern drawl is of an unknown American origin, although some suspect it originated in African-American English.[60]

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.[61]

Similarities to other dialects

The Appalachian dialect is part of the greater Midland dialect, and as such has several terms in common with its North Midland counterpart, including poke (paper bag), hull (to shell), and blinds (shutters). Certain German words such as smearcase ("cottage cheese"), however, are present in the North Midland dialect but absent in the Appalachian dialect.[62] The rhotic element of Appalachian English is the primary feature linking it to the Midland dialect and the primary feature distinguishing it from the Southern American dialect.

A number of speech patterns and terms are found throughout the English language or the American English dialect, but occur with greater frequency in Appalachian English. These include the dropping of "g" on words ending in "-ing" and the use of terms such as ain't and plumb ("completely").[39][63]

The Ozark dialect is largely derived from the Appalachian dialect, and the two dialects remain remarkably similar. Appalachian terms found in Ozark English include fireboard, tow sack, jarfly, and brickle. The two dialects also share similar speech patterns, such as h-retention (hit instead of it), the use of the "-a" prefix ("a-goin'" for "going"), and the d-stop in place of certain "z" sounds (e.g., "idn't" for "isn't"). Studies have shown that Ozark English has more in common with the dialect of East Tennessee than with the dialect of West Tennessee or even Eastern Arkansas.[64]


O'Grady, William, Dobrovolsky, Michael, and Aronoff, Mark. Contemporary Linguistics: An Introduction. Second Edition. New York: St. Martin's press, 1993.

D.A.R.E., The Dictionary of American Regional English.


  1. ^ Michael Montgomery, "Language." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 999-1001.
  2. ^ Michael Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" The Journal of East Tennessee History vol. 67 (1995), 17-18.
  3. ^ Cooper, Horton. "History of Avery County", Biltmore Press, (1964),
  4. ^ David Hackett Fischer, Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New Yokr: Oxford University Press, 1989), 653-654.
  5. ^ Montgomery, 1002-1004.
  6. ^ Walt Wolfram and Donna Christian, Appalachian Speech (Arlington, Virginia: Center for Applied Linguistics, 1976), 1.
  7. ^ a b c Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1004.
  8. ^ The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. [1] Retrieved August 1, 2008.
  9. ^ Bridget Anderson, "Appalachian English in the Urban North." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1011.
  10. ^ Wolfram and Christian, 59.
  11. ^ Wolfram and Christian, 58-59.
  12. ^ Wolfram and Christian, 62.
  13. ^ a b Montgomery, 1004.
  14. ^ David Walls, "Appalachia." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1006-1007.
  15. ^ Kirk Hazen, "African-American Appalachian English." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1006.
  16. ^ (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 69-73).
  17. ^ Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 20-21.
  18. ^ Wolfram and Christian, 116.
  19. ^ a b c Montgomery, 1003.
  20. ^ Edward Everett Dale, "The Speech of the Pioneers", The Arkansas Historical Quarterly, Vol. 6, No. 2 (Summer, 1947), pp. 117-131
  21. ^ Montgomery, 1002-1003.
  22. ^ Wolfram and Christian, 101-102.
  23. ^ a b c d e f g h i Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1002.
  24. ^ a b c d e Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1003.
  25. ^ Harold Farwell, "Logging Terminology." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1021.
  26. ^ a b c d e f g h Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001.
  27. ^ American Heritage Dictionary. Retrieved: 21 November 2008.
  28. ^ Susan Brown, "Biscuits and Salt-Rising Bread." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 917.
  29. ^ Luanne von Schneidemesser, "Generic Names for Soft Drinks by County." Retrieved: 25 November 2008.
  30. ^ a b University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science. "Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English". Retrieved 2007-03-20. 
  31. ^ a b Wolfram and Christian, 97.
  32. ^ Michael Ellis, "Appalachian English and Ozark English." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 1007.
  33. ^ University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science. "Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English". Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  34. ^ University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science. "Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English". Retrieved 2008-10-23. 
  35. ^ Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1000.
  36. ^ Harvard Dialect Survey - word use: paper container from store
  37. ^ Kenneth Gilbert, "Greens." The Encyclopedia of Appalachia (Knoxville, Tenn.: University of Tennessee Press, 2006), 935.
  38. ^ Harry Caudill, Night Comes to the Cumberlands (Boston: Little, Brown, 1963).
  39. ^ a b Montgomery, 1000.
  40. ^ Example quoted from Robert Parke, "Our Southern Highlanders," Smoky Mountain Historical Society Newsletter 3, no. 4 (September 1977), p. 8.
  41. ^ Fischer, 653.
  42. ^ 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.
  43. ^ "American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth edition". 2000. Retrieved 2007-03-31. 
  44. ^ Ellis, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1007.
  45. ^ a b Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 30.
  46. ^ Smokey Stover. "Re: Upon my honor". The Phrase Finder. ( (May 1, 2006). Retrieved October 23, 2008.
  47. ^ Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1000-1001.
  48. ^ a b Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 17.
  49. ^ Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 18.
  50. ^ Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001.
  51. ^ Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001-1002.
  52. ^ a b Fischer, 635.
  53. ^ Fischer, 618.
  54. ^ Fischer, 653-654.
  55. ^ Montgomery, The Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1002.
  56. ^ Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 22-27.
  57. ^ Fischer, 654.
  58. ^ Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 28-29.
  59. ^ Montgomery, The Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1000-1001.
  60. ^ Montgomery, "How Scotch-Irish is Your English?" 21.
  61. ^ Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1003.
  62. ^ Montgomery, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1001-1003.
  63. ^ Wolfram and Christian, 61-62, 116.
  64. ^ Michael Ellis, Encyclopedia of Appalachia, 1007-1008.

External links

See also


Got something to say? Make a comment.
Your name
Your email address