Appalachian English

Appalachian English

Appalachian English is a common name for the Southern Midland dialect of American English. This dialect is spoken in Northeastern 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, and Western North Carolina as well as 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. 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 dialect is rhotic and characterized by distinct phonology, morphology, syntax, and lexicon. It is mostly oral but can also be found in writing. Detractors of the dialect both within and outside of the speaking area cite laziness or indifference in learning standard forms as the reasons for its existence. However, the areas where Appalachian English is spoken were settled in the 18th century, and many of the characteristics of the dialect predate the standardization of American English and continue to be passed on orally.

English speakers who settled the area came mostly from West Anglia, the Scottish Lowlands, Wales, Ireland, and Scotland "via" Northern Ireland in the middle 18th and early 19th centuries, and their speech forms the basis of the dialect. Along with German immigrants, these groups populated an area which is still largely homogeneous culturally.

Many speakers assert that those who came to Appalachia from the Scottish Borders by way of Northern Ireland, the Scots-Irish or Ulster Scots, had the greatest role in shaping modern Appalachian English, and this is supported by a large number of extant vocabulary used in the least urbanized, and therefore more linguistically conservative, areas of the Appalachians. [Historian David Hackett Fischer lists vocabulary shared by Scots and Appalachian speech in the "From the Borders to the Backcountry" section of the book "Albion's Seed".]

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 Glaswegian 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.


Phonemic incidence

Research suggestswho that this dialect is one of the most maintained and well-concentrated dialects within the whole United States.

* There is an intrusive R in "wash", leading to the pronunciation IPA|/wɔrʃ/.

* "Creek" is pronounced IPA|/krɪk/.

* "Hollow" "a small, sheltered valley" is pronounced IPA|/ˈhɑlər/, homophonous with "holler". [The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language. [] Retrieved August 1, 2008.]

* Participles and gerunds such as "doing" and "mining" end in IPA|/n/ instead of IPA|/ɪŋ/.

* Word final "a" is frequently pronounced IPA|/i/, as in "Santa Claus".

* Intervocalic "s" as in "greasy" is pronounced IPA|/z/.

* People who live in the Appalachian dialect area pronounce the word "Appalachia" IPA|/ˈæpəˈlætʃə/ or IPA|/ˈæpəˈlætʃiə/, while those who live outside of the Appalachian dialect area or at its outer edges tend to pronounce it IPA|/æpəˈleɪʃə/.


* Vowels are pronounced for a slightly longer period of time than those in standard forms of English, and diphthongs can clearly be heard to have two distinct vowels, creating the characteristic "drawl" of Appalachian English.

* is pronounced as IPA| [ɑː] .

* Lax and tense vowels often neutralize before IPA|/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 (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 69-73).

* The pin/pen merger is complete in Appalachia, and a pen used for writing is distinguished via the term "ink pen."


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."

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.

"Is you?" is sometimes used instead of "Are you?"

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."

Pluralized concrete nouns used as abstract nouns call for a singular form of the verb, i.e. "Apples is good for you."

"Was" is often used in the third person plural, i.e. "They was there."

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." Most speakers of Appalachian English do not use these forms, however, as they indicate the lowest level of social prestige.

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."

Often, "got" is used in place of "have." "If they ain't got it, you don't need it."

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." 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." Cf. Scots and Ulster Scots "micht could."

"Feet" - when speaking about measurement - is often replaced by the singular, "foot". For example" "That stick is 3 foot", or "We need 6 foot of drywall".

The future perfect is all but nonexistent.

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 really good friends" is said 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").

ample vocabulary

*Directly: later, after a while, when it becomes convenient, soon, immediately (largely depending on context). "Meetin'll [church service] be lettin' out directly" (Sometimes dreckly) [cite web
last=University of South Carolina, College of Arts and Science
author-link =
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
title=Dictionary: Southern Appalachian English
accessdate 2007-20-03

*Buggy: shopping cart. "Get me that buggy, and make sure it don't have no broken wheel."

*Poke: Brown paper bag [ Harvard Dialect Survey - word use: paper container from store]

*Chaw: chewing tobacco. "Chaw comes three ways: in a poke, a twist, or a plug."

*Chair: pronounced like "chayer" said quickly

*Plug: a quid of tobacco. "That boy done slobbered all on my plug."

*Blinds: window shades. "Open them blinds and let some sunshine in!"

*Skillet: a frying pan. "They's patty sausage in the skillet."

*Coke (Coh-cola): Applied to all flavored, carbonated sodas, regardless of brand or type. "I'm goin' to get a coke."
**Pop: Used in some places instead of the term "Coke."

**(adj.) full, complete. "I swan, it's been rainin' a slap week."
**(adv.) directly (often with dab). "He put a fence smack dab down the middle of the pasture."

*Soda: bicarbonate of soda (often pronounced "sodi"). "I mixed me some soda for my indigestion."

*Swan: swear, declare to be true. "I swan that I'll wean that dog from suckin' eggs." [cite web
author-link =
last2 =
first2 =
author2-link =
title=American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fourth edition
accessdate 2007-31-03

*Reckon: think, guess, suppose. "I reckon you don't like soup beans."

*Polecat: a skunk. "Don't bother that there polecat or he'll spray you."

*Touched: (pronounced [tɛtʃt] ) crazy. "That boy's touched. Don't pay him no mind."

*Plum or plumb: an intensifier for verbs. "Son, you're plum crazy."; a directional adverb meaning "all the way." "That dog run plum under the house."

*Hussy: (pronounced with a [z] ) a mean or spiteful woman; a promiscuous woman.

*Pokestock: a single shot shotgun. "I'll sell you an old pokestock for forty bucks."

*Kyarn: Roadkill "That smells like kyarn."

*Cornpone: A batch of cornbread

*Fit: Used in place of the word "Fought"

*Yonder: a directional adverb further away than "here" or "there," preceded by the preposition "over." "He's over yonder." It can also be used as an adjective after a noun phrase containing a demonstrative. "Get me that rake yonder."

*Mess: The amount of a particular food that is needed to be cooked in order to serve everyone present. "Mary, go fetch me a mess of them green beans."

*Fixin: A serving or helping of food or preparing to do something. "Can I get a fixin of dumplings?", "I'm fixin to do somethin'."

*Clean: Similar to 'plum' [above] , verb modifier that is used to mean entirely completing an action. Can be used in place of 'all the way.' "He knocked it clean off'n the table" - He knocked it all the way off'n the table.

*Trade: To shop. "I'm fixin' to go down to the Piggly Wiggly to trade."


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"


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