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Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English

Appalachian English

Due to unavoidable technical issues, access to the website with recordings and transcripts of Joseph Hall's 1939 interview in the Great Smoky Mountains has been temporarily delayed

Welcome to this website on the speech of one of America's most often misunderstood regions - southern and central Appalachia, which stretches from north Georgia to West Virginia.  It's been romanticized as the language of Shakespeare, and it's been caricatured, ridiculed, and dismissed as uneducated, bad grammar, or worse.  But too rarely has it been appreciated for what it is: the native speech of millions of Americans that has a distinctive history and that makes Appalachia what it is just as sure as the region's music does.

Test Your Mountain Vocabulary! (will open in another window)

This website has a wealth of information on the English language spoken in Appalachia.  There's fun to be had in exploring it too, but if you're looking for a site that's just for entertainment or one with funny spellings, you've come to the wrong place.  Too many of those sites are around already.  As a native of East Tennessee and as someone who has heard mountain speech all my life and written about it for more than thirty years, I have designed this site to present not only how Appalachian people talk, but also some of the history and the flavor of that talk.  You’ll also find resources for finding more information on it.  Most of the material comes from the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, collected by either me or by Joseph Sargent Hall (1906-92) for our Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English, published by the University of Tennessee Press in 2004.  However, the language is typical of much of what you'll hear throughout the region, though not as strongly as a couple of generations ago.  Here you will find transcripts from Hall's early interviews, recorded in 1939.  It just wouldn't be right to have transcripts only to read, so I've installed sound files of them.  You can listen first or you can read along while you listen.  If you click on any term highlighted in transcript, that will bring up a dictionary entry having additional quotations and a capsule history of the term.

The speakers you'll hear were all born back in the 19th century, but there's not much they say that you won't hear today, just less often.  Not long ago at a professional conference a linguist from the University of California remarked to me that "Appalachian English is one of my favorite dialects" and asked "Does anyone still speak it?" I looked him in the eye and after pausing a couple of seconds, replied matter-of-factly, "Oh, I’d say about twenty million people."  He seemed a bit surprised, so I explained that mountain folks actually choose to talk the way they do and that their distinctive English is here to stay.  Appalachian dialect defines who they are, whether they live in Kentucky or have moved to Detroit to work in a plant.

Along with the audio versions and mini-dictionary to go with the transcripts, this site has several papers  that I've written on Appalachian speech.  They say a lot about pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar, but about history too.  Most Americans understand little about their speech and its background.  This is not surprising, because I heard nothing about the subject until well along in college, but it is still unfortunate.  I hope school teachers will use this site to address the situation, because the history of all American dialects is right interesting in addition to helping us understand ourselves and where we came from.  One thing I point out in several articles is that Appalachian speech has a much stronger Scotch-Irish heritage than it does an often-alleged Elizabethan one.

This site also has a bibliography of over five hundred publications on the region's English, the most comprehensive listing to be found anywhere.  Sorry, there's no search engine for it yet, but because the bibliography is annotated, you can perform on-screen searches for all kinds of names, places, and expressions.

In the future I hope to add more features to this site, so please contact me at ullans@yahoo.com or write to me, Michael Montgomery, at the English Department of the University of South Carolina, Columbia SC 29208, with any suggestions or queries.