Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English

Michael Montgomery: Southern Appalachian English


Michael Montgomery is Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Linguistics at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, where he taught English linguistics for nearly twenty years before retiring in 1999.  Previously he was on the faculty for brief periods at Memphis State University and the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.  A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, he is a 1973 graduate of Maryville (TN) College and completed his Ph.D. in Linguistics at the University of Florida in 1979, writing a dissertation based on fieldwork in White Pine, Tennessee, in the foothills of the Smoky Mountains. 
            In the mid-1980s Montgomery began corresponding with the Californian Joseph Sargent Hall, a pioneer researcher on the speech and culture of the Great Smoky Mountains, who had begun observing and recording mountain speech in 1937.  In 1990 Montgomery embarked on a project, using Hall’s collections as its core, to compile a historical dictionary of southern Appalachian speech.  Their Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English (Knoxville: University of Tennessee Press, 2004) presents the most comprehensive record of the region’s characteristic vocabulary, grammar, idioms, and expressions.  The volume won the Appalachian Studies Association’s W. D. Weatherford Award for best non-fiction Appalachian book of the year in 2005.
            Montgomery has studied, written, and spoken widely on the English of his native Appalachia for three decades.  He has frequently contributed articles to journals, both scholarly and non-scholarly, to collections of essays, and other works.  Among the special recognitions he has received are the Cratis D. Williams Service Award to the field of Appalachian Studies (2005), given by the Appalachian Studies Association, and the Wilma Dykeman Award (2004), given by the East Tennessee Historical Society to an author "whose writing reflects the excellence, heritage, culture, and diversity of East Tennessee and who, as an ambassador for the region and for the state, has demonstrated a commitment to the best interests of the land and the people of the region."
            He was chosen to serve as section editor on language for the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (University of North Carolina Press, 1989) and the Encyclopedia of Appalachia (University of Tennessee, 2006), contributing seven entries to the latter volume.  A particular interest of his has been the historical roots of Appalachian speech in the British Isles, research that has taken him frequently to Ireland and Scotland to discover in local literature, old letters, and other archival materials what he likes to call “the voices of my ancestors.”  From this work he has produced more than twenty scholarly articles and a recent book, From Ulster to America: The Scotch-Irish Heritage of American English (Ulster Historical Foundation, 2006 and University of Tennessee Press, 2007).  He remains actively engaged in the study and promotion of languages in that part of the world, serving as Honorary President of both the Forum for the Study of the Languages of Scotland and Ulster and of the Ulster-Scots Language Society. 
            Montgomery has edited six books on the English of the American South and is the co-editor (with Ellen Johnson) of the volume on language for the New Encyclopedia of Southern Culture (University of North Carolina Press, 2007).  At present he is engaged in a study of the history of the English of Appalachia, based on documents and recordings that span more than three hundred years.  He has served as President of the American Dialect Society (2004-06) and as Senior Associate Editor of the Society's journal American Speech  (1996-present).  He remains active the ADS, the Southeastern Conference on Linguistics, and other professional organizations.