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College of Arts & Sciences
Linguistics Program


Sounding Appalachian: /aI/ Monophthongization, Rising Pitch Accents, and Rootedness

Paul Reed

[Full text of dissertation in ProQuest]

Committee Members: Tracey Weldon (Director), Elaine Chun, Allen Montgomery, Michael Montgomery, Erik Thomas

Abstract

Appalachia, the mountainous region that stretches from northern Georgia to Pennsylvania (ARC, 2015), is a region that has been considered culturally and linguistically unique in the United States. There is a small but growing body of literature that has demonstrated that the language varieties of this region, collapsed under the broad heading of Appalachian English (AE), diverge from Mainstream American English and other Southern American English varieties (Wolfram & Christian, 1976, Mont- gomery & Hall, 2004, Labov et al., 2006, among others). Much of this literature has focused on vowels and morpho-syntax, but other linguistic aspects have not received much attention, and there is little to no scholarly work on the perception of these varieties within the region, much less the ideology that underlies the perception.

To begin to fill this gap in knowledge about Appalachian English, this dissertation investigates two features from a sociophonetic viewpoint: /a I/ monophthongization and intonation. The former has received attention from traditional descriptive (Hall, 1942) and sociolinguistic (Wolfram & Christian, 1976; Thomas, 2001, 2003) perspectives. Research suggests that speakers use this feature in various ways to index regional, cultural, and ethnic identities (Fridland, 1999, Feagin, 2000, Thomas, 2000, Thomas, 2001, Anderson, 2003, Fridland, 2003, Bernstein, 2006, among others). The latter has only been anecdotally noted in the literature, save one study — Greene (2006), who observed a higher incidence of L+H* accents among AE speakers, compared to speakers of Mainstream American English or other Southern American English varieties. The phonetic realization of pitch has been shown to have regional variation in American English (Arvaniti & Garding, 2007; Clopper & Smiljanic, 2011) and other English varieties (e.g., Grabe et al., 2000; Grabe, 2004; Ladd et al., 2009).

The field site for the study is Hancock County, Tennessee, a small, rural county in north East Tennessee, which is also the hometown of the author. Data come from sociolinguistic interviews from 25 (13 women, 12 men), all natives to the area. I employed quantitative methodology to analyze participants’ use of both /aI/ monophthongization and rising pitch accents.

Results show that speakers who are more rooted to the local area have more monophthongal productions of /aI/, use more frequent rising pitch accents, and also realize rising pitches in a quantitatively different way. Thus, both of these features and their phonetic realizations can serve as a way to signal local orientation, what I call rootedness.

Further, these Appalachian speakers are distinct from other Southern speakers with respect to the relative frequency of rising pitch accents, as well as the phonetic realization of pitch. Thus, frequent rising pitch and its phonetic realization may function as a unique feature of Appalachian English.