Appalachian dialect is one of America's most distinctive linguistic contributions to the English language. The dialect originated in the speech patterns of Scottish, Irish, English, and German immigrants to the Appalachian Mountains, although the Scottish-Irish origin of the dialect is the most pronounced in the language. While many Americans see the Appalachian dialect as a corruption of the English language, the Appalachian dialect may be more correctly described as an archaic form of English, dating back to the times of the first Queen Elisabeth. Today, the Appalachian dialect is thriving, maintained by the relative isolation of the inhabitants of Appalachia from the rest of the United States.
Over the years, a great number of linguists have investigated the unique and thriving Appalachian dialect extensively (Virgin English). These studies have revealed a great deal about the origins of the Appalachian dialect, in addition to a thorough characterization of the dialect itself.
The Appalachian dialect began with the birth of America itself. The Appalachian dialect has its roots in the language patterns of the earliest American settlers. Europeans came in droves to America after the first landing at Plymouth Rock. As the east coast became crowded, settlers moved west, passing through the rugged Appalachian Mountains. Many settlers stayed in the region, due to the difficulty of passing through the mountains, and the easily farmed land that was rich with wildlife (Virgin English).
The early settlers to the Appalachians were a varied mixture of the English, Irish, Scottish and German immigrants. The Appalachian dialect began when these unique dialects were combined in a socially and culturally isolated area in the Appalachian Mountains (Virgin English).
Often, the Appalachian dialect is seen as primarily a Scotch-Irish dialect. Immigrants from Scotland and Ireland were the first to come to the Appalachian region, attracted by the area's geographical similarity to their homelands (Appalachian Dialect). Specifically, the dialect was created by the Scottish-Irish who landed in Philadelphia, and later settled in Appalachia (Crafton). The Appalachian dialect's use of words like 'whar' instead of where, 'thar' instead of there, and 'winder' instead of window are used as examples of this heritage (Appalachian Dialect).
Outsiders often see the Appalachian dialect as crass and uneducated. In popular television shows and mainstream movies, characters with Appalachian dialects are commonly stereotyped as stupid, ignorant, and unsophisticated. In contrast, Appalachians themselves often characterize their dialect as "the purest form of 'Virgin English'." They see their dialect as the American dialect that is closest to that as spoken when settlers first came to America (Virgin English).
The Appalachian dialect has changed relatively little through its short history in America. This fact may surprise most modern-day Americans, who see the Appalachian dialect as a corruption of the English language. Instead, Dial argues that the Appalachian dialect should be classified as archaic. She notes, "many of the expressions heard throughout the region today can be found in the centuries-old works of some of the greatest English authors: Alfred, Chaucer, Shakespeare, and the men who contributed to the King James version of the Bible, to cite but a few." couple of brief examples of the Appalachian dialect may be helpful in describing the unique and varied linguistic features of the dialect. For example, Kephart, Nicholas and Farrwell note the following description for the Appalachian variant of the word arrow, "arrer: [n., variant of arrow.] ' hwot a great big cockyolly bird once't with my bow and arrer." Further, example, Kephart, Nicholas and Farrwell note the following for the Appalachian word 'all-overs', "all-overs: n. pl. nervousness. Everytime I go to studyin' about it I get the all-overs. [Joel Chandler Harris wrote of The Vicar of Wakefield: 'It touches me more deeply, it gives me the all-overs'more severely than all others.' The word here means 'thrills."
Appalachian words and phrases can often seem confusing and distancing to those who are not used to the specifics of the unique Appalachian dialect. These confusing Appalachian turns of speech include phrases like 'clum' for climbed, 'hain't' for have not, and 'you-uns' for you people (Burke).
The Appalachian dialect has often been accurately described as a masculine and vivid dialect. Dial notes, "This is a language spoken by a red-blooded people who have colorful phraseology born in their bones." For example, common phrases include: "Thet pore boy's an awkward size - too big for a man and not big enough for a horse," and "It's colder 'n a witch's bosom" (Dial).
The Appalachian dialect is linguistically distinctive in many important ways. Many linguistically distinct aspects of the dialect of the Appalachian people can be traced directly to the European immigrants in the area. For example, the hard 'R' used in the Appalachian dialect has its roots in the Irish heritage of the region. In contrast, the common running together of words (like 'jeat' instead of 'did you eat') originates from the Elizabethan English influence. The German heritage of the region contributed the hard 'K' and 'ch' sound to the Appalachian dialect (Virgin English). The German influence in the dialect is meager, as Dial notes that the only word in the Appalachian dialect that can be easily traced to the German influence is 'briggity' (Dial).
Linguists argue that the Appalachian dialect differs significantly from that of the Scottish Lowlands, and instead the dialect can be traced to the immigration of the Scotch-Irish from Western Pennsylvania (Dial). The Scottish and Irish migrated separately to Pennsylvania, formed the Scotch-Irish community, from which the Appalachian dialect is originally derived. Linguists commonly refer to the Appalachian dialect as Southern Mountain Dialect (Dial), although I have elected to use the more common term, Appalachian dialect, throughout this paper.
Despite other influences, the Appalachian dialect is derived primarily from the English language. While this fact may surprise many modern Americans, historically, the Appalachian dialect represents the time of the first Queen Elizabeth, with flavorings of Chaucerian and Anglo-Saxon forms of English (Dial).
The Elizabethan pronunciation is seen in many Appalachian words. For example, words with 'er' in them are often pronounced as 'ar'. 'Sarvice' for service, 'sartin' for certain, and 'narvous' for nervous are common examples. Further, the substitution of an I for an e sound is Elizabethan in origin. This is present in the Appalachian pronunciation of 'git' for get, and 'pin' for pen (Dial).
Many typical Appalachian phrases would have been considered grammatically correct in Elizabethan times, although they are considered incorrect in modern English. For example, a typically Appalachian phrase like 'bring them books over here' would have been perfectly correct in the 1500s. Further, possessives like 'his'n', 'our'n' and 'your'n' would also have been seen as correct. In the past, Appalachian participle forms like 'has beat', 'has chose', and 'has bore with it' were considered correct (Dial).
The Appalachian dialect has an unexpected flair for delicacy that can be traced back to its Victorian roots. It has only recently become acceptable to use the word bull or stallion. Previously, less brash euphamisms like 'father cow' (for bull) and 'stable horse' for stallion were used.
Currently, the Appalachian dialect is used extensively in the region. The Appalachian dialect spoken today closely in many ways resembles the English that was spoken by the first settlers to America. The isolation of life in the mountains of Appalachia has carried on many traditional attitudes and behaviors, as well as maintaining the dialect of Appalachia (Virgin English). Interestingly, Dial notes that the dialect spoken today is a "watered-down" version of the dialect spoken in earlier times. Perhaps the influence of television, radio, movies, as well as a more transient American population have helped to contributed to changes in the Appalachian dialect seen in the past century.
Despite its extensive use in the Appalachian region today, the Appalachian dialect is not completely homogenous. Within the Appalachian region, there are subtle differences…