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Appalachian English

Appalachian English (AE) is another dialect found in the southern region of the United States. Appalachia's core territory stretches from about West Virginia and Ohio to Georgia, but has also been described as encompassing the area all the way up to southwest New York and to northeastern Mississippi (Montgomery 2004). 

The dialect is derived from a combination of Scotch-Irish, German, and English communities moving south beginning in the 1730s, and eventually migrating into more isolated, higher-elevation areas. While it's popularly believed that Appalachian English is a preserved version of Elizabethan/Shakespearian English (an association coming from words like afeared to mean "afraid" and holp to mean "helped"), in reality it is more similar to an 18th-century colonial American English (Montgomery 2004). 

There is a large amount of variety in Appalachian English due to its settlement by different groups and its indistinct boundaries, so we will mostly focus on the Tennessee/North Carolina variety, which can be attested to within DASS. 

Phonetics & Phonology of Appalachian English 

Appalachian English is often confused with Southern American English - because of the number of shared features. Some scholars argue that AE is not a distinct variety from SAE at all, but this would not explain the unique features that Appalachian English does possess. 

Some of the common characteristics Appalachian English shares with Southern American English include non-rhoticity, monophthongization, "G"-dropping, and the pronunciation of the word "greaze" as a verb for applying grease to another object. AE also incorporates consonant cluster simplification in the same way as African-American Language. 

  • Consonant Cluster Simplification: Like in African-American Language, we see simplification in contexts where the following word begins with a consonant. Walt Wolfram defines Consonant Cluster Simplification in AE as "the deletion of a stop consonant such as 't,' 'd,' 'p,' or 'k,' when it follows another word at the end of the word" (Wolfram 1976). Therefore, words like test, hand, and desk reduced to tes,' han,' and des'. However, Appalachian English is unique in that consonant cluster simplification also applies to words with the "-ed" past-tense ending, such as turning jammed to jam and looked to look (Wolfram 1976).
  • Plural Forms: When we pluralize a word ending in a "sibilant" consonant, such as "s," "z," or "sh," we add a suffix pronounced "-iz" to the end. We can see hear this clearly in words like buzzes, bushes, and buses. But Appalachian English also adds this suffix to words that do not end in sibilants, instead applying when the sibilant is followed by voiceless stop consonants. For example, desks, ghosts, and wasps become deskes, ghostes, and waspes
  • Final Unstressed "ow": AE speakers may alternate the final "oh" sound in words with the ending "-ow" with "-er." This is most commonly seen in words like hollow, yellow, potato, and window, which become holler, yeller, potater, and winder (Wolfram 1976). 
  • The first speaker in the clip clearly says holler instead of hollow, especially when compared to the second speaker, who does not. Final unstressed "ow" is a popular feature of AE; do you have it in your own speech?



  • Final "a": Another common phenomenon in Appalachian English is pronouncing a final "uh" (represented by the phonetic symbol [ə] called a "schwa") as a "y." Extra may sound like "extry" and opera may sound like "opery" (Montgomery 2006). This actually how the famous Nashville music hall, the Grand Ole Opry, got its name. The description of the music hall and accompanying radio show was originally styled as "music taken from the grand opera," until an announcer who spoke with an Appalachian English dialect announced it as the Grand Ole Opry, and the name stuck. 
  • Both speakers in the following video mean extra, but the first one says "extry" instead. Do you have this feature when you speak, too?



  • Epenthetic "r": "Epenthesis" is the linguistic process of inserting a sound into a word that doesn't already have it. In Appalachian English, epenthetic "r" refers to "r" inserted into word after the "ah" sound, described phonetically as a low back vowel. This is how we get words such as "warsh," "Warshington," and "squarsh" from wash, Washington, and squash (Withgott et al 1983). 
  • In the video, can you hear how "r" has been inserted into squash in the first clip? Use the second clip, which does not come from an AE speaker, for comparison. Do you ever employ the epenthetic "r" in your own speech?



Grammar (syntax) of Appalachian English 

Appalachian English has a few grammatical features that are considered particular to its dialect. This is not a total list, but instead a few of the most recognizable traits. Which of the following do you have?

  • "-Est": In order to form a more powerful superlative, Appalachian English speakers may suffix words ending in "-ing" with "-est". For example, someone may say "He's the workingest man in town" or "She's the singingest woman in church" in order to say that they are the most talented at working and singing (Montgomery 2006)
  • Reversal of Compound Words: Appalachian English speakers have a tendency to switch around the components of compound words. The most famous examples of this feature are everwhat and everwho for whatever and  whoever (Montgomery 2006)
  • Prepositions: AE speakers may interject extra prepositions in sequence in a sentence, such as by saying "There was several houses on up around on Mill Creek" in order to mean the same as saying "There were several houses on Mill Creek" (Montgomery 2006)


Lexicon of Appalachian English 

Just as Southern American English and African-American Language have their own lexicons, Appalachian English contains words and phrases that might not be easily understood by other dialects. The words and their definitions below aren't necessarily from the Digital Archive of Southern Speech, but represent a wider range of popular words from AE. Because Appalachian English has such a wide distribution with relative isolation between communities, many terms are only used in small certain regions. There is also considerable overlap with the lexicon of Southern American English, such as with words like galluses and poke. How many of the following expressions do you know?

Word Alternative Forms Definition
Airish   Chilly
Bald   Treeless area on a mountaintop, as in Brasstown Bald
Bawl   Calf's cry
Blinds   Window shutters (as opposed to just shades)
Boomer   Red squirrel
Chancy   Doubtful
Cold medicine   Moonshine whiskey
Discomfit   To inconvenience
Everly   Constantly
Fireboard   Mantel
Flannel cake   Pancakes
Hull   To shell
Ill   Bad-tempered
Jewelweed   Mountainous plant used as a salve for poison ivy rashes
Kick   Reject in courtship
Loft   Attic
Manpower   Move by brute effort, as in "We manpowered that log onto the truck"
Mourners' bench Moaners' bench; amen row; anxious bench Benches or seats at the front of the church reserved for those particularly seeking spiritual repentance or wellfare
Muley cow   Hornless cow or ox
Nary   Not any
Offish   Unsociable
Outlier   Person who lives in the forest, especially as a deserter from the Civil War, and steals food and supplies from the local populace
Poke   Paper bag
Prettyful   Beautiful
Run   Creek
Sop   Gravy
Spring house   Small building over a creek designed to keep food cool
Sugar tree   Sugar maple
Whistle pig   Groundhog

                                                           (Montgomery 2006; Montgomery & Hall 2004)


Website developed by Bailey Bigott (UGA BA 2020, MA 2021)