Some Features of Appalachian Dialects

By Stephanie Humphries

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Note: Like all lists, this one overly simplifies the diversity of Appalachian dialects and their features. Additionally, the list reflects some bias on part of the author, in terms of items that were selected or omitted and in the very selection of the term "Appalachian." Nevertheless, this list should serve its purpose well—to provide non-linguists with a starting point for appreciating Appalachian dialects in their variety and complexity.

I. Pronunciation II. Vocabulary III. Syntax IV. More Recent Findings References

I.  Pronunciation (Phonetic Features)

A.  Consonants

1.  velar /l/

particularly noticeable in the suspension of contrast of the vowels in  full/fool, feel/fill

2.  intrusive /r/

wash sounds like warsh

At one time, found in western Pennsylvania, throughout Appalachia
Reference:  Kurath and McDavid (1961)

3.  final /t/ on across and twice

Reference:  Kurath and McDavid (1961)

4.  absence of “th” in that, there, them, they (found in many dialects)

Sensitive to stress placement
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian, 1976

B.  Vowels

1.  Monophthongization of /ai/ before liquids, especially tautosyllabic /r/

Example:    while, iron, tire, hire
Reference:  Kurath and McDavid (1961); Wolfram and Christian (1976)
Note: Also monophthongize diphthongs in bury, carry, where

2  Tensing vowels //, /E /, /I/ and /U/ before palatal consonants

Example:    bush, collision, fish, special, ash
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

3. Merger of /E/ and /I/

Example:    pen = pin
Note:         Most common before /n/, /m/, /t/; widespread now

4.   Substitution of /i/ for /ej/ in word-final, unstressed vowels

Example:    Tuesday = Tuesdee
Reference:  Kurath and McDavid (1961); Wolfram and Christian (1976)

C.  Other Phonetic Features

1.   Metathesis (feature of several dialects)

Example:  asked (aksed); prevail (purvel); album (ablum)
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram and Dube (1988)  

2.    Syllable initial stress

Example:    Détroit, cígar, dírectly
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram and Dube (1988)

II. Vocabulary (Lexical Features)

 A.  Word choice

1.  ain’t

Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

2. Words used as adverbs or intensifying adverbs

Examples:  druther, yonder, dang, plumb, right smart
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

B.  Morphological features (word structure)

1.  A-prefixing on –ing participials

Example:  …and he came a-runnin’ down there and…..
Not used:  on nouns, adjectival –ing, or in prepositional phrases
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976);
                   Christian, Wolfram, Dube (1988)
Questions:  Rural southern or those areas in close proximity to the actual mountain range?

2.  No –ly on adverbs

Examples:  He explained it real simple; I come from Virginia original. That job's awful hard to do.
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

III.  Syntax

A.  Conjunctive which

Example:  I went to Knoxville which my cousin lives there
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram and Dube (1988); Humphries (1999)

B.  Positive anymore

Example:  Anymore, I don’t like to go there.
Reference:  Philadelphia, West Virginia
Question:  Found more in mining regions, might be Welsh in origin?

C.  Ellipsis constructions

Example:  The boy wants off of the bus

D.  Subject-Verb nonconcord (found in several dialects)

Example:  We was, he don’t
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976); lots of others

E.  Irregular verbs (found in several dialects)

1.   Regularization of irregular simple past tense verbs

Example:  The corn growed real good last year.
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram and Dube (1988)

2.   Uninflected simple past

Example:  Finally, she come by here……
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram and Dube (1988)

3.   Simple past same as past participle

Example:  That’s all I seen of it
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram, Dube (1988)

F.  Completive or non-participial use of done

Example:  I think they done took it.
Reference:  Christian, Wolfram, Dube (1988)

G.  Multiple negation (found in several dialects)

Example:  Ain’t never; can’t hardly
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

H.  Uninflected plural nouns when nouns preceded by measures

Example:  two gallon of water
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

I.  Personal dative

Example:  We had us a cabin; I’m going to get me a new dress
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

J.  Direct question word order for indirect/embedded interrogatives

Example:  I asked him could I come downstairs.
Reference:  Wolfram and Christian (1976)

K.  Double modals

Examples:  Might could; might should; used to couldn’t
Reference:  lots
Questionable:  Appalachian or Southern?

IV.  More Recent Findings

A.  Fronting of /ow/

Example:  Compare don’t and home for speakers of 
                 Appalachian dialects and  southern dialects.
Reference:  Labov, W. (2001)

B.  Merger (or not) of low back vowels

Example:  Compare vowels in cot/caught; dog; coffee; off
                 Some Appalachian speakers don’t make a distinction.
                 Southern speakers use an upgliding diphthong.
Reference:  Labov, W. (2001)


Christian, D. Wolfram, W., & Dube, N. (1988). Variation and change in geographically isolated communities: Appalachian English and Ozark English. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.

Kurath, H. & McDavid, R. (1961). The pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States; based upon the collections of the linguistic atlas of the Eastern United States. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.

Labov, W. (2001). The phonological atlas of North America [Online].

Wolfram, W. & Christian, D. (1976). Appalachian speech. Arlington, VA: Center for Applied Linguistics.

See also Bibliography on Appalachian Dialects.

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Dialect pages created May 2000. This page's last update: 4/19/19
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