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Launch of the Website Appalachian English

Thursday, August 31, 2017   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Rosalind V. Rini Larson
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More perhaps than for any other part of the U.S., the English spoken in Appalachia has captured the interest of linguists, educators, and other writers for well over a century.  The new website Appalachian English, housed at the University of South Carolina, presents and provides a small library of resources to study the region’s speech. Identifying around a thousand little-known or hard-to-find publications, Appalachian English brings much of the quintessential scholarship together and provides numerous avenues for linguists and the public to study and increase their knowledge of the fascinating, but often mis-characterized, English of an eight-state region.

The hosts Michael Montgomery at the University of South Carolina and Paul Reed at the University of Alabama gratefully acknowledge the University of South Carolina's College of Arts and Sciences for accommodating this site.

Resources on the website include:

  • Joseph Hall’s 1942 monograph The Phonetics of Great Smoky Mountain Speech. Three-quarters of a century after its publication, this volume remains not just the only full account of the pronunciation of an Appalachian variety of English, but also the only one of any regional American variety.  It remains a remarkable achievement still of great value to students of the region's speech.
  • Michael Montgomery’s “Grammar and Syntax of Smoky Mountain English,” from his 2004 Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English.
  • Walt Wolfram and Donna Christian’s “Sociolinguistic Variables in Appalachian Dialects,” the larger research report that formed the basis for their book Appalachian Speech (1976).
  • All 28 entries from the Language section of the Encyclopedia of Appalachia, with entries ranging from African American English to language ideology, from medical and health terminology to moonshining terminology, from place names to speech play.
  • An exhaustive bibliography of both scholarly and popular literature, identifying the date and area studied for each item and in most cases furnishing a summary annotation of a sentence or two.

Taking center stage at the site is the traditional speech of the Smoky Mountains of Tennessee and North Carolina, through a remarkable set of disk recordings of sixty-two people made by Joseph Sargent Hall in 1939. The website hosts have transcribed these recordings to the most refined and faithful degree possible, following a well-established transcription protocol and using the speech signal to disambiguate forms. With the backdrop of displacement of people by formation of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Hall traversed the rugged area using aluminum disks and plastic disks to create a permanent record of stories and local lore from people aged 18 to 95. This age distribution provides excellent opportunities to study sound change in progress. The accounts include vivid turn-of-the-century bear hunts and much more. The transcriptions of individual speakers, each with a brief profile giving level of education and occupation, are accompanied by audio versions and links terms of interest to a 400-entry glossary featuring capsule histories of terms.

The site provides a composite transcription of Hall’s speakers that the hosts have named CESME, the Corpus of Early Smoky Mountain English. At 53,000 words, the multi-generational corpus is relatively small when compared to corpora produced today, but as a body of early recorded and transcribed material from one area, it is unique.  The posting of Hall’s material online fulfills a promise made to workshop participants at the 2012 Southeastern Conference on Linguistics in Lexington, Kentucky. The site also tells the story and provides a full account of Hall’s research through a 1990 interview with him. Not to be missed are two of the many musical selections he recorded that eventually made their way into a Grammy-nominated CD.

Among many other things, the site presents issues of the perception and status of Appalachian speech that might seem to involve only academic debate, but that tap into popular discussion, such as the exact boundary of the region and the pronunciation of Appalachia.

The hosts hope that the Appalachian English website will stimulate further study, provide resources for educators, and help all to better understand the diversity of American Englishes.

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