A constellation of sounds: Phonetic aspects of Appalachian Englishes

What does it mean to sound Appalachian? Are there particular features that mark one as a speaker of an Appalachian variety of English? There is a growing body of literature that has demonstrated that the language varieties of this region, collapsed under the broad heading of Appalachian English (AE), have been shown to be divergent from Mainstream American English and other Southern American English varieties (Wolfram and Christian 1976, Labov et al. 2006, Montgomery 2006). Much of this literature has focused on vowels and morpho-syntax, but other linguistic aspects have not received much attention, much less how they fit into what Wolfram called the 'constellation of features' that index the region.

This presentation will present ongoing research into several features from a sociophonetic viewpoint: monophthongization, intonation, and prosodic timing. The first topic has received attention from traditional descriptive (e.g., Hall1942) and sociolinguistic (Wolfram and Christian 1976, Thomas 2001, Thomas 2003) perspectives, while the second has only been anecdotally noted in the literature, save Greene (2006) and my own work. For the third topic, Hall (1942) made some tantalizing references to prosodic variation that he claims to be characteristic of the Appalachian region. He observed, ‘the great force with which the stressed syllables are uttered results in an abnormal weakening of the unstressed syllables’ (44). This observation suggests that rhythm and prosody could be sources of social variation as well.