Understanding Perceptions of Appalachian Englishes

As entities immersed in mythologies of being isolated, unchanging, monolithic, and monolingual, what people know about Appalachian Englishes comes with a fair share of misunderstandings. This paper explores various data sets and analyses from research in linguistics as a field to bring together the many diverse and nuanced understandings about perceptions of the varieties of English spoken in, across, and around the Appalachian Mountains. To elucidate the (mis)conceptions that surround these varieties, I present research from educational linguistics, dialectology, sociophonetics, linguistic anthropology, and other fields where language, communication, and perception are jointly engaged, presenting the rather bleak picture of places, peoples, and languages shrouded in pejoration.

Going beyond what has already been said, I also present some research in progress aimed specifically at measuring what Appalachian Englishes are and where they can be found. Using a perceptual dialectology approach (e.g., Preston 1989, Cramer and Montgomery 2016), and drawing heavily on Ulack and Raitz (1982), this project asks nonlinguists to indicate whether they believe any Appalachian varieties of English exist, and, if so, where, given a map, such varieties can be found. In addition to the map drawing task, participants are also asked what characteristics they associate with Appalachia, its people, and its languages. Preliminary engagement with this type of data reveals that, like in Ulack and Raitz, insiders, outsiders, and cognitive outsiders vary in how they perceive Appalachian Englishes, but the major (primarily negative) stereotypes still surface, even for those who value their Appalachianness.