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Academic Paper

Title: Unvernacular Appalachia: an empirical perspective on West Virginia dialect variation
Author: Kirk Hazen
Email: click here TO access email
Institution: West Virginia University
Author: Paige Butcher
Author: Ashley King
Linguistic Field: Anthropological Linguistics; Sociolinguistics
Abstract: Most popular discussions of varieties of English in Appalachia (USA) focus only on vernacular dialect features, suggesting that these hallmark characteristics are common for ‘true’ mountain folk (Dial, 1972). Naturally, the reality of the dialects in this region is more complex and subdued than the stereotype. While traditional features, such as a-prefixing (e.g. she is a-working), have played a role in the region, most stereotypical, Appalachian dialect features are fading from usage today (Hazen, 2006). Appalachia is a long region divided into numerous sections. Depending on the sources consulted, the regional divisions are quite staggering in their differences. For some, the region of Appalachia can stretch as far north as New York and as far south as Mississippi, including parts of 13 states (Appalachian Regional Commission). Other definitions limit the geography to a much smaller range (Wolfram & Christian, 1976). Aware of this problem, we have chosen to focus on one region universally accepted as part of Appalachia: West Virginia. Geographically, the state fits entirely within the boundaries of all definitions of the region. Likewise, West Virginia also fits the socio-economic profile most commonly associated with Appalachia. To provide the most comprehensive picture possible, we present a brief overview of English in West Virginia, followed by an empirical examination of 10 dialect features. The import of this empirical investigation is that the West Virginia vernacular of the twenty-first century has changed from its roots at the beginning of the twentieth century.


This article appears IN English Today Vol. 26, Issue 4, which you can READ on Cambridge's site or on LINGUIST .

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