Is Your Appalachian Accent Wrong?

If you have an Appalachian twang, you surely know about all the stereotypes that come with it. For a century or two, outsiders have assumed that mountain people are ignorant, racist, and poor, and nothing seems to trigger these ugly images faster than our voices. One use of “afreared” or “sigogglin” is all it takes to cement opinions about us.

Is it fair? Should we try to change our accents? How did they come to exist to begin with? The good folks at 100 Days in Appalachia and the West Virginia Dialect Project tackle questions like these in the below clip, and they’d like to hear from you.

Please leave a comment telling us how people respond to your accent. Have you tried to change it, or do you “twang out” with pride?

 

 

16 Comments

  • Kimberly Burnette

    I grew up in southwest Virginia and when I went to college, quite a few people would make fun of the way that I talked. I slowly started changing the way that I talked to fit in better with other students. My saving grace was taking an Appalachian history class which led to a minor in Appalachian Studies. Thankfully, before it was too late, I realized that there really was nothing wrong with the way that I talked. Unfortunately, I did lose some of my accent, but I let what I have now ring loud and proud. If someone is so foolish as to think that I am stupid because of the way I sound, that is their ignorance showing!

  • Ken Watkins

    I worked many years in S. California for the US Govt. and being from Appalachia I had to call Los Angeles and other cities many times a day. The responder on the other end, especially in LA, would say to me, “you are not from this area are you?” Finally I told a co-worker the next time someone from LA asks me that I am going to say Yep! from S. Central. Grew up there. I never did.

  • Sherry Levoy

    I grew up in WV and there were several accents, my cousins in Logan spoke Queen’s English. Here in TN there are several accents.

  • Monica Winter

    I grew up in southern WV and because of job changes have lived in multiple states. I’ve never intentionally tried to change my accent, but it’s changed somewhat due to living away from home. Several people have told me I sound like the actress, Holly Hunter.

    While the “accent” might cause stereotypes, I think improper grammar is the real culprit. Words like “hisself”, “I seen” and “I knowed” are a few examples that come to mind. If we use impeccable grammar, we can shed some of the negative impression people have of the region.

  • Teresa

    You know who cares. I’m born and raised in Appalachia and was told that I’d never be able to work outside the mountains of NC because of my accent. I was told people would think me dumb and ignorant. However, I provided consulting services all over the US and no one ever said they thought I was ignorant. They would ask me to speak to hear my dialect but never was negative about it. And even now I work for a top Healthcare corporation with an executive position. No one anywhere in our US markets thinks my dialect anything but part of just me. It certainly has not hurt my career. It’s the media that presents folks from Appalachia as ignorant, dumb and develops the stereotypes. Not the general population. I’m proud of my dialect and the values I was taught in Appalachia.

  • Betty Richards

    I’m an Appalachian American and yes, We have our own accent and I’m proud of mine. We are the friendliest people on earth!

  • Melody Tipton

    I’m from southwest Va and my accent is 100% Applalachian. I’ve traveled all over and lived in several different cities. My accent is always very noticable but only good things are said. I talk on the phone a lot at work also and get ask where I’m from daily. Most people love to hear me talk and say my accent is beautiful and/or they love it. I have never had a negative thing said about it. Therefore I’m proud of my accent, it’s a part of my roots and a part of me that will never change.

  • Katrina Willard

    I grew up,in southwest Virginia and at the age of 22 moved to northern Virginia. On my job I was met with numerous comments and jokes regarding my southern drawl. I’m certain there were those who, while they “liked” me, did not want to be associated with me because of it. I know that it made me feel awkward and I changed the way I pronounced certain words in an attempt to fit their mold. After many years away from home, my drawl isn’t as strong as it once was, but it’s still there and I’m glad for it. It’s actually nice to once in a while hear someone comment or ask where I’m from because they detect my sweet southern drawl.

  • Bird Bruce

    I come from the Eastern slope of the Appalachians in Western Maryland. It’s an interesting confluence of dialects and accents, borrowing equally from Blue Ridge and Mid-Atlantic coastal, with some direct linguistic descendants from German and Scot-Irish.

  • Robyn

    Western Maryland here too. But my family came up there from the tippy toe of VA where it meets TN, so talkin with my Grandma and Daddy made sure we all twanged like crazy. When I moved across the country for high school, kids thought I was from Texas. I didn’t understand how they could be so ignorant! haha.

    Now that I’m grown, my Midwestern boyfriend loves the twang. Everyone sounds funny to me in Illinois, so I treasure my sound, flattened as it may be after all these years away. (My sister stayed in MD and developed that funny mid-Atlantic drawl. We still see who can spell APPALACHIAN faster whenever we drive past the trail.)

    I work in academia and have had no negative responses so far. Though sometimes I feel weird about the way “I” comes out as “ah”, as in, “Ah think Ah’m gonna go to thuh store…” etc

  • Tammy

    There is a difference between an accent and poor grammar usage. I love my Appalachian heritage, where I am from and the special vocabulary that we have. I strive to keep our unique vocabulary, sayings and rhythm of our Appalachian speech alive all the while using correct grammar. I believe it is the use of incorrect grammar that gains us the negative stereotypes.

  • Barbara

    I agree with the comment that improper grammar is more to blame for the stereotypes than the accent itself. I also feel that this comes from the home, not necessarily the community.

    I was born and raised in Northeast Tennessee as were my father’s ancestors (for many generations). My mother came from western Kentucky and had a few words that she used differently (carry instead of take) but, for the most part, my family had a very mild southern accent. The Appalachian accent was much stronger for some of the kids in the schools I attended. Those same kids used to tease me about being a “city-slicker” even though we all grew up in the same community.

    Thankfully, most people in other areas of the country simply say they love my accent. I truly believe that the stigma comes from improper grammar and, unfortunately, that DOES revert to a lack of education.

  • Barbara

    Let me change that last sentence… It reverts to a disregard for certain aspects of education.

  • Tipper

    I was born and raised in the mountains of Western North Carolina-still live in the same mountain holler I grew up in today. I have a very strong Appalachian accent and am very proud of it, although I know I sometimes change it slightly at work (I work in Academia). The change is sometime referred to as code-switching. I don’t really like that I do it, but the stereotypes are hard to overcome-even for someone like me who spends her days celebrating and preserving Appalachia.

    Overall the response to my accent has always been positive with only a few instances of folks assuming I wasn’t as smart or informed as they were because of the way I sound.

    I firmly believe the negative stereotypes about our rich colorful Appalachian Language come directly from the media. I don’t necessary agree with the comments about grammar as I know too many people who speak with incorrect grammar but would never write as they speak. For me communicating directly to another person or persons with language is totally different than communicating by written or typed word.

    Thanks for this post! I am beyond fascinated with my Appalachian Language and it’s something I write about often.

  • Hanna

    I grew up (and currently live) in the Allegheny highlands of WV. I’m a 6th generation West Virginian. I spoke with a distinct twang before I went to public school, but my accent started to fall away rapidly in elementary school, and was pretty much gone by high school. 14 years in out-of-state universities and research centers cemented my almost totally nondistinct, flat, American accent. I think there was a conscious element in losing the Appalachian inflections, even though it happened at an early age. I wanted to sound smart and worldly, even in kindergarten, and I had it in my head that that meant no accent.

    It’s ironic that I felt that way, given that my father is one of the most intelligent, well-read people I know and he has a WILD West Virginian accent. He reads widely on every topic imaginable, he contributed research and editing to two history books, and he does tons of public speaking. It’s always fun to watch people from out of state who are meeting him for the first time. You can almost see the gears clashing in their heads as they try to reconcile his accent with whatever smart thing he’s saying about landscape architecture, or particle accelerators. It’s very gratifying to watch outsiders have to reevaluate all their stereotypes. “Appalachian intellectual” isn’t an oxymoron.

    Still, I haven’t fully overcome the stereotypes myself. I feel like my life in academia has been easier without the accent, and at work conferences I’m always a little proud of how neutrally I speak.

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