Ap-uh-ley-chee-uh or Ap-uh-lach-uh?

How do you pronounce Appalachia?

We don’t need Merriam Webster to tell us that the word’s third vowel can be a short A or a long A. If you’ve spent fifteen minutes in the mountains and fifteen minutes anywhere else, you know that.

You also know that this little difference in pronunciation can lead to some big arguments. I’ve seen folks launch into fiery diatribes to defend their version. Long A People say that Short A People don’t know how to speak proper English and ought to get their snaggle-toothed selves on a bus, plane, or train and learn how the rest of the country talks. Short A People point out that the dictionary has both pronunciations and then call Long A People a bunch of vocal imperialists who wouldn’t know the value of local identity if it smacked them in the behind.

From this point on, broken beer bottles or firearms are often involved. I can’t say who comes out on top, because I usually make a quick retreat. But I bet you can tell me–who’s right? And why on earth does this one little vowel matter so much?

Before you leave your comment, be sure to check out this clip from novelist Sharyn McCrumb. She is the author behind the Appalachian “Ballad” novels, including the New York Times best sellers The Ballad of Frankie, so she knows about dialect. Sharyn doesn’t think this is just a case of tuh-mey-toh or tuh-mah-toh. She believes that Appalachia is one mighty important word and how you pronounce it tells the listener a lot about who you are.

10 Comments

  • kiki

    That was brilliant. Thank you ! I always felt “short A” was correct as it is the way we say it in West Virginia. Since we are the only state that is completely contained within Appalachia, we ought to know ;-)

  • April

    From a person born and raised in WV, thank you, kiki, for pointing this out. People tend to forget.

  • Ellen

    I too say “lach” and it grates on my nerves to hear otherwise. We have Dante in SW Va, and I live in Honaker and grew up in Richlands. Three other place names that can quickly place you geographically and culturally dependent upon your pronunciation. (Dan’t not Don-Tay, Ho-nay-ker not Hon-ah-ker, Rich-lands not Rich-lundz)

  • Lacey S.

    @Ellen–Don’t forget Stan-ton, not Ston-ton (Staunton)…that one threw me for years!

  • Keith Leary

    When you’re in Rome, do as the Romans do. I pronounce the term with the short “A”, but have lived in the W.VA. area for years. My parents lived in Pennsylvania for years and they pronounced the town Lancaster as ( Lanc uh ster). To each his own!

  • tipper

    Fascinating-loved the video I had not seen it before. And I’m positive you already know how I say Appalachia : )

  • sherri saines

    I grew up in eastern Appalachia (Western Maryland). We use the short “a”, and, it’s “sha” not “cha”. So, no, in the Appalachia I knew if you say it the way Sharon says it, you are an outsider… and not to be trusted….

    But now I live in western Appalachia (Eastern Ohio) (long a, “cha”) and here I am an “outsider.” I cannot win!

  • Jim

    I’m from eastern KY and my wife is from WV. We say AppaLATCHa. I’ve been told that Loyal Jones would caution folks to say it that way or he would “throw this apple atcha.”

  • Carson

    That’s brilliant. I never thought of it that way, but that’s exactly the way I’ve always felt about it without even knowing it.

  • Adele Browne

    Regional dialects are disappearing and becoming homogenized because everybody watches the same tv shows, for one thing. The way we pronounce the name of the oldest mountain range in the world, depending on which portion of that mountain range we hail from, is an interesting study in language and culture. But please, tell me why would it be a good thing if everybody had the same accent, pronounced words the same way, looked the same, acted the same, had the same color eyes and hair and skin–you see where I am going with this? You can throw all the apples at me that you want to, but I am still going to pronounce it the way my Grandma Smith did, and I hope the rest of you will be true to your origins as well.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will never be published or shared, and required fields are marked with an asterisk (*).