Academic journal article Rural Educator

Examining Teacher Perceptions of the Appalachian Dialect in One Rural Appalachian Elementary School

Academic journal article Rural Educator

Examining Teacher Perceptions of the Appalachian Dialect in One Rural Appalachian Elementary School

Article excerpt

Having been raised in rural, East Tennessee, I am intimately familiar with Appalachian people, their ways, and their speech. Simply put, I am an Appalachian. For the purposes of this study, I am an insider. The subject of dialect for me, as for many Appalachians, is personal and represents a deep, enduring connection to place. In essence, our dialect promotes a sense of belonging. However, sometimes the Appalachian dialect may be looked upon as a hindrance even within the Appalachian community itself. Specifically, in the school setting, the Appalachian dialect may be viewed as inferior. Wolfram & Schilling-Estes (2006) explain that linguistic inferiority occurs when members of the dominant society view the speech of other groups as being of a lesser quality than their own. Such a perspective is more common in speakers of the 'standard' variety of a language due to the differences of various groups in their status and power relations (Lippi-Green, 1997).

To understand how teachers in one Appalachian area view the Appalachian dialect, I interviewed teachers in an elementary school, located within the Appalachian region as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC).

Rural Appalachia

The Appalachian region is located in the following states: Kentucky, West Virginia, Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Tennessee, Ohio, Maryland, Pennsylvania, and New York (Obermiller & Howe, 2000). While parts of these states and all of West Virginia make up the Appalachian region, there are three distinct areas northern, central, and southern.

According to Strange, Johnson, Schowalter, & Klein (2012), rural areas are located within each of the fifty states: Rural schools make up 33% of all American schools, and as many as 9 million students receive a rural education. In the Appalachian region 42% of the population is considered rural (ARC, 2012). Typical concerns for some rural areas are high student poverty and high school dropout rates, and these issues also pertain to the Appalachian region (Strange et al., 2012).

Language of Appalachia

Although the Appalachian region is home to many dialects and, as Speicher and Beilanski (2000) suggest, "speakers themselves produce various dialects of a given language" (p. 147), I will use the term "Appalachian dialect" when referring to the "distinctive sounds, syntax, and originality" (p. 999) Montgomery (2006) found in the speech throughout the Appalachian region. However, this is not to say that the Appalachian dialect does not bleed into the words we use in our writings or the ways in which we craft our written sentences. As with anything pertaining to culture, dialect cannot be neatly segregated into one specific area: it plays a part in our speech, stories, writings, music, family gatherings, and religion-just as assuredly as does the air we breathe.

According to Dial (1969),

The dialect spoken by Appalachian people has been given a variety of names, the majority of them somewhat less than complimentary. Educated people who look with disfavor on this particular form of speech are perfectly honest in their belief that something called The English Language, which they conceive of as a completed work - unchanging and fixed for all time - has been taken and, through ignorance, shamefully distorted by the mountain folk. The fact is that this is completely untrue. The folk speech of Appalachia instead of being called corrupt ought to be classified as archaic, (p. 463)

Dial further (1969) explains that the influence of early Scottish and Irish settlers is apparent in both the words and sentence structure of Appalachians today. Barker (1995) notes the influence of Old English and references similarities between Appalachian dialect and the etymology of Chaucer. Just as in the UK to this day, each state or area in the Appalachian region in essence has its own dialect. Some writers describe this dialect as "southern speech" or country talk (Wilkinson, 1999). …

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