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Mountain Sounds: A Tale of the Appalachian Dialect

Updated: Sep 12, 2023

a typical Kentucky hollow/holler with a narrow road running parallel to a creek with houses on both sides nestled between large mountains
Your average Appalachian holler

If you know me and are great with geography or have also done your research, then you may already know that the full state of Kentucky is not considered "Appalachian", as only the eastern side of the state lies in the Appalachian Mountains. I hail from Pike County, Kentucky - which is the easternmost tip of the state. I grew up on a holler (not hollow) where I was allowed to run free between yards, in the creek, and into the mountains as a child because we were isolated, knew all our neighbors, and everybody kept an eye out. We drove a four-wheeler to the holler store when we wanted ice cream or ran out of milk or bread. The dogs and chickens were free range, and so were the cows a lot of the time since they'd learned and taught each other how to escape the fence line - somehow even after the fence was upgraded to an electric one. Most people grew their own vegetables and would trade and share. My childhood memories of that gravel road were the epitome of the spirit of kindship and nature that is common throughout Appalachian people.

Pike County has come a long way since my childhood, and I can truthfully say that I don't recognize a lot of it anymore when I go back home to visit. However, it's teeming with history and Appalachian people often hold on to that and enjoy passing it down to the new generations. Here are some cool facts about Pike County, Kentucky:

The Dils Cemetery in Pikeville, KY, a tourist location featuring historical graves of the McCoy's from the Hatfield & McCoy feud.
  • It's home to the Hatfield & McCoy Feud, one that lasted some 30 odd years and resulted in the deaths of dozens of people. The graveyard where some are buried and the trails used by the families during the feud are both tourist attractions for visitors and Pike Countians alike. Click the photo to learn more about the Historical Dils Cemetery.

Scenic view of the Pike County Cut Through Project in Pikeville, KY featuring downtown and the Big Sandy River
  • Pike County is known for the Cut Through Project, completed in 1987. It was one of the largest earth moving projects in the world, took 14 years to complete, and completely rerouted the Big Sandy River to create a highway that reduced travel time, increased travel safety, and allowed for more traffic to easily pass through. An overlook was also built atop one of the mountains that was cut for the project where people can stand in an enclosed platform jutting from the mountain to oversee the full expanse of the cut through project. Click the photo to learn more about the project.

Facebook post from author Silas House about how Appalachians don't need to change their accent

But this isn't specifically a love letter to my hometown, it's a love letter to Appalachia. I recently saw an older social media post made by and rehared by an amazing author (and one of my long time faves) Silas House. As a Kentuckian, he has built his career on stories about people that could have been my neighbor or ancestor. Unlike the popular and overly negative media depictions of Appalachia and Kentucky, he shows the spirit of the people, the beauty of the land, and helped me find my way back to appreciating my roots. In his perfect home-rooted fashion, he's continuing to encourage younger Appalachian generations to not feel it necessary to change themselves and reminding me to always appreciate the small town charm, the community, and the sense of belonging felt from the easily recognizable accent and dialect.

book covers for Lark Ascending, A Parchment of Leaves, Southernmost, and Clay's Quilt by Silas House

For those that don't know, Appalachia (pronounced by those living in the region as app-uh-lat-chuh) is the area on the eastern side of the United States known for its rugged mountains, distinctive culture, and unique accent. The Appalachian accent is often described as being "drawl-y" or "mountain-y," and it is characterized by a number of features. Most notably, the Appalachian accent can be detected by the use of long vowels and dropping the "g" at the end of words, such as "walkin" or "goin". The origin of the dialect is still debated and after looking into different theories, the one that makes the most sense to me is the influence of the Scots-Irish settlers combined with the isolation of the mountains over the generations. I've found several points of supposed evidence of Scots-Irish phrases adopted by the people of Appalachia:

  • "Bless your heart" is one of the most well known Appalachian phrases that can be used in a variety of ways with multiple intents, depending on the inflection and tone of voice. This is thought to have been adopted by the often used "bless your soul" by the Scots-Irish settlers.

  • "Yonder" is used to indicate something that is far away ("over yonder" or "high yonder") and is believed to have been adapted from the Scots-Irish "High Yonder" used to refer to the Highlands.

  • "A-plenty" is used to refer to something in abundance and is likely adapted from the Scots-Irish "aplenty."

  • Some areas of Appalachia use the word "haint" for ghost or spirit, while the Scots-Irish use the word to refer to fairies or spirits.

  • There are also multiple markers in the pronunciations of letter sounds, such as the words "pin" and "pen" being pronounced the same, that reflect Scots-Irish influence.

advertisement for Novel Designs Co. Southern Collection of shirts featuring southern phrases

For a long time, I engaged in code switching - or alternating my language in conversations depending on who I was speaking to. My Appalachian-Southern was reserved for my family and friends that were also Appalachian, while I used my Northern-Customer-Service for everything else. This stemmed from (as much as I hate to admit it) embarrassment I felt by letting the teasing of others affect the way I felt about myself and my upbringing. But as I've grown - in age, confidence, and self acceptance - I can see the important of keeping my connection to my roots alive and continuing the culture of the way I was raised. Many Appalachians view the maintenance of their accent and dialect as something to generate pride and a way to preserve the heritage of a vibrant, dynamic, and consistently evolving region.

*For more information on Appalachian heritage and dialect, you can visit:



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