The Knoxville News-Sentinel, Tenn.
Appalachian residents speak with a distinctive sound, one that has produced stereotypes of uneducated yokels reminiscent of The Beverly Hillbillies.
That is why the work of scholars studying the Appalachian dialect is important.
Far from disappearing, linguistics professor Walt Wolfram of North Carolina State University says regional accents and dialects are becoming stronger. Kirk Hazen, a West Virginia University linguist, said, though, that as people move around Appalachia, there is the danger of regional dialects being lost or assimilated.
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Amy D. Clark, a professor of English in southwestern Virginia, has conducted summer workshops for 15 years to help rural educators teach students to write effectively without embarrassing them about their speech. A similar theme is at work in teaching units involving dialect in North Carolina and West Virginia schools.
One technique is contrastive analysis in which students diagram sentences as they are spoken and compare them with formal written English. A middle school teacher who has worked with Clark has her students maintain journals recording how adults in their community change from formal to casual speech. Educators say that with this approach students can preserve the way they speak at home while improving their writing and formal English without feeling self-conscious about their dialect.
Supporters of the mountain culture in Appalachia believe a new confidence is taking shape with the younger generation. Wolfram said that some have rejected the negative stigma, others were "embracing it and turning that around into something positive."
This success should reinforce the research efforts and the teaching methods aimed at seeing Appalachian speech and culture as something to be respected, cherished and built upon. The results could tell us as much about our lifestyles and heritage as they do about our speech.