Why I’m Proud To Be An Appalachian


By Amber Robinson

It’s pronounced “App-uh-latch-un.”

This is a phrase I’ve had to replay for countless people. Yes, the rest of the world pronounces the word “App-uh-lay-shun,” but the people within the Appalachian region simply do not. Our dialect is a unique one, particularly when it comes to our name, which is the last thing mentioned in the etymology section of the Wikipedia article on us. The pronunciations of people outside the region are more important than the way its residents identify themselves, according to most dictionaries. There are a few consistent quirks. For example, long “I” sounds transform into “Ah,” extra syllables are added in, and words that were made up by the Scots and Irishmen as they settled the Appalachian Mountains are still in use. (For example, sigogglin, whimmydiddle, etc.).

I’ve lived in the Appalachian region for 18 years now, and I just finished my first semester of college. I chose a small liberal arts school in Southwestern Virginia—only an hour and a half away from my front door. I knew the area well, having visited the small town that felt like a big city compared to mine many times, and I was thrilled to finally move into my dorm and start classes.

At orientation, I met students from various regions of the United States with accents of all different kinds. Before I spoke, I was just like any other student—a wide-eyed enigma just waiting for someone to ask a question. When someone from a different region of the U.S. or another country altogether did speak to me, they usually mentioned something along the lines of loving the Appalachian Mountains. Well, the App-uh-lay-shun Mountains. The surest way to denote an outsider, a person who knows nothing of my home.

At this moment, I would speak up, just as I and all other Appalachians have done countless times before. “It’s pronounced App-uh-latch-un.” My cover was blown. I opened myself up to all the stereotypes that exist for Appalachians. Poor, dumb, hick. That was me. Forget that I was there on an honors scholarship. According to my accent, I just had to be unintelligent, right? You can’t possibly be a serious academic and retain your accent, or at least, that’s what others have told me. “Say it the right way this time. “I know you’re not dumb, but you just sound dumb when you talk like that.” Even my professors got in on the act, saying that their daughters had begun to pick up an accent and pronounce things “the wrong way” and that they tried to “correct them.”

The truth is that I actually got rid of my accent completely for two years. I corrected myself and said I would pronounce things just like everybody else in order to be on equal footing, but there were some pros and cons. I completely gave up my background, my heritage, the memory of those who came before me. The depths of the coal mines, the cries of the people who sold their land to become rich by giving their lives to the rise and fall of a mineral industry, and the slam of the back door that echoed in my voice were gone. Teachers asked where I was from when they otherwise would have known right away from just a few syllables. I felt proud that I gave up everything Appalachian, including my voice, because I thought I sounded more intelligent.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. My family asked why I wasn’t proud of my natural speech, proud of them, proud of who I was and where I came from. When I finally learned about my cultural heritage through participation in a local outdoor drama, I decided that my accent was fine just the way it was, and is. I shouldn’t have to change anything about myself just to be accepted. I vowed to stop calling my own speech patterns “wrong” simply because they have stereotypes attached. I’m more than my vowel sounds. My voice sounds like running through hills and valleys barefoot and watching the clouds roll by on a summer day, and that’s fine with me.

However, I shouldn’t need to prove my intelligence just because I have an accent. The use of the people of the Appalachian region as something to poke fun at on television and in the media has to stop. “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” and “Duck Dynasty” are not accurate representations of my home. We are not as far behind as the Wikipedia article about the Appalachian region makes us seem. I bathe regularly, own shoes, practice good grammar, use technology, and have intelligence. I’m more than a stereotype, and I will not change according to one.

I am an Appalachian.

About Amber

AmberRobinsonAmber Robinson is an endearingly awkward, somewhat musically talented student majoring in elementary special education. A native of the Appalachian region and a firm believer in the healing powers of sweet tea, she never misses an opportunity to cry at a sad movie or sit at her local coffee shop and write for hours on end.


View Comments (12)
  • Well said! I was a broadcast major that left the area some years ago…I was told over and over again to drop the accent, which I did for a short time…yet I eventually decided my long vowels defined me, not hindered me and chose a career off camera instead of on. To lose my accent was to lose me!

  • I fondly remember you telling the movies and news reporters that it was pronounced “App-uh-latch-uh” every time they said it wrong, even though you knew they didn’t hear you. It sounds like something you would write. It’s perf, Amber. :)

  • Great article. I know exactly what you mean…I attended E&H. I rid myself of my accent and traditions to try to fit in. One would think it would not be so at a school in the heart of Appalachia. It took a while to claimed back who I am, my dialect, my heritage. Today I see it is our mission to try to educate others about Appul Latch CHA and why we don’t need to change how we speak and who we are!

  • Try to keep in mind that just because someone pronounces it “appa-lay-shun” doesn’t mean he is looking down on you or anyone else. I have heard this argument many times but I really think it’s wrong to read so much about someone from how he or she says a word. Both pronunciations are correct and acceptable. It’s the way northerners are taught to say it, and I never tried to correct a southerner for pronouncing it differently than I do. Most of my family is from the Appalachian region, and I have never looked down on them. Correcting someone when it comes to this will only make you look like a snob.

  • Joined the Peace Corps and vividly remember sitting in a van in Paraguay with many of my fellow Americans saying, “Guys, it’s pronounced App-a-LATCH-un and I will genuinely start crying if we continue arguing about this.”

    Definitely proud of my Appalachian heritage and my Appalachian family!

  • You go girl! I went to college in St. Louis from sw Virginia. Everyone had to ask at least twice for me to repeat absolutely EVERYTHING that I said! I also tried to lose some of my accent, but my friends can tell you that after over 30yrs of being gone…I still have it! And have given up many years ago to try to lose it! I am proud of the beautiful place where I grew up and love to visit! You are wise beyond your years and I’m sure you will accomplish anything that you choose to do. Good Luck!!!

  • Thank you! I too am so tired of the stereotyping of the people of the Appalachian region. Yes, we DO know how to pronounce it. We live here, as did our ancestors. Just because we are willing to share the beauty of our region with others does not mean that we are going to change our speech or actions. That’s part of the beauty and pride of the people of Appalachia

  • I Totally understand where you are coming from! I was born in the Piedmont region of NC and moved to Florida as a baby where I learned to talk…so my accent was not a North Carolinian accent! At 10 we moved back to NC and we lived 13 miles from the Virginia border in a little town called Madison. I was made fun of because my accent was so different from theirs! I would lock myself in the bathroom and practice saying the obligatory ya’ll, aye reckon, over yonder, etc etc. until I had a southern accent down pat! Now, you would never know I had to learn to speak with a North Carolina drawl….I love my Appa-latch-un mountains and now live in Floyd Virginia a couple of miles from the Ridge…the Blue Ridge Parkway that is! Thanks for speakin up for us all! I appreciate you,R courage and tenacity! You go girl!

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