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.
Amber 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.