Transcript 10: Down in the Holler

MEGAN: Welcome to the Vocal Fries Podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.

CARRIE: I’m Carrie Gillon

MEGAN: And I’m Megan Figueroa. We have one housekeeping item: another email. It’s our third email. We’re just gonna keep counting. That’s how exciting that is. And it’s from the Ivory Coast.

Hello Carrie and Megan, I was listening to your Freaky Friday episode today and you gave a shout out to the Ivory Coast. So I figured I’d say “hi” and introduce myself as your listener in the Ivory Coast.

MEGAN: Wait. We have more than one, right?

CARRIE: Unless she’s downloading 50 copies of each episode or something, yeah, no, she’s not the only one.

MEGAN: To each their own. If that’s what she’s doing. Back to the email.

You probably looked at your stats and thought ‘huh, that’s weird’.

CARRIE: Yeah, I did! That’s why I said it!

MEGAN: Yeah. That’s what Carrie did. Ok.

Anyways, I’ve listened to all but your most recent episode now, and I really enjoy them. I found out about you through Lingthusiasm.

MEGAN: Thank you, Lingthusiasm!

CARRIE: Thank you!


And I’m really glad you have a show about this topic since it’s once I’m passionate about too. Although I usually come at it from a different angle. I’m an English teacher and teacher trainer and linguicism – the term I usually use for linguistic discrimination, although I usually have to include a gloss, since it’s unfortunately not in common use yet – is one of the areas I’m passionate about. Especially how it intersects with race and gender. Within TESOL, Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages, there are a lot of linguistic discrimination issues that come up, both in the discrimination that English learners face, but also in hiring practices that favor native speakers over non-native English speaking teachers. If you’re looking for new areas to cover for future episodes, the linguicism faced by language learners and language teachers and the role that native speakerism plays in perpetuating standard language ideology seems very much connected to the type of things you talk about on the show. Earlier this year, I actually wrote an article about this. If you’re interested, it’s online here.

MEGAN: And we’ll link to it.

Anyways, I thought I’d say “hi” and let you know I appreciate what you’re doing and enjoying listening from here in the Ivory Coast.

MEGAN: Thank you very much, Riah!

CARRIE: I like how she adds the pronunciation for us.

MEGAN: Yes, like rye bread, I love it.

CARRIE: I love it too. Thank you so much for that.

MEGAN: Yeah, I have to do that with my dog. My dog’s name is Rilo [rye-lo]. But it’s spelled like “real-o”.

CARRIE: Yeah. It could be pronounced either way.

MEGAN: Especially if you’re a Spanish speaker, right? Cuz there’s no ‘I’ sound in Spanish.

CARRIE: Or basically any other European language.

MEGAN: True.

CARRIE: English is the odd one out.

MEGAN: Always.

CARRIE: I also want to point out that Riah’s suggestion was also given to me by one of my former students, Edward. So this is clearly a topic that needs to be discussed. And it’s not just about native vs. non-native, it’s also about which varieties are acceptable and which are not. So you could be, say, an English speaker from India and that would not be the kind of dialect that schools would want probably.

MEGAN: Right.

CARRIE: So: yeah! I do think we should talk about it. It’s on the list!

MEGAN: Isn’t the British accent favorable?

CARRIE: English, North American.

MEGAN: Oh it is?

CARRIE: It depends on the school, depends on location, but there definitely – a lot of schools want American or Canadian teachers over some other varieties.

MEGAN: Well this is definitely something we should talk about, since _I_ have a lot of questions about it. I’m sure other people do too! Cuz I think from Twitter, from what I can tell, we do have a lot of TESOL English teacher-type listeners.


MEGAN: Very exciting. Alright!

CARRIE: And today we’re gonna talk about Appalachian /æpəlɑʧn̩/ or Appalachian /æpəleɪʧn̩/ English and we’re gonna ask our guest how it’s actually pronounced.

MEGAN: Yes. He’s from Appalaycha-lahcha.

CARRIE: This kind of reminds me also of Copenhaygen-hahgen /koʊpn̩heɪgn̩hɑgn̩/ [CG: Copenhagen]. Apparently, everybody pronounces it incorrectly. The way that they mock us for pronouncing it incorrectly is saying Copenhaygen-hahgen /koʊpn̩heɪgn̩hɑgn̩/.

MEGAN: Ohhhh. That’s fun. It’s also like – thinking about Arizona – if you say Prescott /pɹɛskət/ vs. Press-cott /pɹɛskɑt/.


MEGAN: If someone says Press-cott /pɹɛskɑt/, you’re like, “oh, where are you from? It’s not Arizona.”

CARRIE: Speaking of that, there was an episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend where there was supposed to be a character from Prescott, and he pronounced it like Press-cott /pɹɛskɑt/!


CARRIE: And I was like, “nope! Nope.”

MEGAN: See. Ya gotta get an Arizonan in the room. That’s what that means.

CARRIE: Yeah. Or even just ask.

MEGAN: Yeah!

CARRIE: If it’s just one word, one name, you don’t have to have someone in the room.

MEGAN: That’s true.

CARRIE: But maybe you should make sure that you really know how to pronounce the place names. Cuz place names are the most variable, I would say.

MEGAN: Yes. Don’t think that the easy obvious spelling is actually how you pronounce it. Cuz Prescott is like pretty obvio- it looks like “Scott”. I got you. Alright. I’m going to introduce our guest. Dr. Paul Reed is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communicative Disorders at the University of Alabama. He researches phonetics and sociophonetics, sociolinguistics, speech perception and language processing and other aspects of Southern and Appalachian /æpəlɑʧn̩/ or Appalachian /æpəleɪʧn̩/ Englishes. We want to ask you, Paul, how do you say that?

PAUL: For us, it’s always Appalachian /æpəlɑʧn̩/.

MEGAN: It’s always Appalachian /æpəlɑʧn̩/.

PAUL: Yeah. Now granted, if you go a little further north, if you go past West Virginia, then you may get some /leʃn̩/ and stuff like that, but it’s a bit of those that – so, growing up, the reason it’s always /lɑʧn̩/ for us – so, during the war on poverty, the Appalachian Volunteers, the AVs, they came into our region and they wanted to help. And so this was usually college students, but they also came with a bit of a “we know how to fix you”. And so a lot of them had /leʃə/. So growing up, it was always a marker of an outsider, usually with a particular view of our region that said /leʃə/. So it’s kinda one of those shibboleths for certain areas of the region, especially in southern Appalachia, where it’s a little bit more – it’s more rural and the poverty was more widespread. It didn’t get so much of the effects of the war on poverty until much later.

MEGAN: Ok so. Appa-lachia /æpəlɑʧə/.

PAUL: Yes.


PAUL: We won’t kick you out or anything.

MEGAN: No, I mean I know. I’m sure it’s – I just do not want to signal that I think any less of anyone. But we’re so grateful for you to be talking with us today.

CARRIE: Yeah, thank you.

MEGAN: Thank you for being here.

PAUL: I’m thrilled to be here, thank you so much.

MEGAN: First off, I can put the two together and figure out what it is, but tell us what sociophonetics is.

PAUL: Sure. Sociophonetics is a branch of sociolinguistics. Sociolinguistics is looking at the intersection of language and social groupings, or language and society. Sociophonetics takes that and it brings it down to a phonetic level. It looks at how different groups of people, people with different identities, people from different areas, how they phonetically manipulate their production. Something as finely grained as how do your vowels change, the slight differences in consonant articulations, and things like that. It’s sort of this same kind of idea, but it’s done in a phonetic level. The only thing that makes it a little harder is – so, sometimes we want to exercise as much control over the stimuli or the recording as someone in a phonetics lab. But we also want the most natural speech possible. You try to use as much control as possible, in a way to – but at the same time, trying to get as natural. You try to move someone to the quietest room in their house, preferably with lots of curtains and carpets, and get away from things like fridges and air conditioners and stuff like that. And you might come up, and you hope for the best. I did have one recording – it’s funny, it’s a 94-year-old participant and she was great. But she was on an oxygen machine. We talked for a long time, but certain things I couldn’t do with her recording because – obviously I can’t ask her to turn that off. But I was able to use the qualitative stuff. It was one of those where I was like, “aw! So close!”

MEGAN: Isn’t it that the problem – well, I mean, not a problem – just like something to overcome a bit for all sociolinguists? The natural vs. are they – what is it called? speaker – when you’re there with them?

PAUL: Observer effect.

MEGAN: Yes. Yes, that.

PAUL: Yeah. That’s sort of an issue for everyone, but if someone – you could just unobtrusively set a recorder down, and people can forget about it. If you’ve miked them up and even if you – some people even put a mic connected to with the little over the ear thing, it’s harder to get them to forget about that, because they’re literally connected to. Although, the one thing – so, in my work, I was able to go back home. I was sitting across from people that knew me, that knew my parents, knew my grandparents. There was a bit of time where people just sort of forgot. Because they were sitting with someone they knew. They were sitting with Little Paul Reed, which, if you guys have ever seen me, that’s kinda a funny misnomer, cuz I’m about 6’8”. So it’s sort of – it’s kinda funny. Cuz everyone from my hometown calls me that, because my dad is Paul too, and he was Big Paul and I’m Little Paul. Even though I haven’t really been little for 20 years.

MEGAN: I’m guessing he’s shorter than you, too, at this point.

PAUL: Yes. He was about 6’4”.


PAUL: So he was big, he just didn’t wind up as big as his son did.

CARRIE: You’re like Little John.

PAUL: Exactly. Exactly, yes.

MEGAN: So then would you say then that you speak Appalachian English?

PAUL: Yes. Yeah, I would say that I’m definitely a native speaker.


CARRIE: One of the questions I have is: what are the boundaries for Appalachia vs. the rest of the South? And connected to that also is how is the language different from this region vs. the rest?

PAUL: That’s a great question. It’s always one of those that – so there’s the official designation of Appalachia, which is set forth by the Appalachia Regional Commission, a division of the federal government. There’s 410 counties over 13 states, stretching literally from about Jackson, Mississippi all the way up into western New York. People hear that and they’re like, “that’s huge!” But of course when most people think Appalachia, they don’t think all the way from Mississippi to New York. They think usually about – and we call it the core region. The whole state of West Virginia, southwest Virginia, eastern Kentucky, east Tennessee, western North Carolina, and a little bit, a smidge of the other states connecting. Northeast Alabama, north Georgia, maybe a little cut of South Carolina. That’s the core region and where people – that’s where the features are, there are more of them, that’s sort of the core region where people inside and outside the region would say, “that’s definitely Appalachia”. And as far as what differentiates it from the rest of the South, it’s really, honestly, most times, a quantitative rather than qualitative difference. Things like the Southern Vowel Shift, where you have the monophthongization of /i/. So in words like “price”, “pry” and “prize”, you’ll have monophthongization in all of those contexts at a much higher rate than in other areas. In large parts of the South, you’ll only get it in prevoiced and open syllables, so “prize”, “pry”. But in Appalachia, you’ll also get it in prevoiceless conditions, so “price”. And you’ll have it approaching categorical. There’s a lot of individual variation, which is what my work looked at. So that’s one of the features. But also, you have a few grammatical structures that occur more often or in more contexts. Things like double modals. That’s combinations like “might could” and “might should” “may can”.

MEGAN: Love that.

PAUL: You have those all over. “Might could” is pretty widespread. You get that from almost to Arizona all the way to-

MEGAN: I have it yeah.

PAUL: Yeah, all the way to the East Coast. But in Appalachia you have more of them in more conditions. I personally have “might could” “might can” “may can” “may could” “might should” “may should” “will can” “used to could” “used to would” “should oughta” “oughta should” “might should oughta”. And then I can also make questions. Things where – and this is where some of the work I’ve done starts to tease apart the difference between the core area and the periphery. When you make a question, usually you’ll take the second modal and move it. It’ll be like, “mmmm… should you might do this?” That’s the sort of typical way. Some people are just like, “no. That’s terrible. What are you doing, you’ve just butchered the language.” That’s sort of one of the things – being able to – all of the different combinations in a lot of different contexts. In more of them. And able to do things like form questions. Or where you put the negation, cuz you can say “might not should” or “might should not”. “Might couldn’t.” So how much contraction you allow and where you allow the negation to appear is sort of one of the features that starts to distinguish the region. Along with, of course, a lot of lexical items. This is where it gets fun. Because it’s a region with a lot creativity. People do a lot of things that aren’t necessarily completely unusual, but it’s very creative. I remember growing up, people would say things like, “man, he’s he workingest man I ever saw.” And you’ve basically added a superlative to “working”, which is interesting. And of course people can immediately parse what you mean. But it’s not necessarily something you’re gonna produce. And some other lexical items, there’s all sorts of terms for things. I was teaching this a couple of weeks ago to my students. Most of them are from the South, cuz we’re at the University of Alabama. Lot of people are from the South. One of my students is from northeast Alabama. In Appalachia. She said, “Dr. Reed, do you know all the words for ‘moonshine’?” I know some of them. So we started comparing the words we have for “moonshine”. So of course you’ve got “shine”, “moonshine”. This is my personal favorite: “Oh Be Joyful”.

CARRIE: That is great. I’ve never heard that before.

PAUL: So people will say, “you got any Oh Be Joyful?” That’s another one. One other – and this one I didn’t even realize until I was in graduate school. That not everyone uses this. It’s called the “alternative one”. It’s very common to say something like, “yeah, you know, we should probably do that Monday or Tuesday one.” In the sense of “one or the other”, but you put both options and then “one” after it and the interlocutor would understand “oh, you’re giving me a choice here.” But not everybody does that. I remember saying that to a friend of mine and got this blank look of “I don’t think I know what you mean.” There are some features that are not necessarily unique but they’re quantitatively different. There are some that are probably on the border of being qualitatively different, but it’s kinda hard to say because the borders are definitely sort of fuzzy. And the closer you get to the core, that core area that I was talking about, people will have more of them and in more contexts.

MEGAN: So then would you say that non-linguists, or people just listening to a Southern American English speaker and then an Appalachian English speaker, would they be able to tell the difference? Or you have to be more of a trained ear.

PAUL: You can tell the difference, but what you often get is somebody’ll say, “you sound REALLY Southern.” Or “you sound REALLY country.” Or for whatever reason people will also think you’re from Texas. So you get, “are you from Texas?” No. We Tennesseans, we saved Texas. The only reason that they’re – we saved them. When I lived in Texas, I made sure I brought that up as much as possible. Which was probably a faux pas, but it’s alright.

MEGAN: Ok. So their dialect is gonna be different from yours.

PAUL: There’s some – in east Texas, cuz there were a lot of people from the mid-South that went to Texas. East Texas, in and around Houston and a little further north, there were a lot of Tennesseans and eastern Kentuckians and those that went. So there are some similarities. It’s not completely off the wall, but it’s definitely something that’s shifted and morphed, cuz we’re talking about the 1830s and 1840s. There’s been a lot of change. But people will say things like, “you sound REALLY Southern.” That’s usually what you get. It’s not necessarily that they don’t recognize – they recognize there’s a difference, but they don’t really know what that difference is. Sometimes within the South, you may get the “country”. Somebody sounds really country. And that’s what you get a lot. Because in the South as a whole, there’s a big urban/rural divide. A lot of the cities have really grown in the last 50 years. The distinction between urban/rural has grown. You get a lot of that, “you sound really country, are you from the sticks?” or “Are you from the boonies?” That kind of stuff. There’s some notion that it’s not necessarily associated with urban areas. Very rarely does somebody say, “are you from Appalachia?” Usually you’ll get “are you country?” In a lot of people’s minds, it’s kind of the same thing. CARRIE: Also, mountain folk, right?

PAUL: Yes. You’ll get some mountain folk, but that’s usually from people very close to the region that live and they’ve been able to see that distinction. Even though, for example, where I went to college in Knoxville, Tennessee is considered part of Appalachia, very close by, people would know that “oh you’re from the mountains.” Knoxville’s in the valley, and within Appalachia, the valley and mountain or valley and ridge distinction is pretty salient. As Appalachia was settled, people settled in the valleys first. That was where there was better land, and you had people of a certain means, you could get some land in the bottom land along the rivers and valleys. If you came a little bit later, or if you didn’t have as many resources, you had to get higher and higher, cuz the land was cheaper. And so there’s a distinction. Even to this day, there’s a little bit between the valley and the ridge. My wife is from they valley and she’s not – we grew up maybe 50-60 miles apart. Not very far. But there are certain things that I say that she doesn’t say. Certain idioms and sayings, and sometimes the way that we say things is a little distinct. Which is kinda funny, cuz again, we’re both from east Tennessee, we’re not from that far apart. But there’s definitely some distinctions.


PAUL: I mean like anywhere, anywhere has distinctions. But in people’s minds, people are like, “oh, you’re both from east Tennessee, you’re both gonna sound the same.” No, not really.

MEGAN: Do you think people are picking up on the phonology, the lexical items, what is it that they’re picking up on when they say “are you from the boonies?” What is it that they’re picking up on?

PAUL: I think, the times it’s happened to me, it’s usually been a combination. When I’ve said something with my phonology, but it’s a saying or a grammatical structure that they’re not familiar with. Another time when I was in college, one of my teammates, he was – I played basketball – so he needed a ride to the airport. And I said, “sure man, I don’t care at all to take you.” He’s like, “ok, I’ll go with somebody else.” I’m like, “why would you do that? I just told you I’d take you.” “No you didn’t, you said you don’t care to take me.” And I said, “exactly. I don’t care at all. I’d love to take you.” He just gave me this blank look, that doesn’t compute, man. It was one of those – we had sort of a misunderstanding. I thought, with my intonation and facial expression, that he knew that I was gonna take him. Things like that. That’s when he was like, “you country people.” Which was a joke. My teammates would call me the mountain man, or Paul Bunyan. That’s sort of part of that, is it’s literally a joke. But there was something like that. I think a combination of the phonology and something that took a minute, there was a little bit of a miscommunication.

CARRIE: Yeah, I would have interpreted it the same way he did.

MEGAN: Yeah, me too.

PAUL: So if someone is from Appalachia, potentially other parts of the South, “I don’t care to” is not always negative. Especially with a “I don’t care to take you at all!”

CARRIE: That’s interesting. One of the things – one of the reasons we wanted to talk to you is because – whatshisname – JD Vance was back in the news.

PAUL: Yes.

CARRIE: Do you have any feelings towards his work?

PAUL: I have lots of feelings about JD Vance. Some of them will probably need to be edited slightly. No, I’m just kidding.

CARRIE: You can swear if you want. We swear on this.

MEGAN: We have an explicit rating.

PAUL: JD Vance is, he’s full of what makes the grass grow green in lots of ways. Because the main thing is is that if his autobiography were his own story, the story of a child from a broken home that got access to education, had some people that mentored him, and made good. He was able to attend some fine colleges and he did well for himself. If that were his book, then it would be great. But the fact that first and foremost, a 30 year old is writing an autobiography – and not an autobiography. He’s writing an elegy for an entire region. And a region, he didn’t grow up in. He’s from Ohio. He grew up in Ohio. He spent summers and he spent time back in Kentucky, but he did not grow up in the region. And trying to put his experiences, and the experiences of his mother, with all of her demons and all of her issues, as somehow indicative of an entire region – even if you’re looking at just the core region, you’re talking about 6 states. Millions of people. And basically saying, “hey, this is what they’re all like. They’re all fighting, and they’re all violent, and they’re all drug addicts.” That part is infuriating. Because that is the same trope that’s been going on for 150 years. In the period after the civil war, there was this kind of literature called Local Color. It was journalists from urban areas, like Baltimore and DC and other places, and they wanted to write about interesting places around the country. And because Appalachia wasn’t that far away, they would go, and they would seek out the people who were the most different. And so of course, it’s looking at people who were impoverished, people that were barely scraping by. They would write stories about them. And those stories would be very the same thing, how some people make good, some people are able to escape. But it’s the culture of poverty, it’s the culture of deprivation, it’s the culture of this. And that’s painting this brush. And even though people just up the holler from them are completely different, their reality is completely different, they paint everyone with the same brush. Some of these stories sold like wildfire. Because they were in Harper’s, they were in the Atlantic, and other things, so these magazines that we still have to this day, but they sold. It’s literally the exact same trope of it wasn’t drugs, it wasn’t opioids back then, but it was the moonshiners, and the impoverishment. Because they were Scotch-Irish, they liked to fight, cuz they were all clannish. And it’s stuff of just like – this is like a zombie trope. We just need to slay it and let it die. But it just won’t. That’s my biggest issue. Again, his story is incredible. What he faced and the way he was able to overcome it was very inspiring. But when you try to say that the way that you grew up is the way that everyone grows up and the demons that your parents, and his mother faced, are the same demons that everyone faces, that’s where it gets annoying. And then also the fact that he footnoted his own autobiography. You don’t footnote an autobiography. You’re not pointing out research when it’s about your own life. That’s the thing that’s irritating. And then the fact that he’s somehow become the voice of the region. And there are scholars that have been working in the region and are from the region that have been writing for 50 years, people like Dwight Billings at Kentucky, and people like Anita Puckett at Virginia Tech, Mimi Pickering at Appalshop. There’s just so many people that have written and told a story and a nuanced story and a complicated and complex story. But that doesn’t sell as much. And it’s – no one likes to hear “hey, it’s so difficult because you’ve got extractive industries, you’ve got poverty, you’ve got rampant capitalism.” And then you’ve got other things that – frankly the fact that JD Vance has become our voice just pisses most of us off. In a way that is – so I’m a member of the Appalachian Studies Association and I think he’s been invited at least twice now and has yet to appear. I don’t know if it’s just that he – if it’s one of those – he just can’t fit it into his busy schedule. Strangely enough he’s still able to be on other networks and stuff. But anyway. JD Vance is – he’s not – he’s irritating.

MEGAN: These tropes that he’s reinforcing, it wasn’t just – they were persisting before him. If feels just kinda like – he’s bringing it into a national spotlight even more. Is that true?

PAUL: Yeah.


CARRIE: And it’s keeping it – it’s still perpetuating now. Everyone goes and interviews all these Trump supporters from the particular region and it’s all the same kind of – or at least intersecting tropes. It just keeps happening.

PAUL: Yes.

MEGAN: Right.

PAUL: And again, people in certain parts of Appalachia, their lives haven’t changed in 50 years. They’re worse off than their grandparents were. Or on par. Because of stagnant wages and with the decline of coal and the decline of timbering and things like that, certain industries are dying. And it IS sad. But at the same time, that’s not everybody. Some of the stories and the way that they’re written are so patronizing. That’s the thing that’s irritating. It’s like, “oh, we’re gonna go find some of the towns in West Virginia that have been decimated.” Because once the coalmines closed, people had to leave. If they didn’t have a way to make any more income. So they did leave. So some of these towns are hurting, and hurting badly. But, that’s not everybody. You don’t see anyone rolling into Knoxville or to Chattanooga or to Asheville or to Lexington or other places that are thriving – Greenville, South Carolina, which is technically part – those cities are doing very well. And not just the cities, their suburbs, and you don’t get the stories from there of the successes that are going on. Or the thriving small towns that are making a difference. That’s the story that’s not told. And that part is sad and frustrating, because the region has been exploited for 300 years, particularly the last 150 years, and so much of its wealth and its beauty have left because of absentee ownership and other things that – it was almost – some writers have described it as an internal colony. Because so many of the resources were taken away and the riches produced weren’t reinvested back in the region. And there’s lots of reasons for that. The natural resources were taken but the people were not – they didn’t reap the benefits of that.

MEGAN: So do you think that that’s the biggest stereotype or misconception about people from the region is the impoverished kind of trope that’s –

PAUL: I think so. Normally – there’s kinda two big tropes. They’re sort of flip sides of each other, but you’ve got the degenerate hillbilly, poor, no shoes, no teeth. Shiftless, lazy. All of those. Then you also, on the flip side, sometimes when you say “Appalachia” people think tradition, it’s almost a positive thing, like “ooh, it’s pretty, traditional values” in some ways. So you get – sometimes there is some positive thing. They are obviously outweighed by the negative, but you can get this yin and this yang or this Janus idea of two sides. But if you were ever to google search “Appalachia”, and look at the images, for every 10 hillbillies there’s one “ooh, look how pretty”. Or you get these obviously all of the caricatures and stereotypes. So I think that that’s – the impoverished and the hillbilly, kinda go hand in hand. You do get some positive things, and those are – even in Vance’s book, he talked about the family togetherness and the independence. Some of those, even though as is portrayed in his book are negative, you can pull positive things from that. I guess I should – my small caveat, it’s not all negative in his book. Just mostly.

CARRIE: One of the words that you used in that discussion was “holler” which I definitely associate with Appalachia.

PAUL: Yes! Yes! I think it can be called a “hollow”, but if you say “hollow”, no one knows what you’re talking about. So it’s a “holler”. And it’s a – I don’t exactly know the strict definition of what a “holler” is. I can point some out to you but I don’t know.

CARRIE: I always interpret them as small valleys. But maybe I’m wrong.

PAUL: It’s a small, long valley that – usually there’s one way in but there’s land that’s arable and useable and people can live close or far. And usually as you’re going in, you’re going up too. So if you’re deep in a holler, you’re probably moving up the ridge.

CARRIE: Oh! That’s interesting.

MEGAN: It’s good that that was cleared up because I heard it and I was like “I don’t know what’s happening!”

CARRIE: The first time I ever heard the word was in – not Longmire. What’s that tv show about the federal agent. From Kentucky? Right? Tennessee?

PAUL: Justified?

CARRIE: Justified! The first time I ever heard that word, I think, was Justified. And I had to look it up.

PAUL: Yup. Now Justified is actually decent. I will say that’s a show that I can watch and reasonably enjoy. Obviously some of the bad guys are so over the top and it’s almost like, really? But for the most part it’s a reasonable display of the region. It’s obviously not perfect, but it’s pretty good. As far as-

MEGAN: What about the dialect?

PAUL: It’s decent. They did get a lot of extras from the region itself and so a lot of those are fairly good. Obviously, some of the stars aren’t necessarily from the region, so theirs is – most of the time, any time you get an actor and try to teach them, certain things’ll be really good. And then other things will be “meh”. It’s oftentimes like – the Southern accent just as a whole is hard, just because there’s a lot of nuance there. A really good version is Jude Law in Cold Mountain. A really terrible version is Jake Gyllenhaal in October Sky. I almost had to stop watching the movie. I’m like, “this is terrible.” Oh man. It was – he was giving it a decent try, but it’s like man. As linguists, we gotta do some more work. We gotta some work. Cuz it was not good. Not good at all.

CARRIE: What do you think people are judging when they judge you or other Appalachian speakers for their dialect?

PAUL: I think it’s two things. Obviously, first and foremost, you’re – we’re all raised in this culture, we’re all presented with these stereotypes, we’re presented with these ideas – because not everyone has experience with the region. And so just like most human things, we try to categorize. Based on what we’ve been told. If you are inundated with this idea of hillbilly and poor and backwards and Trump country to the nth degree, with a little sprinkling of very pretty and traditional and things like that. Which, some of those are even reinforced. I think that’s what we do, the same way that those of us who grew up in the region that may not have had any experience with New York or Boston or the Midwest, what do you have to default to, what have we absorbed from our culture. Some of that is positive about certain areas and some of it is also negative. Sadly for Appalachia, a lot of it is negative. We’re inundated with a lot of negativity, sprinkled with some positivity. But that’s what we default to cuz that’s the only thing we have. And of course we like black and white answers. We like good or not so good. But when something is complex and nuanced and there’s lots of gray and not just black and white that’s what people – so for example, people hear me sometimes, and they hear that I’m a PhD and I wear my shoes and I have my teeth, there’s some cognitive dissonance there, like, “what happened? Wait a minute, you’re not a blatant racist, or misogynist, or things like that. What do we do with that? And you’re not poor.” Not that I’m rich, but “you’re not dirt poor, living on a dirt floor.” It’s weird. I was on an athletic visit to New York City, and I was there and one of the guys was like, “hey man, so you’re from Tennessee!” And it was like, “yeah.” And he looked at me and said, “do you guys have phones there?”


PAUL: And I just kinda look at him and I said, “nope! We got two cans and a big long string.” But it was – granted, this is a guy that grew up in – I think he may have been from the Bronx – he had no notion. So the only thing that he had was the caricatures. And so he asked somebody literally in the year 2000 if they had phones. Which is obviously an absurd question. But it’s indicative of what did he – I was the first person from Tennessee that he knew that he had met. So what is he gonna do? He’s gonna default to what he’s been presented. And sadly that picture from a lot of pop culture and the cultural milieu is negative, and so that’s what he did. And of course back then I didn’t have any notion of how to answer this so I also proceeded to insult him about New York and thoity-thoid street and things like that. Again that was my first trip to New York so I had to default to my stereotypes too. That’s not my proudest moment, but that’s just being transparent.

CARRIE: Well sometimes when you’re put in these situations, you just don’t know how to respond.

PAUL: Exactly.

CARRIE: I wouldn’t have known.

PAUL: I was 17 so I really didn’t have a lot of world experience in how to navigate something like that. Although I will say I do have one funny story about a guy, a good friend of mine. He’s probably the smartest guy I know. He’s an agricultural engineer and he’s basically figured out ways for us to feed to the whole world, this is what he does. We were at this McDonald’s, we were on a trip and we were coming back from Saint Louis. I don’t really remember where we were. But we weren’t very close to home. My friend has a pretty pronounced Appalachian accent. He just lets it fly cuz that’s who he is and that’s who he wants to be. He ordered his food. And this guy behind him starts laughing. Then my friend turns around and says, “can I help you?” And the guy said, “what rock did you crawl out from under?”

CARRIE: Oh my god.

PAUL: And my buddy – he’s so funny, he’s so quick with this – I don’t know how – but he’s like, “let me ask you something. Do you know what an algorithm is?” And the guy’s like, “uh, no.” He said, “can you tell me what a derivative is?” And he’s like, “no.” He said, “I didn’t think so.” He said, “just cuz my mouth move slow, doesn’t mean my mind does. But apparently yours does.” And then he walked off. And it was kinda like – that was-


PAUL: Terrible and amazing at the same time. Both really insulted and then I’m like, “dude, that’s like the best comeback I’ve ever heard and how did you think of that?” And he just walks with his tray and sits down. He’s like, “*sigh* we get all kinds.” And it was funny cuz he was not really upset after that, and I was like, “wow.” But what did that guy – what was his stereotype. It was, if you hear someone talking like that, they’re from so far country, so deep in the country that they live under a rock. That’s what he defaulted to. It was a really just eye opening – it’s kinda like – I wanted to be his yes man but I didn’t really know what to say so I’m like, “YEAH.”


PAUL: That’s my friend!

CARRIE: Yeah. One of the things that I hear a lot is that people from the South and Appalachia, they talk lazy.

PAUL: Oh yes.

CARRIE: Can you explain why it’s not lazy.

PAUL: So it’s not lazy because no native speaker speaks lazily. It’s just sort of like that’s – it’s funny because what it is is typically Southern vowels – there’s this thing called the Southern drawl and what happens is some vowels get lengthened and they change a little bit over the articulation. So you get something like, “fri-end” /fɹeɛnd/. So what happens, is where most places would be “friend” /fɹɛnd/, that middle vowel stays roughly the same as you say it. But in the South it’ll change over time. Even though the speaking rate isn’t any different, you get the perception of more or longer because it’s changing over time. So when people get that, they’re like, “oh they talk slower.” And you get the rationale, because it’s hot. Because it’s humid. No one wants to move fast. But at the same time, when something is done slower you think, “why are they doing it slower?” They’re just not as fast or they have ability but they’re choosing not to. Typically, usually, stems from that. There’ve been some studies that look at speaking rate at various places and everyone speaks roughly, on the average, roughly the same speed. There are obviously fast speakers in the South and there are slow speakers in the South, same as there are fast speakers in the Midwest and there are slow speakers in the Midwest. Because of that perception, particularly the vowels, that usually – and then also the same thing, the canonical, the caricature, the monophthonization of “I”. That also gives you the percept of being longer, even though it’s the same amount of time, it gives you the percept of being longer for the opposite reason: you’re expecting it to change and it doesn’t. So you’re like, “oh, that person just isn’t raising their tongue because they are choosing not to because they’re lazy or it’s hot or humid or something.” I think that’s probably where it stems from. CARRIE: Thank you. I agree. It’s just good to have a phonetician actually explain it, rather than me. PAUL: You can always say, “you know, everyone speaks roughly the same rate. There are faster and slower people. But on the average, everyone’s roughly the same.” Cuz we’re still understandable, no one’s lazy. It’s not like it takes that much effort to move your tongue. We just have a different system.

CARRIE: Yeah. Thank you. Alright do we have any other questions, Megan?

MEGAN: I don’t think so. Do you have any last words or anything that you would really wish our listeners – which, I mean, we have listeners on the Ivory Coast, so. PAUL: Yeah!

MEGAN: Anything you would want them to know about the region or about the dialect?

PAUL: Sure. It’s a region that is – it’s very complex. It’s one of those that are – there are some of the greatest people. There are some traditions that are still maintained. There’s a lot of complexity. It’s a region that’s very beautiful. I am completely biased in that assessment, but I’m ok with that. It’s beautiful, the people are some of the finest people you could meet. The language is – it’s creative, it’s playful. It’s a way that people have connections to their roots. Because of the idioms, some of the stories. The Jack Tales. The creativity of the language evokes an earlier time. Even though it’s a completely modern instantiation of the language, it does have some evocative features of an earlier time. But it is – it’s awesome. It’s glorious. Please come. See it. Meet people, shake their hands, hear their stories. Make your own opinion. Don’t listen to everyone in the media. Make your own opinion.

CARRIE: Can I ask you what a Jack story is? PAUL: Oh so a Jack Tale. Like Jack and the Beanstalk.


PAUL: Where it’s about Jack and normally Jack is little scamp. He gets into mischief and finds his way – usually through his own intuition, finds his way out. That’s the most famous version of Jack and the Beanstalk. But there are all of these Jack Tales that everyone hears growing up. Every holler and pocket and region has their own variations on the Jack Tales. That’s one of the other stereotypes, is that Appalachians are storytellers. Which, that one is pretty true. I know lots of people and they can tell some really good stories. I guess we’ll accept that one. It’s tales about Jack. He usually gets in some kind of trouble and figures his way out. There’s mixes of magic and fantasy and stuff. But some of them are also very down to earth. He’s supposed to go do something and decides not to and how is he gonna make it up to his parents. Some things like that. Some thing that can be magic beans that grow up to this giant thing in the sky to he went to the swimming hole rather than doing his chores, something like that.

CARRIE: That’s cool. Ok, thank you so much!

PAUL: Thank you all very much. This was great.

MEGAN: Thank you so so much.

CARRIE: Yeah, this was really great.

MEGAN: It was. I learned everything. Cuz again I had lived in Arizona my entire life. So I have not been to Appalachia.

PAUL: Well you are more than welcome to-

MEGAN: I look forward to it.

PAUL: We can send you an Appalachian card, so that way you’re accepted as one of our own.

MEGAN: Yes! Well I say Appalachia /æpəlɑʧə/.

PAUL: Yes. You are in. You’re in.


CARRIE: I have been to Nashville, at least.

PAUL: There you go. Nice. Nice.

CARRIE: It was really nice!

PAUL: Go get some hot chicken.

CARRIE: I didn’t eat any hot chicken. I did buy some hot chicken spice though, so I can make it on my non-chicken food.

PAUL: Oh there you go. There you go.

MEGAN: We always end our show with our tagline, which is: Don’t be an asshole! Because that is the message – if you haven’t heard it.

CARRIE: Yeah. Do not be an asshole!

PAUL: Right!

MEGAN: Thank you so much.

PAUL: Thanks guys.

CARRIE: Thanks again.

PAUL: You’re welcome, thank you.


CARRIE: K, bye!

MUSIC: O’ be joyful Is that what you’re brewing Does your daddy know that’s what you’re doing His little girl’s got a reputation out for ruin She was givin’ them the country away Machete in the tree stub, hound dog on the chain Wooden-legged woman playin’ a banjo in the rain. Can’t recall the tune but the song’s always the same “Jesus give me strength” But babe, it’s alright I’m gonna wrap you up tonight, Carry you out right on time

CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Theme music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at

Author: vocalfriespod

The podcast about linguistic discrimination. Carrie and Megan teach you how not to be an accidental asshole.

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