Encyclopedia of Appalachia
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Appalachian English and Ozark English

Although separated by several hundred miles, Appalachian English and Ozark English have long shared a close association in descriptions of language in the southern highlands. Writers have often assumed that the dialects of the two regions are similar because most of the original settlers of the Ozarks came from the southern Appalachians. Although precise origins are difficult to determine, nineteenth-century census records indicate that natives of Tennessee and Kentucky were especially numerous among early residents of the Ozarks, and recent linguistic analyses have indeed confirmed that Ozark English and Appalachian English are very closely related varieties.

Early treatments of Ozark English, similar to those of Appalachian English, focused on the supposed archaic quality of the region's dialects. As early as the 1890s, writers linked the regions in articles about the survival of Shakespearean or Elizabethan English.

The earliest systematic linguistic description of any part of the Ozark region appears in Rachel B. Faries's A Word Geography of Missouri (1967), which compares folk vocabulary collected in Missouri with that compiled in Hans Kurath's Word Geography of the Eastern United States (1949). The study is limited to vocabulary, and the Ozark portion is confined to southwestern Missouri, but Faries's work suggests that the Ozarks are an extension of Kurath's South Midland speech area, a dialect region strongly associated with Appalachian English. South Midland terms common in the Missouri Ozarks include red-worm "earthworm"; brute and male brute "bull"; salat "greens"; johnny house "privy"; turn "amount," as in "A turn of corn is the amount you would take to a mill"; middlins and middlin meat "salt pork (the side of bacon)"; tow sack "burlap bag"; and fireboard "mantel."

In his American Regional Dialects: A Word Geography (1987), Craig Carver suggests that a truly close relationship between Appalachian English and Ozark English folk vocabulary is limited to the Arkansas portion of the Ozarks. Some characteristic terms include brickle "brittle"; bull tongue "plow"; the preposition fernent "near to," "against," or "opposite"; goober pea "peanut"; jarfly "cicada"; and redeye gravy.

More comprehensive studies, the Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States (1986–92) and Variation and Change in Geographically Isolated Communities: Appalachian English and Ozark English (1988), have disclosed overall similarities beyond vocabulary and indicate significant phonological and grammatical links between the two dialects. Ozark English seems to be closely related to dialects in the eastern half of Tennessee but not to the dialects of western Tennessee and eastern Arkansas.

Appalachian English and Ozark English share features that set these dialects apart from other varieties of American English. Characteristic pronunciations include ghostes, th'owed, and potater, as well as oncet "once," idn't "isn't," hit "it," and far "fire." Grammatical features include a- prefixing, as in "I'm a-goin' home"; completive done, as in "He's done been here"; double modal helping verbs, as in "might could"; liketa, as in "He liketa died"; positive anymore, as in "He works there anymore"; and present-tense agreement of plural noun subjects with is or verbs with the suffix -s, as in "people is," "people likes," "my two brothers lives," and "schools has." There are indications that some features may be declining more rapidly in Ozark English than in Appalachian English.

The dialects in southern Appalachia and in the Ozarks are closely related; however, this does not indicate that there is one Mountain dialect, with Ozark English a simple extension of Appalachian English. A more realistic view is that they are two relatively conservative descendants of a single dialect that was developing in the southern Appalachians during the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and was carried by migrating settlers westward into the Ozarks, where it has developed independently since the nineteenth century. See also: APPALACHIAN ENGLISH IN THE URBAN NORTH; ATTITUDES TOWARD APPALACHIAN ENGLISH.

—Michael Ellis, Southwest Missouri State University Donna Christian, Walt Wolfram, and Nanjo Dube, Variation and Change in Geographically Isolated Communities: Appalachian English and Ozark English (1988); Lee Pederson et al., eds., Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States (1986–92).

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