The “value” of dialect as object: The case of Appalachian English

Anita Puckett


This paper focuses on whether the concept of “speech variety” has value as a material-like “object” and whether academic research and outreach study a particular variety can “profit” both community residents using the variety and the academic community valuing the research on it. It examines these issues by exploring how economic processes of “valuation” apply to the discursive circulation of the proper noun Appalachian English and its logotype AE in communities using grammatical forms diagnostic of it. It draws upon ethnographic and interview data from southeastern Kentucky and southwest Virginia communities to argue that linguistic misrecognition of these forms constitute a redirected system of valuation that contradicts and undercuts the overt denotational function of Appalachian English in the academic or popular discursive contexts in which they appear. Examining the pragmatics and semantics of possessive pronoun construction, this paper further concludes that Appalachian English does not and cannot circulate as a valued noun in the existing verbal repertoire of the communities examined. What constitutes acceptable and authoritative knowledge instead becomes “stored” in Appalachian English so that its value is in its potential monopoly of knowledge sparingly distributed under specific protocols distributed by “professionals”.

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