Appalachian Dialect

Notes from Joseph Hall’s Early Fieldwork


Photo by NPS Archives

“From my first days in the Smokies I listened carefully to all native people I met and noted down expressions that they used. [D]uring my first summer in the Smokies in 1937 I filled four secretarial notebooks with jottings from daily speech and notes from interviews. When I returned to the area in 1939 with Columbia’s blessing and an appointment as Collaborator, I proceeded to fill more and larger notebooks, and these plus those I made until 1972 as a private citizen gave me about 1,500 pages of material. Second to the notebooks were the phonographic recordings. . . . The topics of the recordings were anything the informant wished to talk about. Men talked about their farm, their crops, their cattle, and hunting. Women liked to tell recipes or talk about their interest in weaving and quilting and the like. . .  . Most people were polite and cooperative and could see that the recordings were made for study and preservation as a historical record of aspects of Smokes life. A few speakers declined the microphone, not wishing “to be made light of.” They were sensitive to “furriners” coming in to make fun of them.”

Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English

For more information about Joseph Hall visit this post: Joseph S. Hall and Swain County.


The saying make light of is still alive and well in the mountains of North Carolina. You can go here to read a post I did about the phrase a few years back. The word furriners is also still well used in my neck of the woods.


Appalachian Cooking Class details

Come cook with me!

Location: John C. Campbell Folk School – Brasstown, NC
Date: Sunday, June 23 – Saturday, June 29, 2019
Instructors: Carolyn Anderson, Tipper Pressley

Experience the traditional Appalachian method of cooking, putting up, and preserving the bounty from nature’s garden. Receive hands-on training to make and process a variety of jellies, jams, and pickles for winter eating. You’ll also learn the importance of dessert in Appalachian culture and discover how to easily make the fanciest of traditional cakes. Completing this week of cultural foods, a day of bread making will produce biscuits and cornbread. All levels welcome.

Along with all that goodness Carolyn and I have planned a couple of field trips to allow students to see how local folks produce food for their families. The Folk School offers scholarships you can go here to find out more about them. For the rest of the class details go here.

Subscribe for FREE and get a daily dose of Appalachia in your inbox

You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    April 25, 2019 at 5:48 am

    The word foreign/foreigner is used quite a bit in the Old Testament, God had specific rules for his people when it came to mixing and mingling among a people of a foreign Nation, a lot had to do with pagan teaching creeping in to influence his people and tearing their devotion to him away, we know from study how that went on several occasions, hmmm, sounds familiar in today’s society.

  • Reply
    Larry Proffitt
    April 24, 2019 at 12:35 pm

    Tipper, Thanks for another great post. I love the history of our region. Thanks for the links also. I tead Jim Casada’s post on Hall’s work as well.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    April 24, 2019 at 11:45 am

    I remember visiting North Carolina before the Navy sent me to Japan the second time. An aunt asked me, “How are you gonna live amongst all them furriners?”
    I explained to her that it was their home and that I would be the foreigner (Gaijin).
    She replied, “Well, I couldn’t live there. I don’t see how you can talk their talk, sounds like younguns talking that pig talk.”

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    April 24, 2019 at 10:04 am

    Tipper–Joe Hall enjoyed such success in interviewing and recording mountain people for simple reasons–he didn’t pretend to be better than them, he didn’t talk down or look down on them, he took them and their culture at face value, and he did his level best to integrate himself into mountain society. In that regard he stands in sharp contrast with many other “furriners” who sensationalized, stereotyped, derided, and in general misrepresented those who called the highlands their homelands. Horace Kephart’s “Our Southern Highlanders” was perhaps the most egregious example, but others such as Margaret Morley was also guilty. The practice, alas, continues to the present day. Thankfully both ordinary folks and scholars have, increasingly, begun to push back.

    Meanwhile, we have Joe Hall as a stellar example of an outlander who did his level best, and with great success, to fit into mountain ways.

    Jim Casada

  • Reply
    April 24, 2019 at 9:30 am

    I have heard and used “made light of.” I remember hearing “furriners” when I was growing up mostly down South and I can absolutely understand John Hall’s speakers being very sensitive to having there voices recorded by a furriner. lol When I think of that dialect, it is precious to me because of the loved ones I heard speaking it daily.

  • Reply
    April 24, 2019 at 9:02 am

    We say “to make light of” as a way to describe making a situation less important. My pilot friend was highly offended when another pilot from TN referred to him as a furriner. He is from Germany but knew what the word meant.

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    April 24, 2019 at 8:42 am

    People in the mountains are high minded while those of lesser elevations are lowlifes – geographically speaking that is!

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    April 24, 2019 at 8:23 am

    The phrase “made light of” is in Matthew 22:5 in the King James and I expect is the source. I have to wonder what had happened in the lives of those who said it that caused them to be concerned. Judging by the cooperation he generally got, I doubt it was distrust of Mr. Hall but rather something or someone else previous. There were those ‘furriners’ that came to ‘fix’ us and the attitude is not entirely dead yet in some circles.

    I learned in life that one of the worst things one can do is to be a stranger and bad mouth the country and the people. I learned it from my own reaction to listening to others do it. Might as well go to somebody’s home and tell them you hate it, that it is ugly and the neighborhood terrible. As Tom Sawyer said, “Hello yourself and see how you like it. You started it.”

    The cooperation he mostly got sounds just like what I would expect. Somehow I think Mr. Hall showed himself to be genuinely caring and considerate which is enough.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    April 24, 2019 at 7:54 am

    I think make light of and furriners are used everywhere. I think I have heard them used in the last week. I know I used make light of yesterday.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    April 24, 2019 at 7:28 am

    I love the language of different areas around the US. My favorite is the soft speech of the Appalachian Mountains. It is so pleasing

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    April 24, 2019 at 7:25 am

    And the furriners still make fun of the way we talk! I wonder how Mr Hall powered the recording equipment in the back of his truck. Perhaps a generator of some kind.

  • Leave a Reply