Appalachian Dialect

RIP Michael Montgomery 1950-2019

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On July 24, 2019 Michael Montgomery passed away.

When it comes to the preservation of Appalachian culture and heritage Michael was one of my heroes. I dare say he did more for the study of Appalachian Language than anyone else has.

He is responsible for the “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” which sheds such a wonderful light on the colorful language of Appalachia. He also penned other books as well as essays and scholarly papers on the language of Appalachia.

I never met Michael, but I did have the opportunity to converse with him over the past year by email and greatly enjoyed it.

I’ve been wanting to write a post about Michael’s passing for the last two weeks, but couldn’t figure out exactly what I wanted to say. I flipped through the dictionary’s introduction pages and sifted through the website associated with the dictionary, yet nothing seemed right.

I finally decided to go back and read through all the emails he sent me. I started with the very first one and decided right away that’s what I wanted to share with you.


Howdy Tipper

You will no doubt recognize my name, but I want to assure you that I’m a real person.  Perhaps you have visited our recently relaunched Appalachian English website:

At the Meet the Hosts page you’ll see a not-terribly-new photo of me and read a bit about my life of scholarship. The site is eight to ten times the size of the original version, which was up from 2006 to 2017. Its centerpiece is more than ten hours of recordings recorded by Joseph Sargent Hall around the Smoky Mountains in 1939. Three or four of those speakers were born before the Civil War.

Perhaps even bigger news for you is that for the past decade I’ve been at work on an expanded version of the dictionary, one that will be 60 percent larger than the original one and will encompass parts of eight states. I am confident that the project is in its near-final stages, though I confess to saying that from before I can remember. I am also confident that the new publisher (Univ of South Carolina Press) will put out an ebook format of the dictionary searchable by you and all your readers.

How honored I am to see how you have made use of the 2004 dictionary. Joe Hall is smiling somewhere, too. At the website you’ll find a lengthy interview I recorded with him in 1990. Here’s what he said in recalling his early research back in the 1930s:

“I was glad to make a collection which would be available for scholars for years to come and to recover some idea of how people lived in this particular section, so beautiful and so productive in many ways, and with people so strong in character and women carrying their part.”

I’ve begun to read and draw citations from your blog, but understandably can barely begin sift the gold from all the comments.

Best regards, Michael

Reasons I decided to share the email with you in honor of Michael’s work:

  • If only everyone who studied and pontificated about Appalachia understood it the way Joe Hall did-what a quote!
  • The new website Michael mentions is a must visit for anyone interested in Appalachia. I will warn you…the website will draw you in so you may be there a while when you visit.
  • The last line of Michael’s email clearly shows we are doing important valuable work here on the Blind Pig and The Acorn. When we discuss the language of Appalachia we are documenting it for future generations.


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  • Reply
    August 20, 2019 at 10:14 pm

    This is such a fitting tribute and introduces us to wonderful new resources. He leaves a rich legacy.

  • Reply
    August 20, 2019 at 1:42 pm

    Sweet things to be thankful for and ponder over with expectation of good things to be made way for and come …

  • Reply
    Joe Mode
    August 20, 2019 at 10:36 am

    I hate to hear of Mr. Montgomery’s passing. I have been a champion of his work for years and do very much appreciate all that he did to preserve our Appalachian dialect and heritage. It is good to know that his work will live on. I only wish kids today were taught their native Appalachian dialect as readily as they are taught other foreign languages. Their native tongue and associated heritage should come first.

  • Reply
    aw griff
    August 20, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Many thanks to Michael Montgomery and especially to Tipper. Went over to the vocabulary test and got em all. Well, actually didn’t know 4 of them. Only got 10 out of 10 by process of elimination and guessing. Will be coming back to site later. Got much to do if I can stand the heat. Heat index today 105.

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    August 20, 2019 at 9:43 am

    I still search for the original first book…So sorry to hear of his passing. I reference the pages I am able to find that pertain to my families terms and dialect…Only a few may differ…
    So looking forward to the new expanded book.
    Thanks for posting,

  • Reply
    August 20, 2019 at 9:33 am

    My bad, because as much as I love everything about Appalachia, I was not familiar with Michael Montgomery. I appreciate all the time and effort he put into the book, and it was done just in time before any more of our heritage was lost. The book is pricey, so unfortunately many will not have access. Your blog adds so very much, and you can never know the contribution you actually add. I so very appreciate your diligence and hard work each day in celebrating and reminding many of us of almost forgotten words, sayings, food, and everything unique to Appalachia. Much like a great teacher you refer to his dictionary to explain and aid in our better understanding of every aspect of Appalachian culture.

    How many read and do not post? Thanks to you I do more thinking in everyday life about the uniqueness of our culture. My grandson and I were on the way to school to pay fees and obtain schedule. In the curse of the conversation I had said something about kids, “cutting a shine.” He asked me what that meant. I was even surprised at myself using the old term, but did explain it to him best I could. Hopefully through your effort and the efforts of people like Michael Montgomery we will not lose what we should treasure.

  • Reply
    Gayle Larson
    August 20, 2019 at 8:11 am

    I think I will take your advice and wait for a day I have nothing to do to go on his website. I know I will be there most of the day.
    Thanks for all you do to keep our heritage alive.

  • Reply
    Ron Stephens
    August 20, 2019 at 8:06 am

    I wish you two had been blessed to meet. I’m sure you wish it also. But the email shows you were kindred spirits, in love with Appalachia and its language.

    Gee, I would never have thought about BP&A used in classes but it makes perfect sense. What a great way to open a window into Appalachia. You can be proud you are serving in that way.

  • Reply
    Jim Casada
    August 20, 2019 at 7:40 am

    Tipper–Montgomery will be remembered as one of the “greats” of Appalachian studies and literature, right up there in the ranks of Loyal Jones, Cratis Williams, John Parris, Wilma Dykeman, and of course Joseph Hall.

    Like you I never met the man but we had numerous e-mail exchanges and some phone conversations, although his hearing difficulties made the latter rather tough. There was no denying his passion for his chosen subject of study or the depth of his commitment, although he could be a prickly pear and had some difficulties with publishers because of that.

    Your readers need to know that the University of South Carolina Press will not be publishing the planned update and expansion of his book. I won’t attempt to get into all the details, but he had fallen years behind his contractual submission deadline and in truth the subject area of the book lay somewhat outside that particular publisher’s areas of specialization. Also, the press has changed directors since the original contract was signed. The good news is that the woman with whom he was working (and who continues to operate the website) hopes to find a new publisher and is working valiantly to do so. Br’er Don and I have both offered her encouragement in that regard and Don has already given her quite a bit of insight on some to the transcriptions. She lives in Asheville and hopefully we will be able to meet with her in the near future.

    Appearance of the new volume would be a landmark occasion in Appalachian studies and a fitting memorial to Montgomery.

    Jim Casada

    • Reply
      Ed Karshner
      August 20, 2019 at 9:12 am

      Jim, thanks for the update. I’ve been waiting for the new addition and wondered where it was in the publishing cycle. I hope it gets picked up and can’t imagine it wouldn’t. The previous, out of print edition is going for over $200!

      It’s a valuable resource and needs to be out in the world.

  • Reply
    Carol Isler
    August 20, 2019 at 7:17 am

    Real nice tribute. I appreciate his and your work so much. Carol

  • Reply
    Ed Karshner
    August 20, 2019 at 7:14 am

    Tipper, that is so cool you corresponded with Dr. Montgomery. I met him once at the Appalachian Studies Conference in Blacksburg a few years ago. He was very impressive. But, so are you and your work. Birds of feather, you know?

    Your blog is a great resource. The “Reply” section is always a great conversation about Appalachian culture. I have my students read your blogs and the conversations that follow as a way to show the great diversity of ideas and language use in our region.

    Your blog is a great resource and champion for our region. I’m glad he recognized the importance of your work because he knew his stuff and he’s right!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    August 20, 2019 at 6:12 am

    That letter is beautiful high praise for the Blind Pig from Michael. I just love what he said. He was a great champion of Appalachia and he will be missed but his work will always be out there in that wonderful book he wrote.

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