Date of Award

12-1-2006

Document Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

English

First Advisor

Jeannine M. Fontaine, Ph.D.

Second Advisor

Gian S. Pagnucci, Ph.D.

Third Advisor

Mary Renck Jalongo, Ph.D.

Abstract

Many professional Appalachian women have built their careers in employment environments which expect the language of the academy—Standard American English (SAE). This expectation, along with societal beliefs that Appalachian English (AE), the native vernacular of these women, is an inferior language variety, has led many women to balance the two language varieties through bidialectism. This qualitative study explored the language attitudes of twelve professional Appalachian women, seeking a better understanding of their experiences and attitudes toward this bidialectism. Initial data collection included writing samples from each participant. These essays allowed the participants to share their views of their identity prior to the interviewing process. Three individual interviews were then held with each participant, focusing on the participants’ language history, their language experiences in the workplace, and their attitudes toward both SAE and AE. Following the series of individual interviews, a focus group met for a final discussion where six of the participants elaborated on their stories as they shared them with each other. Analysis of the collected data led to the following findings: participants believe that SAE holds professional promise, and they have made efforts to standardize their speech; participants take pride in their native variety and still exhibit, to varying degrees, linguistic characteristics of their vernacular; participants recognize AE as an integral part of their heritage and identity, yet value the role SAE has played in their lives; finally, many participants exhibit ambivalence about both SAE and AE. Participants reported that they were led to bidialectism through negative experiences which typically occurred during their first year in undergraduate school; most participants have experienced negative work experience in relation to their native vernacular, leaving them to perpetually strive for more standardization as their careers develop; the participants believe that bidialectism to varying degrees is a necessity in order to balance their membership in the two speech communities. These findings suggest that American society and especially the post-secondary academic community needs to recognize the valuable role the vernacular plays in the role of the individual as it strives to be inclusive and to embody diversity.

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