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American Speech 75.4 (2000) 344-347

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Regional Complexities

Mapping the Ohio Valley:
South Midland, Lower North, or Appalachian?

Beverly Olson Flanigan, Ohio University


Although the Linguistic Atlas project is not quite as old as American Speech, both are landmarks in the study of variation in American English, and work continues apace in both. In recent years the traditional demarcation of the eastern United States dialect areas into North, North Midland, South Midland, and South has been the object of renewed analysis. Studies by Hartman (1966), Dakin (1971), Clark (1972), Hankey (1972), and Thomas (1996) of the upper Ohio River Valley; the papers in "Heartland" English (Frazer 1993); and a debate over boundaries conducted in American [End Page 344] Speech (Davis and Houck 1992, 1995; Frazer 1994; Johnson 1994) are only some examples of the renewed attention paid to the North Central, or "Midwestern," part of the country. Most controversial, perhaps, has been Carver's (1987) redrawing of the four basic regions into two, North and South, essentially divided by the Ohio River; the former North Midland was renamed the Lower North, and the South Midland became the Upper South. However, recent research suggests that the "Midland" is not merely a graded mix of North and South, nor is it simply a midway stage on a continuum from north to south (Davis and Houck 1992).

The South Midland, in particular, has received fresh scrutiny as distinctive from both North (including North Midland) and South, in large part because of its social and geographic distinctiveness. As Kurath and McDavid (1961, 18-19) acknowledged 40 years ago, it has no features "unique in themselves; all of them occur either in the North Midland or the South." However, they added, "the configuration of features is peculiar to the South Midland," blending Pennsylvanian and Southern features and graded from north to south. Moreover, it shares some of the features of the subregional variety called Appalachian English, a fact which led Dakin (1971) to speak of a "trans-Appalachian" region running diagonally down the mountain range and into the upland plateaus on both sides. Similarly, Johnson (1994) has described the South Midland as a transition zone with an Appalachian "core," from which and into which forms are diffusing along the margins of the mountain plateau.

Most of Ohio extends too far west of the mountains to be given this label, except in the southern part of the state. This area shares many features--lexical, phonological, and grammatical--with western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Kentucky, and southern Indiana and Illinois, though in different degrees as one moves from east to west in the state. Over the past several years research has been done on selected sites in southern Ohio by Ohio University faculty and students, including (from west to east) Chillicothe, Portsmouth, Ironton, Gallipolis, Athens County, and Perry County, with additional data collected from counties extending north of Marietta up the eastern fringe of the state to Canton and Youngstown. A comparison of this curved area of study with a topographical map of Ohio shows that it follows almost exactly the Appalachian Plateau; in fact, 29 of the 88 counties of Ohio, all in this southern and eastern region, have been officially designated part of the Appalachian Regional Commission for purposes of social and economic assistance, and our findings on the homogeneity of the region in terms of dialect features do not seem unrelated to this geographic and sociopolitical designation.

An exhaustive list of features cannot be given here, but a few representative samples may suffice. Vocabulary terms common throughout the [End Page 345] upper Ohio Valley include Beggars' Night 'Trick-or-Treat', blinds (on rollers), bucket, crawdad, eaves spouts (or gutters), lightning bug, mango 'green pepper', sack, skillet, spigot, and toboggan 'winter cap'. The use of mamaw and papaw for grandparents (or mawmaw and pawpaw, often reserved for great-grandparents) is still common, even in young people's speech. Using a quarter till for telling time and wait on for 'wait for (someone)' is standard practice.

Grammatical forms include the plural you all (not...


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