Those of us who have the incredible opportunity to enjoy the Appalachian Mountains year-round have just completed another busy tourism season and the arrival of cold temperatures generally means the departure of many of the flat-landers who are now safely returned to their distant cities somewhere beyond the Blue Ridge.
However, a handful of these visitors, each year, fall so in love with our communities, affordable land prices and precious mountain charm that they make the incredible decision to forsake everything and move to the mountains of Appalachia.
And though we certainly sympathize with any person wishing to make our home their home, we, collectively, feel that it’s probably time someone politely lets you in on a little secret: You’ve been mispronouncing our name!
Though, in all honesty, it sounds like nails on a chalkboard each time we hear, for the most part, we’ve done pretty well at overlooking your error, but now that you live here, it’s probably time you start saying it right!
Despite the fact that, “everyone pronounces it ‘Appa-LAY-shuh'” where you come from means nothing, and here’s why:
The word Appalachia can be traced back to a tribe of Native Americans living in northern Florida during the early-1500s.
The Spaniards in their never ending quest for gold made contact with the Indians and soon overstayed their welcome, harassing the Indians, begging for knowledge of where gold could be found.
Growing short in patience, the tribe pointed north and told their new found friends to keep going until they got to the mountains… there, they said, would be the gold the Spanish so longed to find.
That Indian nation’s name was “Apalachen” and when the Spaniards finally reached the mountains of what is now Carolina / North Georgia, they named the mountains, “the Apalachen Mountains”, referencing the Florida natives who first told the explorers of the mountains.
Now spelled “Appalachian”, it is the fourth oldest surviving European place-name in the U.S.
But is it “Appa-LAY-shuh” or is it “Appa-LATCH-uh”?
Actually, this is a very easy question to answer. The mountains should be pronounced “Appa-LATCH-uh” and here’s why:
Typically speaking, use of a long a (ā) sound in nearly all Native American languages is almost non-existent – particularly in the southeast – including the now extinct Muskogean language spoken by the Apalachen people, for whom the mountains were named.
So if the “Appalachian” tribe for whom the mountains were named did not have a long a sound in their language, then Appalachian’s Mountains would not either… meaning that the correct pronunciation is “Appa-LATCH-uh”.
Furthermore, the Florida-panhandle community of “Apalachicola”, home of the original Apalachen people, is pronounced with a soft a and “latch” sound and everyone, even those who insist on saying “Appa-LAY-shuh” seem to have no problem in getting this one right… even though it’s rooted in the exact same word!
I say all of this not so much for my benefit, but more for the benefit of anyone who may have “transplanted” here or has a desire not to be viewed with total disdain while visiting.
For the majority of the people who live in Southern Appalachia, the only people ever heard using the alternative pronunciation haven’t generally been friendly – therefore you’re not going to win any friends or influence people talking like that.
Perhaps Sharyn McCrumb summed it up best, “Appa-LAY-shuh is the pronunciation of condescension, the pronunciation of the imperialists, the people who do not want to be associated with the place and the pronunciation Appa-LATCH-uh means that you are on the side that we trust.”
Regardless of how you pronounced it in Pennsylvania or Vermont, when you’re here, if you don’t want to instantly lose all credibility with your audience, you had better learn to pronounce these hills properly, or someone just might throw an “apple at cha”!
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