MHS graduate publishes Appalachian dictionary

Jennifer (Nelson) Heinmiller, a 2003 graduate of Marysville High School, co-edited a Southern Appalachian Vernacular Dictionary with Dr. Michael B. Montgomery, Emeritus Professor Emeritus of English and Linguistics at the University from South Carolina.
“I was involved in the project when I was in graduate school,” said Heinmiller. “I was a research assistant to Dr Michael Montgomery, who sadly passed away a few years ago. He was working on the second edition of the “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” and he wanted to expand it. “
Heinmiller, who received his BA from Bowling Green State University and his MA in Linguistics from the University of South Carolina-Colombia, joined the project and was named co-author.
Montgomery died in 2019.
“After her passing, I spent a few years bringing the project to fruition and publishing it,” she said.
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English”, which includes over 10,000 entries from over 2,200 sources, was published by The University of North Carolina Press in June.
Heinmiller spent 13 years – Montgomery spent about 18 years – developing the dictionary.
Heinmiller, 36, is a linguist for a financial technology company based in Manhattan, New York.
In addition to her language training, she has a long-standing connection with the culture of the Appalachians.
“I was born in North Carolina and lived in North Carolina (and) South Carolina, and my paternal grandfather is from eastern Tennessee, which is part of the Appalachians,” he said. she declared. “My maternal grandparents – all of them – are from Southeast Ohio, which is sort of the northern part of the Appalachians.”
Heinmiller hopes readers will use the dictionary to connect with their Appalachian roots.
She added that she had “actually received a lot of emails from people with the most wonderful stories” about using the dictionary to understand the history of Appalachian phrases or cuisine.
She also hopes the dictionary will increase knowledge about the Appalachians and end stereotypes about the culture.
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” is a revised and expanded edition of the “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English”, which was published in 2005.
According to the Berea College website, the Weatherford Awards are presented annually by the institution and the Appalachian Studies Association.
“The Weatherford Awards recognize books that” best shed light on the challenges, personalities and unique qualities of the Southern Appalachian Mountains. ” The three recognized categories are fiction, non-fiction and poetry.
The “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” was based on a body of work by Californian linguist Joseph Hall.
“He carried out a program with the United States government to go and document the language and culture of the inhabitants of the Smoky Mountains, right on the verge of the creation of the national park,” explained Heinmiller.
During the 1930s, Hall filled out field notebooks and made audio recordings to capture the vernacular of the people of Smoky Mountain. With government funding, he compiled data on word usage and grammar.
“In the 1940s, he wrote his doctoral thesis on the phonetics of Smoky Mountain speech,” said Heinmiller.
The “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” also referred to various projects emerging from Hall’s research.
According to its synopsis, the “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” contains approximately 35,000 citations. About 1,600 of these examples come from letters written by Civil War soldiers and members of their families. 4,000 others are taken from regional oral history recordings.
Heinmiller said she and Montgomery also referred to novels, newspaper articles, magazine articles, scholarly journal publications and music.
“We looked at a newspaper from the 1700s,” she added.
Heinmiller and Montgomery aimed to make this volume “as accessible and appealing to as wide an audience as possible”.
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” serves as both a historical and academic dictionary with citations, definitions, and etymology.
The dictionary is under review for the American Library Association’s Dartmouth Medal, which is awarded annually to “a reference work of exceptional quality and significance.”
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” is available in hardcover and electronic edition through The University of North Carolina Press, Amazon, and Barnes & Noble. A copy of the dictionary is also available at the Marysville Public Library, where Heinmiller’s mother, Kim Nelson, is a librarian.
Heinmiller also hosts a dictionary-based podcast called “Appalachian Words,” available on popular platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
“I actually use the dictionary as the basis for the podcast, and each episode has some sort of theme,” she said. “Then I go through and pull a nice selection of words from the dictionary that relate to that theme, and I talk about the definition. Next, I discuss some of the historical examples that we have, and I talk about the sources and years that each example came from and how it is somehow woven into the larger fabric of Appalachian culture, and then to a more large scale in American culture.
In addition, Heinmiller has made appearances on “The Reckon Interview”, “Appalachia Meets World” and “Access Atlanta” podcasts.


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