Neil Steinberg kindly attempts to correct a pronunciation pet peeve of mine, but I’ve got beef (h/t Beachwood Reporter).

“By the way, the ‘Appalachian’ in ‘Appalachian State’ rhymes with ‘latch,’ as opposed to ‘Appalachian Mountains,’ where the word rhymes with ‘nation,’ according to Jane Nicholson, director of university news, who adds that the upset will spread news of all things ASU, including how it is said.” 

Now, if you’re from the southern Appalachians, as I am, the word rhymes with “latch” no matter what you’re talking about. People from north of the Mason-Dixon–including the northern Appalachians–and elsewhere rhyme it with “nation,” no matter what they’re talking about, which I reckon is their business. In other words, it’s not a contextual difference, it’s a regional one. I’ve never heard anyone try to split the difference. Perhaps Yankees can say “Appa-latch-an State” out of courtesy and continue saying “Appa-lay-chan” or “Appa-lay-shun” out of tradition, but that’s just confusing for everyone.

To clarify, I e-mailed Jane Nicholson, who wrote:

“According to Webster’s (always a good source for pronunciations, unless you have the guidebook radio announcers used to use) Appalachian (defined as a white native or resident of the Appalachian Mtns) is pronounced Ap pa lay chi an. I don’t have the characters to reproduce the phonetic spelling. And the university has always been pronounced Appa LATCH un”

Frankly, this strikes me as capitulation. For a second opinion, I e-mailed my mom, who was part of the Appalachian Studies Program at Radford University for many years. She wrote: “The mountains and the region are not pronounced differently here [i.e., the southern and central Appalachians], but, rather, they are pronounced differently based on an insider-outsider distinction and north-south “thing,” both of which have very strong and strange effects that get into cultural, social, and psychological realms. To try to explain that little vowel change takes a deep knowledge of the history of the area.”

By way of explaining, she sent me a 2006 article from the Roanoke Times, which had the following takes.

From Anita Puckett, director of Virginia Tech’s Appalachian Studies Program: “Basically, ‘proper’ pronunciation is not the right way to talk about it,” Puckett said. ” ‘Culturally appropriate’ would be a better way to phrase it.”

Via “On the Naming of Appalachia,” a paper by David Walls published by Appalachian State University Press: Be that as it may, Wells’ research along with the Oxford English Dictionary’s entry suggests — to me at least — that early explorers said the word with a “latch.”

Via Maurice Brooks: Furthermore, if the word did indeed have American Indian origins, perhaps we should trust in the words of naturalist and Appalachian expert Maurice Brooks, who authored the 1965 book “The Appalachians.” Brooks is said to have taught his students that “no self-respecting Indian would use a long ‘a.’ “

And from Appalachia: A History by Appalachian State history prof John Alexander Williams: As if the varying boundaries weren’t enough, there is no fundamental agreement even about how to pronounce the word “Appalachia.” Residents of southern and central Appalachia pronounce the term with a short a (a) in the stressed third syllable; further north, the same a is given a long pronunciation (a), as in “Appal-ay-chia.” Most of the experts and bureaucrats who came from Washington and elsewhere to fix the region’s problems beginning in the 1960s adopted the northern pronunciation, while resident experts favor the southern—which led to a situation, according to one commentator, wherein “people who said Appalachia were perceived as outsiders who didn’t know what they were talking about but were more than willing to tell people from the mountains what to do and how they should do it.”[16] Finally, while a majority of both long and short a users crunch the third syllable as though it were spelled Appal-atch-yuh, in New England—where the term “Appalachian” first came into widespread use by nongeologists thanks to the Appalachian Mountain Club and the development of the Appalachian Trail—a variant pronunciation uses “sh” rather than “ch,” as in Appal-ay-shuh.

The insider-outsider difference is a very real one. When I was a student at the University of Chicago, I was stunned to hear a guest lecturer in environmental justice, from Notre Dame I believe, use the southern pronunciation. I assumed she’d picked it up from her work in West Virginia, since you don’t run across too many southerners in higher education up here. It turned out she was a Kentucky native.

So, actually . . . don’t follow Webster’s/Steinberg’s advice. Let’s agree to disagree, since there’s no “correct” pronunciation anyway. Just say it like a Yankee. The more northerners who pronounce it “Appa-latch-an,” the harder it’ll be for me to recognize fellow exiles.