Jennifer (Nelson) Heinmiller, a 2003 graduate of Marysville High School, has co-edited a dictionary of southern Appalachian vernacular with Dr. Michael B. Montgomery, a Distinguished Professor Emeritus of English and Linguistics at the University of South Carolina.
“I got pulled in on the project when I was in grad school,” Heinmiller said. “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 was wanting to expand it.”
Heinmiller, who obtained her bachelor’s degree at Bowling Green State University and her Master of Arts in linguistics at the University of South Carolina-Columbia, joined the project and was named co-author.
Montgomery passed away in 2019.
“After he passed away, I spent a couple of years bringing the project to completion and publication,” she said.
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English,” which includes more than 10,000 entries drawn from more than 2,200 sources, was published by The University of North Carolina Press in June.
Heinmiller spent 13 years — Montgomery spent about 18 years — on developing the dictionary.
Heinmiller, 36, is a linguist for a financial technology company based in Manhattan, New York.
In addition to her linguistics background, she has a longtime connection to Appalachian culture.
“I was born in North Carolina, and I’ve lived in North Carolina (and) South Carolina, and my paternal grandfather is from east Tennessee, which is part of Appalachia,” she said. “My maternal grandparents — all of them — are from southeastern Ohio, which is kind of the northern stretch of Appalachia.”
Heinmiller hopes that readers will use the dictionary to connect with their Appalachian roots.
She added that she has “actually gotten 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 Appalachia and end stereotypes about the culture.
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” is a revised and expanded edition of the Weatherford Award–winning “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English,” which was published in 2005.
According to Berea College’s website, the Weatherford Awards are given by the institution and the Appalachian Studies Association every year.
“Weatherford Awards honor books that ‘best illuminate the challenges, personalities and unique qualities of the Appalachian South.’ The three categories recognized are fiction, nonfiction and poetry.”
The “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” was based on a body of work by Californian linguist Joseph Hall.
“He did a program with the United States government to go and document the language and culture of the people in the Smoky Mountains, right on the verge of the National Park being created,” Heinmiller explained.
During the 1930s, Hall filled field notebooks and conducted audio recordings to capture the vernacular of the Smoky Mountain people. With funding from the government, he compiled data about word usage and grammar.
“In the ’40s, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the phonetics of Smoky Mountain speech,” Heinmiller said.
The “Dictionary of Smoky Mountain English” also referenced various projects that stemmed from Hall’s research.
According to its synopsis, the “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” contains approximately 35,000 citations. About 1,600 of those examples are from letters written by Civil War soldiers and their family members. Another 4,000 are taken from regional oral history recordings.
Heinmiller said she and Montgomery also referenced novels, newspaper articles, magazine articles, scholarly journal publications and music.
“We looked at one diary from the 1700s,” she added.
Heinmiller and Montgomery aimed to make this volume “as accessible and appealing to as broad 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 being considered for the Dartmouth Medal of the American Library Association, which is awarded annually to “a reference work of outstanding quality and significance.”
The “Dictionary of Southern Appalachian English” is available in hardcover and e-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 mom, Kim Nelson, is a librarian.
Heinmiller also hosts a podcast based on the dictionary called “Appalachian Words,” which is available on popular platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts.
“I actually use the dictionary as the basis for the podcast, and each episode I have some kind of a 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. Then, I discuss some of the historical examples that we have, and I talk about the sources and years where each example came from and how it’s kind of woven into the broader fabric of Appalachian culture and then on a broader scale American culture.”
Additionally, Heinmiller has made guest appearances on “The Reckon Interview,” “Appalachia Meets World” and “Access Atlanta” podcasts.