Graham County, NC

About the Site

The Snowbird Cherokee community in the Great Smoky Mountains comprises five percent of Graham County, North Carolina's 7000-member bi-ethnic population. Our study currently centers on investigation of the language contact situation between the Cherokee and the neighboring European-American Appalachian, who have been in close contact with each other for at least two hundred years. Appalachian whites of the area speak a Southern Highland variety of English. The Snowbird Cherokee primarily spoke their ancestral language of Cherokee until early in the twentieth century when a shift toward bilingualism began.

Snowbird Cherokees are unique among Native American groups in North Carolina because the rugged terrain and depressed economy of the county in which their community is situated have served to protect them from the tourism that affects other Native American reservations. Therefore, Snowbird is considered the most traditional Cherokee community in western North Carolina. Snowbird maintains a large percentage of native Cherokee speakers, as well as the continuation of cultural traditions. Practically all middle-aged and older members of the community are bilingual in Cherokee and English. Eighty-five percent of Graham County consists of undeveloped forests, some of which are among the only virgin forests east of the Mississippi.

We have set up and conducted sociolinguistic interviews with over sixty Cherokee English speakers in the area. We have also conducted interviews with thirty-six members of the European-American population of Graham County.


Graham County Map


For more information about the area, see:

Graham County Chamber of Information Site:

Graham County Travel/Tourism:

Research Questions

Investigations of Native American varieties of English are important for several reasons. Such language varieties offer unique insights into the sociolinguistic dimensions of language contact situations. More specifically, an investigation of how these groups use features adopted from local, non-Native American contact communities, while at the same time maintaining features unique to the Native American English variety, such as those which have developed as a result of source-to-target language transfer, is particularly diagnostic of how these groups situate themselves with respect to both non-Native American and other Native American groups. Although some Southwestern varieties of Native American English have been studied, comparable situations in the eastern United States have received little attention from the linguistic research community.


Allen, Michele. (2007). The role of code-switching in language maintenance and shift: The case of Cherokee Adolescents. MA Thesis. North Carolina State University.

Anderson, Bridget L. Source-language transfer and vowel accomodation in the patterning of Cherokee English /ai/ and /oi/. American Speech 74.4 (1999):339-368.

Anderson, Bridget L. Adaptive sociophonetic strategies and dialect accommodation: /ay/ monophthongization in Cherokee English. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 4(1): 185-202.

Coggshall, Elizabeth (2006), Differential Vowel Accommodation among two Native American Groups. M.A. thesis, North Carolina State University

Guilick, J. (1958). Language and Passive Resistance among the Eastern Cherokees. Ethnohistory, 5(1), 60.

Herman, David. Stories as a Tool for Thinking. In Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences. Ed. David Herman.

Pragmatic Constraints on Narrative Processing: Actants and Anaphora Resolution in a Corpus of North Carolina Ghost Stories. Journal of Pragmatics 32.6 (2000): 959-1001.

Principles and Parameters of Story Logic: Steps toward a Transmedial Narratology. Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Ed. Marie-Laure Ryan. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press.

Spatial Reference in Narrative Domains. TEXT 21.4 (2001): 515-541.

Wetzell, W. Brett (2000), Rhythm, Dialects, and the Southern Drawl. M.A. thesis, North Carolina State University.