Hickory, NC

About the Site

Hickory, North Carolina is a quiet town in the piedmont of North Carolina about an hour and a half north of Charlotte. Its well-manicured parks and Friday evening downtown events make a comfortable environment for families with children. However, Hickory is not a stagnant town. Like the rest of North Carolina, it continues to develop and change.


Before heavy colonization, Iroquoian languages were spoken in the foothills of North Carolina. The name of the county, in fact, comes from the tribal name of a group of Native Americans called the Catawbans. During the 16th century, these Native American languages may have been joined by Spanish, as the Spanish did explore and set up forts in the piedmont of North Carolina. It is not certain whether or not these explorers were present in Catawba County. (See Multilingualism in the South: A Carolina Case Study by Blair A. Rudes for the source of information listed above.)

Although slaves and indentured servants brought languages with them to North Carolina, few reached the foothills of North Carolina. In fact, the area was considered so remote during the 17th century, that many Native Americans fled to the region to escape settlers (Rudes). The major population that settled the area would be of Scotch-Irish or German descent. (http://www.co.catawba.nc.us/misc/profile.asp).

However, Hickoryís reputation of being remote is far gone. Currently, Hickory is growing accustomed to a new identity as demographics have begun to shift in the region. One of our participants commented on the change: 'If you saw someone from Japan or something it was just, 'Wow, they're not from around here!' It's not that way anymore.' (Female Anglo Participant 1159 s-1169 s.) According to the 2000 US census 92.7% of Hickory, NC spoke English as their only language. This is a significant change from the 97.3% who spoke only English in the community in the 1990 US census. Of the remaining 6.3%, 4.25% speak Spanish, 2% speak an Asian language, and .88% speak an indo-European language that is not Spanish. The 1990 census showed that 1.13% of the population spoke Spanish, 1.1% spoke another indo-European language, and .41% spoke an Asian language. As of 2003 5% of the population was foreign-born, although their home-language was not assessed.

What is noticeable from these numbers is that there has been an increase in the number of Asian and Spanish language speakers in the community. The rise in Asian language speakers may be due, at least in part, to a Hmong resettlement program in the US whose goal was to remove this refugee population from large cities and relocate them to areas where more jobs were available. This information is available in the book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, as well as at hmongnet. The population has continued to grow, as evidenced by the fact that both Hickory Public Schools and Catawba County School employ both Spanish and Hmong interpreters.

The growth of the Hispanic population has been slightly behind the expansion found in other areas of the country over the last fifteen years. The first Hispanic food store opened in the community fifteen years ago, and since then Hispanic owned business has increased dramatically. Still, as this boom has occurred only in the last fifteen years, the durability of bilingualism is questionable. The first generation of US born bilinguals is just beginning to attend school, and already states a preference for English, as demonstrated by a survey completed of fifteen forth graders who attend the Hispanic Community Centerís after school program.

Research Questions

With recent inter- and intra-national migration of bilingual populations, we have the opportunity to explore how communities negotiate their identity within a town that is proud of their regional dialect. Will there be accommodation to local norms? Or will dialects show greater similarities to other US varieties of Hispanic English? In the process, we hope to learn more about the establishment of dialects in general.


Papers on English in Hickory, NC were presented at TALGS at ECU by Danica Cullinan, Mary Kohn, and Erin Callahan, as well as at SECOL by Danica Cullinan and Mary Kohn.