Inland Northern American English

This map shows, with red circles, the exact cities identified within the Inland North dialect region, according to Labov et al.'s (2006) ANAE.
This map shows the approximate extent of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, and thus the approximate area where the Inland North dialect predominates. Note that the region surrounding Erie, Pennsylvania, is excluded; the dialect spoken there more closely resembles that of Pittsburgh.

Inland Northern (American) English,[1] also known in the United States as the Inland North or Great Lakes dialect,[2] is an American English dialect spoken in a geographic band reaching from Central New York westward along the Erie Canal, through most of the U.S. Great Lakes region, to eastern Iowa. The most advanced Inland Northern accents are spoken in the cities of Chicago, Illinois; Milwaukee, Wisconsin; Detroit, Michigan; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York.[3] A geographic corridor that extends across a section of Illinois, reaching from Chicago into St. Louis, Missouri, has also been infiltrated by features of the Inland Northern accent, though not historically part of the Inland North dialect region.


The dialect region called the "Inland North" consists of western and central New York State (Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton, Jamestown, Fredonia, Olean); northern Ohio (Akron, Cleveland, Toledo); Michigan's Lower Peninsula (Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing); northern Indiana (Gary, South Bend); northern Illinois (Chicago, Rockford); southeastern Wisconsin (Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee); and, largely, northeastern Pennsylvania's Wyoming Valley/Coal Region (Scranton, Wilkes-Barre). This is the dialect spoken in part of America's chief industrial region, an area sometimes known as the Rust Belt.

Erie, Pennsylvania, though in the geographic area of the "Inland North," never underwent the Northern Cities Shift and now shares more features with Western Pennsylvania English. Meanwhile, in suburban areas, the dialect may be less pronounced, for example, native-born speakers in Kane, McHenry, Lake, DuPage, and Will Counties in Illinois may sound slightly different from speakers from Cook County and particularly those who grew up in Chicago. Many African-Americans in Detroit and other Northern cities are multidialectal and also or exclusively use African American Vernacular English rather than Inland Northern English, but some do use the Inland Northern dialect, as do almost all people in and around the city of Detroit who are not African Americans.


The dialect's origins lie in the early 19th century, when speakers around the Great Lakes began to pronounce the short 'a' sound (/æ/, as in "bat") as more of a diphthong with a starting point higher in the mouth, causing the same word to sound more like "bay-at". This development stayed largely stagnant for about a century, but around the 1960s, speakers began to use the newly opened space for the short 'o' sound (/ɒ/, as in "bot"), which then came to be pronounced with a tongue extended farther forward and sound more like "bat". Several more vowels proceeded in rapid succession, each filling in the space left by the last, and residents across the region are continuing to develop more and more features of the dialect.[4]

The unique short-a system of the Inland Northern dialect region remains today, having gradually spread westward throughout the Great Lakes cities, and no further developments occurred in the accent for about a century, until the 1960s, when this region's speakers began to use the newly opened vowel space (i.e., previously occupied by [æ]), for the short o vowel /ɒ/, as in bot, gosh, or lock, which then came to be pronounced with a tongue extended farther forward, making these words sound more like bat, gash, and lack. This vowel change was first reported in 1967, with several more vowels following suit in rapid succession, each filling in the space left by the last, including the backing of /ʌ/ (as in bug, luck, or pup), first reported in 1986;[5] altogether, this constitutes a chain shift of vowels, identified as such in 1972, and known by linguists as the Northern Cities Shift: the defining pattern of the Inland Northern accent. Residents across the region are continuing to develop more and more features of the dialect.[4]

The dialect's progression across the Midwest has, however, stopped at a general boundary line traveling through central Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois and then western Wisconsin, on the other sides of which speakers have continued to maintain their Midland and North Central accents. Sociolinguist William Labov theorizes that this separation reflects a political divide: Inland Northern speakers tend to be more politically liberal—and be perceived as such in controlled studies—than those of the other dialects, especially as Americans continue to self-segregate in residence based on ideological concerns. Paul Ryan, the 54th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives and vice presidential candidate running with Mitt Romney in 2012, is a rare example of a prominent Republican politician demonstrating features of the dialect.[4]


Phonology and phonetics

The monophthongs of Southern Michigan on a vowel chart, typical of the Northern cities vowel shift, though not to the extreme. Adapted from Hillenbrand (2003).[6]
The diphthongs of Southern Michigan on a vowel chart, adapted from Hillenbrand (2003).[6]
Based on Labov et al.; averaged F1/F2 means for speakers from the Inland North. Note that /æ/ is higher and fronter than /ɛ/, while /ʌ/ is more retracted than /ɑ/.

A Midwestern accent (which may refer to other dialectal accents as well), Chicago accent, or Great Lakes accent are all common names in the United States for the sound quality produced by speakers of this dialect. Many of the characteristics listed here are not necessarily unique to the region and are oftentimes found elsewhere in the Midwest.

  1. The first and most common stage of the shift is the raising, fronting, and "breaking" of /æ/ universally (i.e., every instance of the "short a," thus, in words like cat, trap, bath, staff, etc.), which therefore comes to be realized as a tensed diphthong of the type [eə] or [ɪə]; e.g. "naturally."
  2. The second stage is the fronting of /ɒ/, which in most American accents is [ɑ~ä], towards [a~æ]—in words like not, wasp, blah, and coupon ( [ˈkʰupan])—which occupies a place close to (but opener than) the former /æ/.
  3. In the third stage, /ɔː/ (in words like law, thought and all) lowers towards [ɑ] or [ɒ]; with Inland North speakers, this is more precisely [ɒ(ː)], since they front the Middle English /ɒ/ phoneme (e.g., in "rod") to [a], thus maintaining a distinction between words like cot [kʰat] and caught [kʰɒːt].[7] However, there is a definite scattering of Inland North speakers who are in a state of transition towards a cot–caught merger; this is particularly noticeable in northeastern Pennsylvania.[8][9]
  4. The fourth stage is the backing and lowering of /ɛ/, almost towards [ɐ].
  5. During the fifth stage, /ʌ/ (in words like cut, mud and luck) is backed in the mouth.
  6. In the sixth stage, /ɪ/ (in words like if, bib and pin) is lowered and backed, although it is kept distinct from /ɛ/ in all phonetic environments, so the pin–pen merger does not occur.


Note that not all of these are specific to the region.

Individual cities and regions also have their own vocabularies; for example:

Notable lifelong native speakers

See also


  1. Kortmann, Bernd, Kate Burridge, Rajend Mesthrie, Edgar W. Schneider and Clive Upton (eds) (2004). A Handbook of Varieties of English. Volume 1: Phonology, Volume 2: Morphology and Syntax. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. xvi.
  2. Garn-Nunn, Pamela G.; Lynn, James M. (2004). Calvert's Descriptive Phonetics. Thieme, p. 136.
  3. Gordon, Matthew J. (2004). "New York, Philadelphia, and other northern cities: phonology." Kortmann, Bernd, Kate Burridge, Rajend Mesthrie, Edgar W. Schneider and Clive Upton (eds). A Handbook of Varieties of English. Volume 1: Phonology, Volume 2: Morphology and Syntax. Berlin / New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 297.
  4. 1 2 3 Sedivy, Julie (March 28, 2012). "Votes and Vowels: A Changing Accent Shows How Language Parallels Politics". Discover. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  5. Labov, William (2008). "Yankee Cultural Imperialism and the Northern Cities Shift". PowerPoint presentation for paper given at Yale University, October 20, 2008. Online at University of Pennsylvania. Slide 94.
  6. 1 2 Hillenbrand, James M. (2003). "American English: Southern Michigan". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 33 (1): 122. doi:10.1017/S0025100303001221.
  7. Labov et al., Chapter 14, p. 189.
  8. Labov et al., p. 61.
  9. Herold, Ruth (1990). "Mechanisms of Merger: The Implementation and Distribution of the Low Back Merger in Eastern Pennsylvania." Ph.D. diss., Univ. of Pennsylvania.
  10. Labov et al. (2006), pp. 203-204.
  11. Labov et al. (2006), pp. 161.
  12. Labov et al. (2006), p. 187
  13. van den Doel, Rias (2006). How Friendly Are the Natives? An Evaluation of Native-Speaker Judgements of Foreign-Accented British and American English (PDF). Landelijke onderzoekschool taalwetenschap (Netherlands Graduate School of Linguistics). pp. 268–269.
  14. Chozick, Amy (December 28, 2015). "How Hillary Clinton Went Undercover to Examine Race in Education". The New York Times. Retrieved February 2, 2016.
  15. Gostin, Nick (2011). "Joan Cusack on 'Mars Needs Moms,' Raising Kids and Her Famous Brother". Parentdish (AOL Inc.)republished at
  16. Stein, Anne (2003). "The über-mayor: what's behind Daley's longevity". Christian Science Monitor.
  17. Wawzenek, Bryan. "10 Actors Who Always Show Up on the Best TV Shows." Diffuser.
  18. "Disturbed? not if you're David Draiman". Today. June 15, 2006. Retrieved April 5, 2016.
  19. Moser, Whet (March 29, 2012). "Where the Chicago Accent Comes From and How Politics is Changing It". Chicago Mag. Retrieved December 27, 2015.
  20. Dennis Farina, 'Law & Order' actor, dies at 69. NBC News. 2013.
  21. Desowitz, Bill (October 16, 2009). "'Fantastic Mr. Fox' Goes to London". Animation World Network. Retrieved January 7, 2016.
  22. "Dennis Franz". Encyclopædia Brittanica. 2014.
  23. Metcalf, Allan (2004). Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 156.
  24. Media Literacy: A Reader. Peter Lang. 2007. p. 55.
  25. Congressional Record, V. 150, Pt. 17, October 9 to November 17, 2004
  26. Brooks, Jake (2004). "Mr. Skin Invades Sundance". The New York Observer. Observer Media.
  27. McClelland, Edward (2013). Nothin' but Blue Skies. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 85.
  28. "Bush fears Moore because he speaks to the heart of America". The Independent (UK). 2004.
  29. Dominus, Susan (2009). "Suze Orman Is Having a Moment". The New York Times.
  30. AFP (October 14, 2014). "Iggy Pop's advice for young rockers". Sydney Morning Herald. Retrieved April 1, 2016.
  31. Landers, Peter (October 11, 2012). "Paul Ryan Sounds Radical to Linguists". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved January 24, 2016.
  32. "Michael Symon: 2007 winner of 'The Next Iron Chef'". Chicago Tribune. 2015.
  33. Maupin, Elizabeth (1997). "'Signs': Still Briming With Intelligent Life." Orlando Sentinel.


External links

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