North American English regional phonology

North American English regional phonology is the study of variations in the pronunciation of spoken English by the inhabitants of various parts of North America (the United States and Canada). North American English can be divided into several regional dialects based on phonological (abstract sound-based), phonetic (physical sound-based), lexical (vocabulary-based), and some syntactic (grammar-based) features. North American English includes American English, which has several highly developed and distinct regional varieties, along with the closely related Canadian English, which is more homogeneous. American English (especially Western dialects) and Canadian English have more in common with each other than with the many varieties of English outside North America.

The most recent work documenting and studying the phonology of North American English dialects as a whole is the 2006 Atlas of North American English by William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg, on which much of the description below is based, following on a tradition of sociolinguistics dating to the 1960s; earlier large-scale American dialectology focused more on lexicology than on phonology.


Regional dialects in North America are historically the most strongly differentiated along the Eastern seaboard. The distinctive speech patterns of urban centers of the American East Coast like Boston, New York City, and certain Atlantic cities of the South imposed their marks on the surrounding areas, all of these accents historically best associated with London-like r-dropping (called non-rhoticity), a feature now gradually receding among members of younger generations, especially in the South. The Connecticut River is now regarded as the southern and western boundary of the traditional New England accents, today still centered on Boston and much of Eastern New England. The Potomac River generally divides a group of Northeastern coastal dialects from an area of older Southeastern coastal dialects. All older Southern dialects have in fact mostly now receded in favor of a strongly rhotic, more unified accent group spread throughout the entire Southern United States since the late 1800s and into the early 1900s. In-between the two aforementioned rivers, some other variations exist, most famous among them being New York City English, still widely spoken in the largest American city and its metropolitan suburbs.

Outside of the Eastern seaboard, all other North American English (both in the U.S. and Canada) has been firmly rhotic, pronouncing all r sounds, since the very first arrival of English-speaking settlers. Rhoticity is a feature shared today with the English of Ireland, for example, rather than most of the English of England, which has become non-rhotic since the late 1700s. The sound of Western U.S. English, overall, is much more homogeneous that Eastern U.S. English. The interior and western half of the country was settled by people who were no longer closely connected to England, living farther from the British-influenced Atlantic Coast.

Certain particular vowel sounds are the best defining characteristics of regional North American English. One of the most documented markers of regional North American pronunciation is any given speaker's presence, absence, or transitional state of the so-called cot–caught merger. Eastern New England, Canadian, and Western Pennsylvania accents, as well as all accents of the Western United States have a merger of these /ɔ/ and /ɑ/ vowels, so that pairs of words like mock and talk, spa and thaw, or slot and bought rhyme. On the contrary, PhiladelphiaBaltimore and New York metropolitan accents, plus inland accents of the Northern and Southern U.S., all strongly resist this merger, keeping the two sounds separate and thus maintaining an extra distinct vowel sound. Much of the rest of the United States is in a transitional state of the merger, particularly including the Midland dialect region, stretching from Ohio to eastern Kansas. Another prominent differentiating feature in regional North American English is fronting of the /oʊ/ in words like goat, home, and toe and /u/ in words like goose, two, and glue. This fronting characterizes Midland, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern U.S. accents; these accents also front and raise the /aʊ/ vowel (of words like house, now, and loud), making yowl sound something like yeah-wool or even yale. Northern U.S. English, however, tends to keep all these vowels more backed. Southern and some Midland U.S. accents are often most quickly recognized by the weakening or deleting of the "glide" sound of the /aɪ/ vowel in words like thyme, mile, and fine, making the word spy sound something like spa.

One phenomenon apparently unique to North American American accents is the irregular behavior of words that in the British English standard, Received Pronunciation, have /ɒrV/ (where V stands for any vowel). Words of this class include, among others: origin, Florida, horrible, quarrel, warren, borrow, tomorrow, sorry, and sorrow. In General American there is a split: the majority of these words have /ɔr/ (the sound of the word oar), but the last four words of the list above have /ɑr/ (the sound of the words are). In Canada, all of these words are pronounced as /ɔr/. In the accents of Greater New York City, Philadelphia, and the Carolinas, most or all of these words are pronounced /ɑr/ (Shitara 1993).

Hierarchy of regions by phonology

  • North America
    • Canada and Western United States = // remains backed + // is fronted + cot–caught merger
      • Atlantic Canada = /ɑːr/ is fronted + full Canadian raising
      • California = // is variably fronted + Canadian Vowel Shift ([a]/æ//ɛ//ɪ/)
      • Pacific Northwest and Inland Canada = conservative /ɑːr/ + bag–beg merger[1] + Canadian Vowel Shift ([a]/æ//ɛ//ɪ/) + full Canadian raising (often)
    • Northeastern and North-Central United States = conservative // + conservative // + conservative //[3] + pin–pen distinction
      • Northern United States = cot–caught distinction + /ɑːr/ is fronted
      • Northern New England = cot–caught merger + /ɑːr/ is fronted
      • Southern New England = cot–caught distinction + conservative /ɑːr/
        • Rhode Island = R-dropping[5] + Mary–marry–merry 3-way distinction
      • Upper Midwestern United States = cot–caught transition or merger + /ɑːr/ is central + bag–beg merger (or even haggle–Hegel merger)[6]
    • Southeastern United States = // is fronted + // is fronted + // is fronted
      • Chesapeake and Outer Banks = // is backed + monophthongs can be diphthongized (up-gliding) before /ʃ/ and //
      • Mid-Atlantic United States = cot–caught distinction + Mid-Atlantic /æ/ split system + Mary–marry–merry 3-way distinction
        • Philadelphia, Pennsylvania = // is raised before a consonant + merry–Murry merger[7]
      • Midland United States = // can be monophthongized before /l/, /m/, /n/, or /r/ + transitional cot–caught merger + variable pin–pen merger
        • Western Pennsylvania = cot–caught merger, encouraging the Pittsburgh Chain Shift ([ɒ~ɔ] ← /ɑː//ʌ/) + full–fool merger + Pittsburgh // can be monophthongized before /l/ and /r/, and in unstressed function words[8]
      • New Orleans, Louisiana = cot–caught distinction + New York /æ/ split system + Southern // is variably monophthongized + pin–pen distinction
      • Southern United States = // is monophthongized, encouraging the Southern Vowel Shift ([aː]////// and drawling) + pin–pen merger
        • Inland Southern United States = Back Upglide Chain Shift ([æɔ]///ɔː//ɔɪ/)[9] + cot–caught distinction + fill–feel merger
      • St. Louis Corridor = /æ/ is always tensed, encouraging the Northern Cities Vowel Shift + cot–caught distinction[10] + card–cord merger[11]

General American

Main article: General American

General American is an umbrella accent of American English perceived by many Americans to be "neutral" and free of regional characteristics. A General American accent is not a specific well-defined standard English in the way that Received Pronunciation (RP) has historically been the standard prestigious variant of the English language in England; rather, accents with a variety of features can all be perceived by Americans as General American so long as they lack certain noticeable sociolinguistically salient features: namely, local features (such as R-dropping, which usually identifies an American speaker as being from the East Coast or South), ethnic features (such as the "clear L" sound, which often identifies speakers as being Hispanic), or socioeconomic features (such as th-stopping, which often identifies speakers of a lower-class background).

One feature that General American is generally agreed to include is rhotic pronunciation, or R-fulness, which maintains the postalveolar /ɹ/ sound whenever it appears in a word, including before consonants in words like pearl, car, and court, differentiating it from RP. Unlike RP, General American is also characterized by the merger of the stressed vowels in words like father and bother, flapping of t and d, and the reduction of vowel contrasts before historic /ɹ/. General American also has yod-dropping after alveolar consonants, so that new sounds like noo and duke like dook.

The widespread Mary–marry–merry merger, horse–hoarse merger, and wine–whine merger are complete in most regions of North America and very common at least in informal and semi-formal varieties of many others; however, the most formal varieties tend to be more conservative in preserving these phonemic distinctions. Other phonemic mergers present in some General American speakers in certain regions include the cot–caught merger (in about half of speakers) and the gradually spreading pin–pen merger (a conditional merger).

Map of dialect regions

The map above shows the major regional dialects of American English (each designated in all capital letters), as demarcated primarily by Labov et al.'s Atlas of North American English,[12] as well as the related Telsur Project's regional maps. Any region may also contain speakers of "General American," the notional accent ascribed to American English speakers who have receded away from the marked sounds of their region. Furthermore, this map does not account for speakers of ethnic, cultural, or other not-strictly-regional varieties (such as African-American Vernacular English, Chicano English, Cajun English, etc.). All regional American English dialects, unless specifically stated otherwise, are rhotic, with the father–bother merger, Mary–marry–merry merger, and pre-nasal "short a" tensing.[note 1]

  • Western
  • North Central
  • Inland Northern
  • Midland
  • WPA
  • Southern
  • Mid-Atlantic
  • NYC
  • ENE

The map to the left shows the major regional dialects of Canadian English (each designated in all capital letters), as demarcated primarily by Labov et al.'s Atlas of North American English,[30] as well as the related Telsur Project's regional maps.

All regional Canadian English dialects, unless specifically stated otherwise, are rhotic, with the father–bother merger, cot–caught merger, and pre-nasal "short a" tensing. The broadest regional dialects include:

  • Standard Canadian
  • Atlantic Canadian

Canada and Western United States

The Western United States is the largest dialect region in the United States, and the one with the fewest distinctive phonological features. These facts can both be attributed to the fact that the West is the region most recently settled by English speakers, and so there has not been sufficient time for the region either to develop highly distinctive innovations or to split into strongly distinct dialectological subregions.

Atlantic Canada


Main article: California English

There are several phonological processes that have been identified as being particular to California English. However, these shifts are by no means universal in Californian speech, and any single Californian's speech may have only some of the changes identified below, or even none of them. Arizona, Nevada, and Oregon often demonstrate this Californian shift. California English possesses a new chain vowel shift known as the California vowel shift:

The California vowel shift, based on a diagram by Penelope Eckert

California English also possesses the following features:

Pacific Northwest and Standard Canada

Further information: Canadian Shift

Standard Canadian English is the relatively dialectally-uniform variety of North American English used in mainland Canada with phonetics and phonology equivalent to that of the Pacific Northwest, a regions extending from Southwestern Canada down into the Northwestern United States (particularly Washington and Oregon).

The cot–caught merger creates a hole in the short vowel sub-system[39] and triggers a sound change known as the Canadian Shift, mainly found in Ontario, English-speaking Montreal and further west, and led by Ontarians and women; it involves the front lax vowels /æ/, /ɛ/, /ɪ/. It is also found scattered throughout the Western United States.

The vowels in the words cot and caught merge to [ɒ], a low back rounded vowel. The /æ/ of bat is retracted to [a] (except before nasals). Indeed, /æ/ is lower in this variety than almost all other North American dialects;[40] the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver[41] and is more advanced for Ontarians and women than for people from the Prairies or Atlantic Canada and men.[42] Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ are lowered in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ] and/or retracted; studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift.[43]

Increasing numbers of Canadians and Northwestern Americans have a distinct feature called "Canadian raising" (Chambers 1973). This feature means that the nucleus of the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ are "raised" before voiceless consonants. In most varieties of American English pairs such as pouter/powder and rider/writer are pronounced exactly the same. In Canadian English, however, when a diphthong is followed by the voiceless consonants such as /p/ /t/ /k/ /f/ and some others, the starting point of the diphthong raises from an open central vowel to a mid one.

For example, ride is pronounced [raɪd] but with write, because the diphthong is followed by a /t/, the diphthong raises and the word is pronounced [rʌɪt]. Most other speakers of American English do not possess these allophonic sounds ([ʌʊ] and [ʌɪ]) but the pronunciation is still marked. The Canadian pronunciation of "about the house" may sound like "a boat the hoas" to speakers of dialects without the raising, and in many cases is misheard (or deliberately exaggerated) as "aboot the hoos". Some stand-up and situation comedians, as well as television shows (such as South Park) exaggerate the pronunciation to *"aboot the hoos" for comic effect. True Canadian raising affects both /aʊ/ and /aɪ/, but a related phenomenon, of much wider distribution throughout the United States, affects only /aɪ/. So, whereas the General American pronunciations of rider and writer are identical ([raɪɾɚ]), those American English speakers whose dialects include either the full or restricted Canadian raising will pronounce them as [ˈraɪɾɚ] and [ˈrʌɪɾɚ], respectively. Canadian raising is quite strong in the Prairies, the Maritimes, and most of Ontario as well.

Greater New York City

New York City

Main article: New York City English

As in Eastern New England, the accents of New York City, Long Island, and adjoining New Jersey cities are traditionally non-rhotic. The vowels of cot [kɑt] and caught [kɔt] are distinct; in fact the New York dialect has the highest realizations of /ɔ/ in North American English, approaching [oə] or even [ʊə]. The vowel of cart is back and rounded [kɒːt] instead of fronted as it is in Boston.

The accent is well attested in American movies and television shows, especially ones about American mobsters. It is often referred to more narrowly as the "Bronx" or "Brooklyn accent", although in fact research has found no variation between the different accents among the boroughs of New York City per se. Bugs Bunny and Groucho Marx both speak with a Brooklyn accent in their films. The accent is often exaggerated, but nevertheless still exists or existed to some degree among Brooklyn natives. The English used in the popular television show The Sopranos, set in Essex County, New Jersey, is often more close to a Brooklyn accent, than that of New Jersey, mainly regarding the rhotic feature. Furthermore, the dialect portrayed on this television show does not apply to citizens of the entire state; it is a particular socio-ethnic accent among Italian-Americans.

Northeastern and North-Central United States

The North

The dialect area of the United States north of Pennsylvania and the Midland is distinguished from the Midland by a collection of linguistic features whose isoglosses all largely coincide, despite not being directly structurally related to each other. Dialectologists in the first half of the 20th century distinguished the North from the Midland on the basis of a large collection of lexical isoglosses, mostly dealing with differences in agricultural terms that are now largely obsolete (such as the use of ko-day in the north versus sheepie in the Midland to call sheep from the pasture). Despite the obsolescence of these lexical differences, the boundary between the North and Midland is maintained in the same place by phonological and phonetic isoglosses.

The North is also separated from the Midland by the presence of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS), on which see below; although the NCVS is not found in all parts of the North, it is present in the part of the North most closely adjacent to the Midland and thus helps to define the boundary.

Inland North

The Inland North dialect region was once considered the "standard Midwestern" speech that was the basis for General American in the mid-20th century (General American now being closer to the modern northern Midland dialect). However, the Inland North dialect has been recently modified by the Northern Cities Vowel Shift, which is the main feature of this dialect region. Today the Inland North proper is regarded as the sub-region of the North where the NCVS predominates.

The Inland North is centered on the area south of the Great Lakes, and consists of two components to the east, central and western New York State (including Syracuse, Binghamton, Rochester, and Buffalo); and to the west, much of Michigan's Lower Peninsula (Detroit, Grand Rapids), Toledo, Cleveland, Chicago, Gary, and Southeastern Wisconsin (Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha).

These two regions are separated by a region of northwestern Pennsylvania, including the city of Erie, which is not today part of the linguistic Inland North. Although Erie was historically part of the greater Northern dialect region, and is on the southern shore of Lake Erie halfway between Buffalo and Cleveland, it has not undergone the NCVS; instead, as a result of heavy influence from Pittsburgh, the cot–caught merger has taken place in Erie.

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 NCVS is not uniform throughout the Inland North; it is most advanced in Western New York and Michigan, and less developed in Cleveland. At the eastern fringes are areas in which most speakers display NCVS features only in weak forms if at all, including northeastern Pennsylvania and some communities in northern and eastern New York. Northern Indiana and part of Minnesota show the first stage of the NCVS, tensing of /æ/, without any of the other stages.

The Northern Cities Vowel Shift is a chain shift involving movements of six vowel phonemes:

  1. The first stage of the shift is the raising, tensing, and diphthongization of /æ/ towards [ɪə]. This results in words like cat being pronounced more like "kyat." This change occurs for the phoneme /æ/ in all contexts, in contrast with other American dialects in which phonetically similar "æ-tensing" occurs only before nasal consonants, or as part of a phonemic split of /æ/ into two phonemes, one tensed and the other still lax.
  2. The second stage is the fronting of /ɑ/ to [aː]. In some speakers this fronting is so extreme that their /ɑ/ phoneme can be mistaken for /æ/ by speakers of other dialects; thus for example block approaches the way other dialects pronounce black.
  3. In the third stage, /ɔ/ lowers towards [ɑ], causing stalk to sound more like other dialects' stock. The lowering of the phoneme /ɔ/ is not unique to this region. However, in other regions where such a lowering occurs, it results in the cot–caught merger. The merger does not occur in the Inland North because NCVS speakers front the /ɑ/ phoneme to [a], thus maintaining the distinction between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/.
  4. The fourth stage is the backing and sometimes lowering of /ɛ/, toward either [ə] or [æ].
  5. In the fifth stage, /ʌ/ is backed towards [ɔ], so that stuck sounds like stalk in dialects that maintain a [ɔ] sound in the word stalk. In this regard, a sound change occurs in the Inland North that is the reverse of most other American dialects (including the Midland): /ʌ/ is backer than /ɑ/ rather than fronter.
  6. In the sixth stage, /ɪ/ is lowered and backed. However, it is kept distinct from [ɛ] in all contexts, so, the pin–pen merger does not occur.

This shift is in progress across the region, though not necessarily completed. So, any individual speaker may display some of these six shifts without displaying the others. On the whole, though, the shifts occur in the order listed above, so speakers who display advanced forms of the later changes will generally be advanced in the earlier changes as well.

Southern New England

Southern and Western New England, whose regional dialectal features encompass the primarily suburban areas in a region whose northernmost edge is lower Vermont, easternmost is Springfield, Massachusetts, southernmost is Hartford, Connecticut, and westernmost is Albany, New York. The dialect has close historical ties to the Inland North: it is from Western New England that the westward migration began that led to the settlement of most upstate New York and the rest of the Inland North. The linguistic boundary between Western and Eastern New England has been recognized at least since the 1940s; all of Western New England differs from Eastern New England then in being rhotic, possessing the Mary–marry–merry merger, and not being subject to the caught–cot merger, among other features. Historically, Western New England is distinguished from Eastern New England in that it consists principally of communities settled from the Connecticut and New Haven colonies, rather than the Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth colonies.

Today, Southwestern New England shares in the principal linguistic features listed above as characteristic of the North. Connecticut and western Massachusetts in particular show the same general phonological system as the Inland North, and some speakers show a general tendency in the direction of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift—for instance, an /æ/ that is somewhat higher and tenser than average, an /ɑ/ that is fronter than /ʌ/, and so on. The caught–cot merger has taken hold comparatively recently in Vermont, merging to an unrounded vowel [a] (unlike in Eastern New England, where the merged cot-caught vowel is back and rounded). In Connecticut /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ remain distinct.

Rhode Island

Rhode Island is traditionally grouped with the Eastern New England dialect region, both by the dialectologists of the mid–20th century and by the Atlas of North American English; it shares Eastern New England's traditional non-rhoticity and nasal short-a system. A key linguistic difference between Rhode Island and the rest of the Eastern New England, however, is that Rhode Island is subject to the father–bother merger and not the cot–caught merger. Indeed, Rhode Island shares with New York and Philadelphia an unusually high and back allophone of /ɔ/ (as in caught), even compared to other communities that do not have the cot–caught merger.

In the Atlas of North American English, the city of Providence (the only community in Rhode Island sampled by the Atlas) is also distinguished by having the backest realizations of /uː/, /oʊ/, and /aʊ/ in North America.

Northern New England

Further information: Boston accent and Maine accent

The local traditional New England dialect area now only encompasses Northeastern New England: Maine, New Hampshire, and eastern Massachusetts (including Greater Boston). The accent spoken here, plus the related one in Northwestern New England (Vermont) shares some features of the greater North dialect region, including Canadian raising of /aɪ/ and minimal fronting of /aʊ/ and /oʊ/, but it possesses enough distinctive features of its own to distinguish it from the North as a separate dialect system. Southern New Hampshire has been reported as retreating from some of the more distinctive features of the Eastern New England dialect region.

The Northeastern New England (Boston and Maine) accents have in some respects more similarities with modern southern British English than many other dialects of American English have, due to its history. Most famously, Northern New England accents (with the exception of Northwestern New England and Martha's Vineyard) are traditionally non-rhotic.

The Northeastern New England accent is seemingly unique in North America for having resisted the so-called father–bother merger: in other words, the stressed vowel phonemes of father and bother remain distinct as /aː/ and /ɒː/, so that the two words do not rhyme as they do in most American accents. Many Eastern New England speakers also once had a class of words with "broad A"—that is, /aː/ as in father in words that in most accents contain /æ/, such as bath, half, and can't. Broad A was another feature that Eastern New England shares with southern England. On the other hand, unlike dialects of England, the Northwestern and Northeastern New England dialects are subject to the cot–caught merger, merging the cot and caught classes to a back rounded vowel, [ɒː].

The distinction between the vowels of horse and hoarse is maintained in traditional non-rhotic New England accents as [hɒːs] for horse (with the same vowel as cot and caught) vs. [hoəs] for hoarse. Thus, the horse–hoarse merger does not occur traditionally, a relic feature still surviving in the Maine accent. Eastern New England has a so-called nasal short-a system. In other words, the /æ/ phoneme has highly distinct allophones before nasal consonants.

North Central

The North Central or Upper Midwest dialect region of the United States extends from the Upper Peninsula of Michigan westward across northern Minnesota and North Dakota and into eastern Montana. Although the Atlas of North American English does not include the North Central region as part of the North proper, it shares all of the features listed above as properties of the North as a whole. The North Central is a linguistically conservative region; it participates in few of the major ongoing sound changes of North American English.

The movie Fargo, which takes place in the North Central region, famously features an exaggerated version of this accent.[44]

Southeastern United States

The 2006 Atlas of North American English identifies a "Southeastern super-region," in which all Midland and Southern accents, as well as accents on their regional margins, constitute a vast area of recent linguistic unity, based on the fronting of four vowel sounds (those in words like goose, strut, goat, and mouth).

The Midland

The region of the Midwestern United States west of the Appalachian Mountains begins the broad zone of what is generally called "Midland" speech. In older and traditional dialectological research, this is divided into two discrete subdivisions: the "North Midland" that begins north of the Ohio River valley area and the "South Midland" dialect area. In more recent work such as the Atlas of North American English, the former is designated simply "Midland" and the latter is reckoned as part of the South. The (North) Midland is arguably the major region whose dialect most closely approximates "General American".

The North Midland and South Midland are both characterized by having a distinctly fronter realization of the /oʊ/ phoneme (as in boat) than many other American accents, particularly those of the North; the phoneme is frequently realized with a central nucleus, approximating [əʊ]. Likewise, /aʊ/ has a fronter nucleus than /aɪ/, approaching [æʊ]. Another feature distinguishing the Midland from the North is that the word on contains the phoneme /ɔ/ (as in caught) rather than /ɑ/ (as in cot). (Obviously this only applies to Midland speakers not subject to the cot–caught merger, on which see below.) For this reason, one of the names for the North-Midland boundary is the "'On' line".

A common non-phonological feature of the greater Midland area is so-called positive anymore: it has become possible to use the word anymore with the meaning 'nowadays' in sentences without negative polarity, such as Air travel is inconvenient anymore.

North Midland

The North Midland region stretches from east to west across central and southern Ohio, central Indiana, central Illinois, Iowa, and northern Missouri, as well as Nebraska and Kansas where it begins to blend into the West. Major cities of this dialect area include Omaha, Kansas City, Des Moines, Columbus, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. This area is currently undergoing a vowel merger of the "short o" /ɑ/ (as in cot) and 'aw' /ɔ/ (as in caught) phonemes. Many speakers show transitional forms of this so-called cot–caught merger, which is complete in approximately half of the rest of North America.

The /æ/ phoneme (as in cat) shows most commonly a so-called "continuous" distribution: /æ/ is raised and tensed toward [eə] before nasal consonants and remains low [æ] before voiceless stop consonants, and other allophones of /æ/ occupy a continuum of varying degrees of height between those two extremes.

South Midland

The South Midland dialect region follows the Ohio River in a generally southwesterly direction, moving across from Kentucky, southern Indiana, and southern Illinois to southern Missouri, Arkansas, southeastern Kansas, and Oklahoma, west of the Mississippi River. Although historically more closely related to the North Midland speech, this region shows dialectal features that are now more similar to the rest of the South than the Midland, most noticeably the smoothing of the diphthong /aɪ/ to [aː], and the second person plural pronoun you-all or y'all. Unlike the coastal South, however, the South Midland has always been a rhotic dialect, pronouncing /r/ wherever it has historically occurred. South Indiana is the northernmost extent of the South Midland region, forming what dialectologists refer to as the "Hoosier Apex" of the South Midland; the accent is locally known there as the "Hoosier Twang".

The phonology of the South Midland is discussed in greater detail in the section on the South below.

Charleston, South Carolina

Charleston, South Carolina has a very distinctive Midland accent that encompasses elements of standard British English and American Southern English, with additional French-Huguenot influences. However, given Charleston's high concentration of African-Americans that spoke the Gullah language, the speech patterns were more influenced by the dialect of the Gullah African-American community. The most distinguishing feature of this accent is the way speakers pronounce the name of the city, to which a standard listener would hear "Chahls-ton", with a silent r. Alone among the various regional Southern dialects, Charlestonian speakers inglide long mid vowels, such as the raising for /aɪ/ and /aw/. Some attribute these unique features of Charleston's speech to its early settlement by the French Huguenots and Sephardi Jews, both of which played influential parts in Charleston's development and history.

Western Pennsylvania

The dialect of Central and Western Pennsylvania is, for many purposes, an eastern extension of the North Midland. Like the Midland proper, the Western Pennsylvania accent features fronting of /oʊ/ and /aʊ/, as well as positive anymore. The chief distinguishing feature of Western Pennsylvania as a whole is that the cot–caught merger is complete here, whereas it is still in progress in most of the Midland. The merger has also spread from Western Pennsylvania into adjacent West Virginia, historically in the South Midland dialect region.

The city of Pittsburgh is considered a dialect of its own often known as Pittsburghese. This region is additionally characterized by a sound change that is unique in North America: the monophthongization of /aʊ/ to [aː]. This is the source of the stereotypical Pittsburgh pronunciation of downtown as "dahntahn". Pittsburgh also features an unusually low allophone of /ʌ/ (as in cut); it approaches [ɑ] (/ɑ/ itself having moved out of the way and become a rounded vowel in its merger with /ɔ/).


Not to be confused with Mid-Atlantic accent.

Most of the major cities of the Mid-Atlantic States around the Delaware Valley have distinctive accents that cover smaller regions than the broad "North" and "Midland" categories of the Midwest, reflecting the greater dialect diversity of the American Mid-Atlantic region. These dialects are not all closely related to each other, but subsets of them share several unusual features, such as non-rhoticity or a split of /æ/ into two separate phonemes.

One feature shared by all of them is resistance to the Mary–marry–merry merger. Similarly, these dialects retain a distinction between historical short o and long o before intervocalic /r/, so that, for example, orange, Florida, and horrible have a different stressed vowel than story and chorus.

The Delaware Valley phonology is marked by an absence of the cot-caught merger, a raising and diphthongizing of /ɔː/, and a short-a split system, similar to, but less expansive than, New York City's.

New Jersey is largely split into New York City dialectal features in the northeast, Inland North dialectal features in the northwest, and Philadelphia features everywhere else.

Baltimore, Maryland

Main article: Baltimore accent

The Baltimore accent, also known as Baltimorese (sometimes pseudophonetically written Baldimorese, Bawlmerese, or Ballimerese), is an accent of Mid-Atlantic American English that originated among the white blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore. It has a few similarities with the Philadelphia accent, although they can sound very different. The most notable characteristics of Baltimore English are the fronted "oh" sound (occasionally written out as "eh-ew" or "ao") and the usage of the endearment "hon".[45]

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Main article: Philadelphia accent

The accent of Philadelphia and nearby parts of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland, is probably the original ancestor of General American. It is one of the few coastal accents that is rhotic, and one of the first to merge the historical /or/ of hoarse, mourning with the /ɔr/ of horse, morning. It also maintains the cot–caught contrast, unlike New England and western Pennsylvania. Nevertheless, there are differences between modern Philadelphia speech and General American, some of which, as described in Labov, Ash, & Boberg (2006) and Labov (2001), will be outlined here.

New Orleans, Louisiana

Parallels include the split of the historic short-a class into tense [eə] and lax [æ] versions, as well as pronunciation of cot and caught as [kɑt] and [kɔt]. The stereotypical New York curl–coil merger of "toity-toid street" (33rd Street) used to be a common New Orleans feature, though it has mostly receded today.

Perhaps the most distinctive New Orleans accent is locally nicknamed "yat", from a traditional greeting "Where y'at" ("Where are you at?", meaning "How are you?"). One of the most detailed phonetic depictions of an extreme "yat" accent of the early 20th century is found in the speech of the character Krazy Kat in the comic strip of the same name by George Herriman. While such extreme "yat" accents are no longer so common in the city, they can still be found in parts of Mid-City and the 9th ward, Jefferson Parish, as well as in St. Bernard Parish, just east of New Orleans.

The novel A Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole is generally considered the best depiction of New Orleans accents in literature.

The South

The regional pronunciation of the Southern United States is often dialectally identified as "The South," as in ANAE. Few generalizations can be made about Southern pronunciation as a whole, as there is great variation between regions in the South (see different southern American English dialects for more information) and between older and younger people. Upheavals such as the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl and World War II have caused mass migrations throughout the United States. Southern American English as we know it today began to take its current shape only after World War II. Some generalizations include:

The South Midland dialect follows the Ohio River in a generally southwesterly direction, moves across Arkansas and Oklahoma west of the Mississippi, and peters out in West Texas. It is a version of the Midland speech that has assimilated some coastal Southern forms, most noticeably the loss of the diphthong [aɪ], which becomes [aː], and the second person plural pronoun you-all or y'all.

South Midlands speech is characterized by:

In the Southern Vowel Shift:

The lowering movement of the Southern Vowel Shift is also accompanied by a raising and "drawling" movement of vowels. The Southern drawl, or the diphthongization/triphthongization of the traditional short front vowels, as in the words pat, pet, and pit: these develop a glide up from their original starting position to [ɪ], and then in some cases back down to schwa.

Texas South

Main article: Texan English

The ANAE identifies an important subset of the South as the "Texas South," which only covers the north-central region of Texas (Dallas), Odessa, and Lubbock, but not Abilene, El Paso, or southern Texas. The pronunciation of the Southern dialect in Texas blends the major features of the Deep South and Upper South, as well as notable influence derived from an early Spanish-speaking population along with that of German immigrants.

South Florida

See also: Miami accent

In South Florida, particularly in and around Miami-Dade, Broward, and Monroe counties, a unique dialect, commonly called the "Miami accent", is widely spoken. The dialect developed among second- or third-generation Hispanics, including Cuban-Americans, whose first language was English (though some non-Hispanic white, black, and other races who were born and raised in Miami-Dade tend to adopt it as well.)[46] It is based on a fairly standard American accent but with some changes very similar to dialects in the Mid-Atlantic (especially the New York area dialect, Northern New Jersey English, and New York Latino English.) Unlike Virginia Piedmont, Coastal Southern American, and Northeast American dialects and Florida Cracker dialect (see section below), "Miami accent" is rhotic; it also incorporates a rhythm and pronunciation heavily influenced by Spanish (wherein rhythm is syllable-timed).[47]

However, this is a native dialect of English, not learner English or interlanguage; it is possible to differentiate this variety from an interlanguage spoken by second-language speakers in that "Miami accent" does not generally display the following features: there is no addition of /ɛ/ before initial consonant clusters with /s/, speakers do not confuse /dʒ/ with /ɪ/, (e.g., Yale with jail), and /r/ is pronounced as postalveolar approximant [ɹ] instead of alveolar tap [ɾ] or alveolar trill [r] in Spanish.[48][49][50]

St. Louis Corridor

St. Louis, Missouri is historically one among several (North) Midland cities, but it has developed some unique features of its own distinguishing it from the rest of the Midland.

See also



  1. Dialects are considered "rhotic" if they pronounce the r sound in all historical environments, without ever "dropping" this sound. The father–bother merger is the pronunciation of the unrounded /ɒ/ vowel variant (as in cot, lot, bother, etc.) the same as the /ɑː/ vowel (as in spa, haha, Ma), causing words like con and Kahn and like sob and Saab to sound identical, with the vowel usually realized in the back or middle of the mouth as [ɑ~ä]. Finally, most of the U.S. participates in a continuous nasal system of the "short a" vowel (in cat, trap, bath, etc.), causing /æ/ to be pronounced with the tongue raised and with a glide quality (typically sounding like [ɛə]) particularly when before a nasal consonant; thus, mad is [mæd], but man is more like [mɛən].


  1. Freeman, Valerie (2014). "Bag, beg, bagel: Prevelar raising and merger in Pacific Northwest English" (PDF). University of Washington Working Papers in Linguistics. Retrieved 22 November 2015.
  2. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:56)
  3. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:107)
  4. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:123–4)
  5. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:48)
  6. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:18)
  7. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:54, 238)
  8. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:133)
  9. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:127, 254)
  10. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:276–8)
  11. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:276–8)
  12. Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 148. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
  13. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  14. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  15. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  16. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:123–4)
  17. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:135)
  18. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:237)
  19. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:271–2)
  20. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:130)
  21. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:133)
  22. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:125)
  23. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:127, 254)
  24. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:124, 229)
  25. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:237)
  26. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:124)
  27. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137, 141)
  28. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:230)
  29. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:231)
  30. Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 148. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
  31. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:130)
  32. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:182)
  33. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:217)
  34. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:223)
  35. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:217, 221)
  36. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:221)
  37. Penny Eckert, California vowels. Retrieved 24 July 2008.
  38. Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 68. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
  39. Martinet, Andre 1955. Economie des changements phonetiques. Berne: Francke.
  40. Labov p. 219.
  41. Esling, John H. and Henry J. Warkentyne (1993). "Retracting of /æ/ in Vancouver English."
  42. Charles Boberg, "Sounding Canadian from Coast to Coast: Regional accents in Canadian English."
  43. Labov et al. 2006; Charles Boberg, "The Canadian Shift in Montreal"; Robert Hagiwara. "Vowel production in Winnipeg"; Rebecca V. Roeder and Lidia Jarmasz. "The Canadian Shift in Toronto."
  44. Robin McMacken (May 9, 2004). "North Dakota: Where the accent is on friendship". St. Petersburg Times. Retrieved 2008-02-22.
  45. Britton, Holly and, Heidi Faust. "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon: Exploring Hon as a Linguistic and Identity Marker in Baltimore". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
  46. "Miami Accents: Why Locals Embrace That Heavy "L" Or Not". WLRN (WLRN-TV and WLRN-FM). Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  47. "'Miami Accent' Takes Speakers By Surprise". Articles - June 13, 2004. Retrieved 2012-10-08.
  48. "Miami Accents: How 'Miamah' Turned Into A Different Sort Of Twang". WLRN (WLRN-TV & WLRN-FM). Retrieved September 1, 2013.
  49. Haggin, Patience (2013-09-07). "English in the 305 has its own distinct Miami sound". Miami Herald. Retrieved 2013-09-10.
  51. Wolfram and Ward, p. 128.


  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006), The Atlas of North American English, Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter, pp. 187–208, ISBN 3-11-016746-8 
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  • Rainey, Virginia, (2004) Insiders' Guide: Salt Lake City (4th ed.), The Globe Pequot Press, ISBN 0-7627-2836-1
  • Brigham Young University Linguistics Department Research Teams
  • BYU "Utah English" Research Team's Homepage
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  • Labov, W. "The social motivation of a sound change". Word 19 (1963): 273–309.
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External links

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