Northern American English

Not to be confused with North American English.

Northern American English or Northern U.S. English (also, Northern AmE) is a large class of predominantly white[1] American English dialects regionally spoken around the greater metropolitan areas within Rhode Island, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, Western and Central New York, Northwestern New Jersey, Northeastern Pennsylvania, Northern Illinois, Northern Ohio, Eastern South Dakota, and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan; plus much of Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Eastern Nebraska, and even the Canadian region of Southern Ontario.[2] Among the oldest and most pervasive set of American English pronunciation patterns, the North as a super-dialect region is considered, by the 2006 Atlas of North American English, at its core, to consist of the dialects of the Inland North (around the Great Lakes region) and Southern New England.[3]

Canadian English is believed by some scholars to have originated from Northern American English,[4] or to simply be a variety of it.[5] Though arguably native to the geographical Northern United States, current-day Pacific Northwest English, New York City English, and Northwestern and Northeastern New England English are not classified necessarily under the Northern U.S. dialect spectrum, according to the ANAE.

Northern U.S. English is often distinguished from Southern U.S. English by retaining // as a diphthong (unlike the South, which commonly monophthongizes this sound) and from Western U.S. English by mostly preserving the distinction between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ in words like cot and caught (except in the transitional dialect region of the Upper Midwest and variably in other Northern areas).[6] Despite recent dialect innovations as well as its modern definition according to the linguistic research, the "North" as a dialect area of the United States is sometimes used, in its very broadest sense, to mean all the English varieties spoken in New England, New York, New Jersey, eastern Pennsylvania, the Great Lakes region, and the Midwest including its areas extending just beyond the Mississippi River.


Despite more recent General American influences, the Northern United States has tended to maintain or develop certain sounds. As a modern-day dialect super-region, it is defined by // (as in goat, toe, show, etc.) pronounced beginning conservatively far in the back of the mouth, "r-fulness" (or rhoticity), and a general lack of the cotcaught merger, meaning that words like pond and pawned, or bot and bought, are not pronounced identically (with the second of this class of words being pronounced usually farther back in the mouth and with more rounded lips).

In the North, the vowel [ʊ] is a somewhat common alternative (but still not the most mainstream pronunciation) for [u] in the particular words root and roof.[7] A phenomenon known as "Canadian raising"the lifting of the body of the tongue in both // and // before voiceless consonants (therefore, in words, like height, slight, advice, clout, ouch, lout, etc., but not in words like hide, slide, advise, cloud, gouge, loud, etc.)is common in eastern New England, for example in Boston (and the traditional accent of Martha's Vineyard), as well as in the Upper Midwest. Raising of just // is found throughout the rest of the North, including in the Great Lakes area,[8] elsewhere in New England, and in New York City.[9] This second, more focused type of raising also appears to spreading beyond the North to many varieties of General American, as well as to California English, Philadelphia English, and the dialects of the Western United States overall.[10]

The recent Northern cities vowel shift now affects much of the North, occurring centrally around the Great Lakes region; it is therefore a defining feature of the Inland North dialect (most famously spoken in Chicago, Detroit, and western New York State). The vowel shift's weaker beginning signs are also inconsistently present in the Western New England dialect.

Historical characteristics

The North has historically been one of the last U.S. regions to maintain the distinction between /ɔr/ and /or/, in which words like horse and hoarse or war and wore, for example, are not homophones;[11] however, the merger of the two is quickly spreading, with the only major exception now being in the traditional Maine accent. [ɪ] was once a common Northern U.S. sound in the word creek, but this has largely given way to [i], as in the rest of the country.[12]



  1. Purnell, Thomas; Eric Raimy; and Joseph Salmons (eds.) (2013). Wisconsin talk: Linguistic diversity in the Badger State. University of Wisconsin Press. p. 109.
  2. Labov, William; Sharon Ash, Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 134.
  3. Labov, William; Sharon Ash, Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 148.
  4. "Canadian English." Brinton, Laurel J., and Fee, Marjery, ed. (2005). Ch. 12. in The Cambridge history of the English language. Volume VI: English in North America., Algeo, John, ed., pp. 422–440. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992. ISBN 0-521-26479-0, 978-0-521-26479-2. On p. 422: "It is now generally agreed that Canadian English originated as a variant of northern American English (the speech of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania)."
  5. "Canadian English." McArthur, T., ed. (2005). Concise Oxford companion to the English language, pp. 96–102. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280637-8. On p. 97: "Because CanE and AmE are so alike, some scholars have argued that in linguistic terms Canadian English is no more or less than a variety of (Northern) American English."
  6. Labov, William; Sharon Ash, Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 133.
  7. Schneider (2008:80)
  8. Schneider (2008:81)
  9. Schneider (2008:389)
  10. A Handbook of Varieties of English, Bernd Kortmann & Edgar W. Schneider, Walter de Gruyter, 2004, p. 359.
  11. Schneider (2008:81)
  12. Schneider (2008:80)

Schneider, Edgar (2008). Varieties of English: The Americas and the Caribbean. Walter de Gruyter. 

See also

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