Philadelphia English

Philadelphia English is a variety or dialect of American English native to Philadelphia and extending into Philadelphia's suburbs in the Delaware Valley. The geographical extent includes nearby Reading, northern Delaware centered around Wilmington, South Jersey centered around the Atlantic City and Hammonton metropolitan area, and much of Central Jersey. The Philadelphia accent, which has vigorously been in a complicated state of flux since the twentieth century onwards, is one of the best-studied in American English, as Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania is the home institution of pioneering sociolinguist William Labov. The mid-twentieth century Philadelphia accent is very similar to the Baltimore accent; in fact, the local varieties of the two cities together constitute what Labov describes as a single "Mid-Atlantic dialect".[1] Philadelphia English also shares some distinct features with New York City English and Midland American English, although it is still its own unique dialect.

According to linguist Barbara Johnstone, migration patterns and geography affected the dialect's development, which was especially influenced by immigrants from Northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland.[2] Today, a local Philadelphia accent is most strongly heard in Philadelphia's Irish American and Italian American working-class neighborhoods as well as in the surrounding cities and suburbs.


Philadelphia English and New York City English have a common ancestor dialect that likely existed in the 1800s, since both modern dialects demonstrate related accent features that are not found anywhere else in the United States, such as a high /ɔː/ vowel (creating a severe contrast between words like cot and caught) as well as a split pronunciation of the short a vowel, /æ/ (making gas and gap, for example, have different vowels sounds), albeit the Philadelphia and New York City versions of this split are unique, though still related.[3] One important indicator of this is that Philadelphia's short a split is documented as being a simplified variant of New York City's split.[4] Unlike New York City English, however, most speakers of Philadelphia English have always used a rhotic accent (meaning that the r sound is never "dropped").

In the twentieth century, the Philadelphia accent intensely underwent sound shifts in non-linear, complex directions. First, in the very late 1800s until about the 1940s or 1950s, the Philadelphia accent shifted to sound more like one of the emerging (and now-common) regional accents of the American South/Midland, for example in fronting //, raising //, and even some reported weakening of //.[5] However, starting in the 1940s, women led a reversal of these sound changes: a new and opposite trajectory, which became well-established during the 1950s among Philadelphia speakers generally and which has since reoriented younger generations of Philadelphians more towards the regional accents of the North. Moreover, the Philadelphia accent even began retreating away from its longstanding New York City-like features, developing more of its own entirely unique features, discussed further below.[6] Higher-educated Philadelphians born in or since the last quarter of the 1900s are also showing remarkable regularity in replacing the traditional Philadelphia /æ/ split with a General American-like tensing of /æ/ only before nasal consonants; this probably began around the time the first of these generations attended college.[7] Of the younger Philadelphia accent, "the most strongly supported generalization is that Philadelphia has moved away from its Southern heritage in favor of a Northern system, avoiding those forms that are most saliently associated with local phonology".[6]

Linguistic features



The vowels in Philadelphia speech show a remarkable degree of volatility. Labov's extensive research has identified changes affecting over half of the vowel phonemes. In regional terms, Philadelphia shows a mixture of Northeastern and Midland patterns.


Phonemic incidence


There are a number of slang terms and other lexical items associated with the City of Philadelphia, its surrounding counties, and South Jersey.

For example, a sandwich consisting of a long bread filled with lunch meat, cheese, and lettuce, onion and tomato, variously called a "sub" or "submarine sandwich" in other parts of the United States, is called a hoagie. Olive oil, rather than mayonnaise, is used as a topping, and "hot" or "sweet" peppers are used for spice. The term 'hoagie' originated in Philadelphia.[19][20][21] A similar sandwich toasted in an oven or broiler is called a grinder.[22][23]

Small chocolate or multi-colored confections sprinkled on ice cream and cake icing, elsewhere called sprinkles are known as jimmies in the Philadelphia area, as well as in the Boston (although only chocolate ones are Jimmies in Boston) and Pittsburgh areas.

The interjection yo originated in the Philadelphia dialect among Italian American and African American youths. The word is commonly used as a greeting or a way to get someone's attention.[24][25][26]

Many Philadelphians are known to use the expression "youse" both as second person plural and (rarely) second person singular pronoun, much like the mostly Southern / Western expression "y'all" or the Pittsburgh term, "yinz". "Youse" (often "youse guys" when addressing multiple people) is common in many working class northeastern areas, but is often associated with Philadelphia especially. The pronunciation reflects vowel reduction more often than not, yielding /jəz/ and /jz/ ("yiz") just as often as the stereotypical /juːz/. (ex: "Yiz want anything at the store?" "Yiz guys alright over there?").[27][28][29][30] Second person singular forms commonly are heard as /jə/ and /j/. Although enthusiasts celebrating the accent's distinctiveness like to point out that instances of terminal /z/ in singular use occur, it is inaccurate to say they are common.

Anymore is used as a positive polarity item, e.g. "Joey's hoagies taste different anymore."[31]

Notable examples of native speakers

Lifelong speakers

The following well-known Philadelphians represent a sampling of those who have exhibited a rhotic, Philadelphia accent:

Lifelong non-rhotic South Philadelphia speakers

These speakers, primarily of Irish, Italian, or Jewish ethnicity, show the non-rhotic accent local to South Philadelphia in the first half of the 1900s:

Marginal speakers

These speakers retain slight traces or elements of a rhotic Philadelphia accent:

In the media

Actual Philadelphia accents are seldom heard in movies and television, in which actors often mistakenly use a New York accent or simply substitute a General American accent. Philadelphia natives who work in media and entertainment often assimilate to the General American broadcast standard. Speakers with a noticeable local accent include Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money,[55] singer Joe Bonsall, political commentator Chris Matthews,[56] Bam Margera,[55] and several others in the MTV Jackass crew. Venezuelan American actress Sonya Smith, who was born in Philadelphia, speaks with a Philadelphia accent in both English and Venezuelan Spanish.

Movies and television shows set in the Philadelphia region generally make the mistake of giving the characters a working class New York dialect (specifically heard in films set in Philadelphia such as the Rocky series, Invincible, and A History of Violence). A contrary example is the character of Lynn Sear (played by Toni Collette) in The Sixth Sense, who speaks with an accurate Philadelphia dialect. In the film Sleepers, Kevin Bacon, a Philadelphia native, uses an exaggerated Philadelphia accent for the character of Sean Nokes.

The use of geographically inaccurate dialects is also true in movies and television programs set in Atlantic City or any other region of South Jersey; the characters often use a supposed "Joisey" dialect, when in reality that New York-influenced dialect for New Jersey natives is almost always exclusive to the extreme northeastern region of the state nearest New York City. An important factor here is that in the real world, "local" TV, political, and sports personalities in South Jersey and part of Central Jersey are culturally associated with Philadelphia, not New York City.

See also


  1. Labov, William (2007) "Transmission and Diffusion", Language June 2007 p. 64
  2. Malady, Matthew J.X. (2014-04-29). "Where Yinz At; Why Pennsylvania is the most linguistically rich state in the country.". The Slate Group. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
  3. Labov et al., 2006, p. 173: "In NYC and the Mid-Atlantic region, short-a is split into a tense and lax class. There is reason to believe that the tense class /æh/ descends from the British /ah/ or 'broad-a' class."
  4. Ash, Sharon (2002). "The Distribution of a Phonemic Split in the Mid-Atlantic Region: Yet More on Short a." University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics. University of Pennsylvania. p. 1.
  5. Labov, W. & Rosenfelder, I. & Fruehwald, J.(2013). One Hundred Years of Sound Change in Philadelphia: Linear Incrementation, Reversal, and Reanalysis. Language, 89(1), pp. 31, 49.
  6. 1 2 Labov, W. & Rosenfelder, I. & Fruehwald, J.(2013). One Hundred Years of Sound Change in Philadelphia: Linear Incrementation, Reversal, and Reanalysis. Language, 89(1), p. 61.
  7. Labov, W. & Rosenfelder, I. & Fruehwald, J.(2013). One Hundred Years of Sound Change in Philadelphia: Linear Incrementation, Reversal, and Reanalysis. Language, 89(1), p. 55.
  8. 1 2 Henderson, Anita (1996). "The Short 'a' Pattern of Philadelphia among African-American Speakers". University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics: Vol. 3: Iss. 1, Article 10. p. 137-139.
  9. Fruehwald, Josef (2007). "The Spread of Raising". College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania
  10. Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 p. 290
  11. 1 2 3 4 Quinn, Jim (1997). "Phillyspeak". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  12. Labov, William (2008). "Mysteries of the substrate". In Miriam Meyerhoff and Naomi Nagy (eds.). Social Lives in Language Sociolinguistics and multilingual speech communities. Amsterdam/Philadelphia: John Benjamins. pp. 320.
  13. Verma, Mahendra K. (1998). Sociolinguistics, Language and Society. New Delhi: Sage. p. 94.
  14. Rocco Dal Vera Rhoticity Study, Rocco Dal Vera on Rhotic and Non-Rhotic English Accents
  15. Labov (2001), p. 123
  16. 1 2 3 New York Times Sunday Review, Loose Ends "The Sound of Philadelphia Fades Out" Daniel Nester March 1, 2014
  17. Barrist, Adam (2009), "The Concrete Lawyer" ISBN 978-1-4401-6573-3
  18. Wolfram and Ward, p. 90.
  19. Kenneth Finkel, ed., Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual, (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1995) page 86.
  20. "Philly Via Italy", thirtyfourthstreetmagazine, April 17, 2007, page 9.
  21. "The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context," Eames & Robboy, American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Dec., 1967), pp. 279–288
  22. Eames, Edwin and Howard Robboy. American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4. "The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context"
  23. "A Hoagie By Any Other Name" (PDF). Retrieved 18 December 2012.
  24. "Sorry, New York, 'Yo' Was Born in Philadelphia". The New York Times. August 19, 1993. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
  25. How they Talk in Philadelphia
  26. Dalzell, Tom (1996). Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster. ISBN 0-87779-612-2.
  27. My sweet | Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/03/2008 Archived April 22, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  28. Push and Pull of Immigration: Letters from Home – Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center
  29. – Philly Slang Archived March 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
  30. Tony Luke’s: The New Yorker
  31. Labov, Ash, & Boberg (2006), p.293
  32. Smith, Lynn (December 30, 2002). "He's got game". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times.
  34. Morrison, John (2014). "Comedian David Brenner, 78, was a uniquely Philly guy". Interstate General Media, LLC.
  35. ""Mad Money" Host Jim Cramer Will Film Show With Villanova Business Students". MetroMBA. MetroMBA. Apr 29, 2013.
  37. Smith, Ben (2008). "Labor Confronts Race Issue". Politico. Capitol News Company LLC.
  38. Rutledge, Stephen (September 22, 2015). "#BornThisDay: Musician, Joan Jett". The Wow Report. World of Wonder Productions, LLC.
  39. Martinez, Pedro; Silverman, Michael (2015). Pedro. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 154. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
  41. 1 2
  43. Craig Lyndall (January 14, 2015). "Mike Mayock talks about Cardale Jones' NFL draft stock". Retrieved March 5, 2015.
  44. Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate McGinty Muddles Minimum Wage Facts Media Trackers Staff February 13, 2014
  45. Stone, Andrea (2010). "Pennsylvania Grudge Match: Iraq Vet Patrick Murphy Battles Old GOP Foe". Huffington Post (Politics Daily). AOL, Inc.
  46. Buckley, Tom (July 23, 1989). "HIS WIVES AND OTHER STRANGERS". The New York Times. The New York Times Company.
  47. Thompson, Gary (April 13, 2012). "Stooges story". Philadelphia Daily News. Philadelphia Media Network, LLC.
  49. Johnson, Michelle (2003). "The Godfather of Stand-Up". The Age. Fairfax Media Limited.
  50. Rogers, John (October 25, 2010). "Gloria Allred: The attorney people love to hate". Ventura County Star. Journal Media Group.
  51. "Campaign Curriculum" Libby Copeland October 23, 2008
  53. Kark, Chris (2004). "Concert review: G-Love stirs the special sauce". ASU Web Devil.
  54. 1 2 Loviglio, Joann. "RESEARCHERS TRACK EVOLUTION OF PHILLY'S ODD ACCENT". AP. AP. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
  55. Trawick-Smith, Ben. "The Overlooked Philadelphia Accent". 15 July 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2013.

External links

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