Northern American English

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search
Northern American English
Northern U.S. English
RegionNorthern United States
Language codes
ISO 639-3
This article contains IPA phonetic symbols. Without proper rendering support, you may see question marks, boxes, or other symbols instead of Unicode characters. For a guide to IPA symbols, see Help:IPA.

Northern American English or Northern U.S. English (also, Northern AmE) is a class of distinct American English dialects, spoken by predominantly white Americans,[1] best documented in the greater metropolitan areas of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, Western and Central New York, Northern Illinois, Northern Ohio, Eastern South Dakota, and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, plus some northern areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even the Canadian region of Southern Ontario.[2] 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 (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,[nb 1] New York City English, and Northern New England English only marginally fall under the Northern U.S. dialect spectrum, according to the ANAE, if at all.

Northern U.S. English is often distinguished from Southern U.S. English by retaining /aɪ/ as a diphthong (unlike the South, which commonly monophthongizes this sound) and from Western U.S. English by mostly preserving the distinction between the /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ sounds in words like cot versus caught (except in the transitional dialect region of the Upper Midwest and variably in other Northern areas).[6]

The Inland North or Great Lakes speech of the very early 20th century was the basis for the term "General American", though a new regional accent has since developed in that area.[7][8]


In the modern day, the Northern United States is a linguistic super-region of English dialects, defined by /oʊ/ (as in goat, toe, show, etc.) and traditionally /u/ (as in goose, too, shoe, etc.) pronounced conservatively far in the back of the mouth, "r-fulness" (or rhoticity), and a common lack of the cot–caught 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).

The Northern Cities Vowel Shift is a series of sound changes in the North that covers a large area from western New England and New York to regions west of Wisconsin.[9]

A phenomenon known as "Canadian raising"—the lifting of the body of the tongue in both /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ 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 /aɪ/ is found throughout the entire North, including in the Great Lakes area,[10] and elsewhere in New England.[11] This second, more focused type of raising also appears to spreading beyond the North, as well as to California English, Philadelphia English, and Western American English dialects overall.[12]

Though the following pronunciation variants are not all the most common ones in the North, they are still documented as variants used more strongly in this region than anywhere else in the country:[13]

  • The FOOT vowel [ʊ] (About this soundlisten) as a somewhat common alternative to the typical GOOSE vowel [u] (About this soundlisten) in the particular words root and roof[14]
  • been as /bɛn/ (a homophone with the name Ben)
  • crayon as the single-syllable /kræn/ (often [kɹɛən])
  • pajamas as /pəˈdʒæməz/ (in addition to /pəˈdʒɑməz/ more widely common nationwide)
  • handkerchief rhyming with beef
  • poem as the single-syllable /poʊm/, rhyming with dome

Declining characteristics[edit]

The North has historically been one of the last U.S. regions to maintain the distinction between /ɔr/ and /oʊr/, in which words like horse and hoarse or war and wore, for example, are not homophones;[15] however, the merger of the two has quickly spread throughout the North. [ɪ] (About this soundlisten) was once a common Northern U.S. sound in the word creek, but this has largely given way to [i] (About this soundlisten), as in the rest of the country.[16]


The North uniquely uses certain words and phrases. The following terms are reported strongest among Northern U.S. English speakers:[13]

  • babushka (a woman's headscarf, tied under the chin)[17]
  • bare-naked (synonym for naked)[18]
  • crayfish (a freshwater lobster-like crustacean)
  • crust (the end of a bread loaf)
  • diagonal or kitty-corner (situated slanted across a street or intersection)
  • doing cookies (rare synonym, scattered throughout the North, for doing doughnuts)
  • drinking fountain (synonym for water fountain)
  • frosting (synonym for icing)
  • futz or futz around (/fʌts/; to fool around or waste time)[19]
  • on the fritz (out of order, or into a state of disrepair)[20]
  • pit (the seed or stone of a fruit)[21]
  • rotary (synonym for traffic circle)
  • you guys (the usual plural form of you)

Inland Northern American English[edit]

The recent Northern cities vowel shift, beginning only in the twentieth century, now affects much of the North, occurring specifically at its geographic center: the Great Lakes region. It is therefore a defining feature of the Inland North dialect (most notably spoken in Chicago, Detroit, and western New York State). The vowel shift's generating conditions are also present in some Western New England English;[22] otherwise, however, this vowel shift is not occurring in the Northeastern United States.

Northeastern American English[edit]

A Northeastern Corridor of the United States follows the Atlantic coast, comprising all of New England, Greater New York City, and Greater Philadelphia (sometimes even extending to Greater Baltimore and Washington D.C.), as well as parts of northern New Jersey, which, despite being home to numerous different dialects and accents, constitutes a huge area unified in certain linguistic respects, including particular notable vocabulary and phonemic incidence (that is, distinguishing sounds in certain words).


These phonemic variants in certain words are particularly correlated with the American Northeast (with the more common variants nationwide given in parentheses):[13]

  • aunt as /ɑnt/ (in addition to /ænt/)
  • cauliflower with the "i" pronounced with the FLEECE vowel /i/ (in addition to the KIT vowel /ɪ/)
  • centaur rhyming with four (in addition to the variant rhyming with far)
  • miracle as /ˈmɛrəkəl/ or /ˈmirəkəl/ (in addition to /ˈmɪrəkəl/)
  • route rhyming with shoot (in addition to shout)
  • syrup as /ˈsirəp/ or /ˈsɪrəp/ (in addition to /ˈsɜrəp/)

The Northeast tends to retain a rounded /ɔ/ vowel (in words like all, caught, flaw, loss, thought, etc.): specifically, [ɒ~ɔ~ɔə].


Terms common or even usual to the whole Northeast include:[13]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ It is arguable whether or not the Pacific Northwest dialect region falls under the Northern super-dialect region. In American linguistics, "North" typically only refers to the "traditional North": the Northeastern and North Central States, while excluding the Northwestern States.


  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. ^ Labov et al., p. 190.
  8. ^ "Talking the Tawk", The New Yorker
  10. ^ Schneider (2008:81)
  11. ^ Schneider (2008:389)
  12. ^ A Handbook of Varieties of English, Bernd Kortmann & Edgar W. Schneider, Walter de Gruyter, 2004, p. 359.
  13. ^ a b c d Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  14. ^ Schneider (2008:80)
  15. ^ Schneider (2008:81)
  16. ^ Schneider (2008:80)
  17. ^ "Babushka". Dictionary of American Regional English. 2017.
  18. ^ "Bare-naked". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.
  19. ^ "Futz". Dictionary of American Regional English. 2017.
  20. ^ "On the fritz". Dictionary of American Regional English. 2017.
  21. ^ "Pit". Word Reference. Word Reference. 2017.
  22. ^ Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (1997). "Dialects of the United States." A National Map of The Regional Dialects of American English. University of Pennsylvania.
  23. ^ "Brook" and "Runs". The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition. 2017. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company.