American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. American English is considered one of the most influential dialects of English globally, including on other varieties of English.
|225 million, all varieties of English in the United States (2010 census)|
25.6 million L2 speakers of English in the United States (2003)
|Latin (English alphabet)|
Unified English Braille
Official language in
English is the most widely spoken language in the United States and is the de facto common language used by the federal and state governments, to the extent that all laws and compulsory education presume English as the primary language. English is explicitly given official status by 32 of the 50 state governments. While the local courts in some divisions of the United States grant equivalent status to both English and another language—for example, English and Spanish in Puerto Rico—under federal law, English is still the official language for any matters being referred to the United States district court for the territory.
The use of English in the United States is a result of British colonization of the Americas. The first wave of English-speaking settlers arrived in North America during the 17th century, followed by further migrations in the 18th and 19th centuries. During the 17th century, dialects from many different regions of England existed in every American colony, allowing a process of extensive dialect mixture and levelling in which English varieties across the colonies became more homogeneous compared with varieties in England. English thus predominated in the colonies even by the end of the 17th century's first massive immigrations of non-English speakers from Europe and Africa, and firsthand descriptions of a fairly uniform American English became common after the mid-18th century. Since then, American English has developed into some new varieties, including regional dialects that, in some cases, show minor influences from successive waves of immigrants of diverse language backgrounds in the last two centuries, though primarily from Europeans.
American English varieties include many pronunciations, vocabulary, spelling, and other features that are unified nationwide but distinct from other English dialects around the world. Any North American English accent perceived as free of noticeably local, ethnic, or cultural markers is popularly called "General" or "Standard" American, a fairly uniform accent continuum native to certain regions and associated nationally with broadcast mass media and highly educated speech. However, historical and present linguistic evidence does not support the notion of there being one single "mainstream" American accent. On the contrary, the sound of American English continues to evolve, with some local accents disappearing, but several larger regional accents emerging.
Compared with English as spoken in England, North American English is more homogeneous, and any phonologically unremarkable North American accent is known as "General American". This section mostly refers to such General American features.
Studies on historical usage of English in both the United States and the United Kingdom suggest that spoken American English did not simply deviate away from period British English, but is conservative in some ways, preserving certain features contemporary British English has since lost.
Full rhoticity (or R-fulness): Most American accents are firmly rhotic, pronouncing the phoneme /r/ (corresponding to the letter ⟨r⟩) in all environments, including after vowels, such as in pearl, car, and court. Non-rhotic American accents, those that do not pronounce ⟨r⟩ in some positions in a word, such as some Eastern New England, New York, or African American vernacular accents, are often quickly noticed by General American listeners and perceived to sound especially ethnic, regional, or "old-fashioned".
Rhoticity is common in most American accents (yet nowadays rare in England), because, during the 17th-century British colonization, nearly all dialects of English were rhotic, and most North American English simply remained that way. This preservation of rhoticity in North America was also supported by continuing waves of rhotic-accented Scots-Irish immigrants, most intensely during the 18th century (and moderately during the following two centuries), when the Scots-Irish eventually made up one-seventh of the colonial population. Scots-Irish settlers spread from Delaware and Pennsylvania into the larger Mid-Atlantic region, the inland regions of both the South and North, and throughout the West, all American dialect areas that consistently resisted upper-class non-rhotic influences and that consequently remain rhotic today. The pronunciation of ⟨r⟩ is a postalveolar approximant [ɹ̠] ( listen) or retroflex approximant [ɻ] ( listen), though a unique "bunched tongue" variant of the approximant r sound is also associated with the United States, and perhaps mostly in the Midwest and the South.
- The standard accent of southern England, Received Pronunciation (RP), has evolved in other ways too, compared to which General American English has remained relatively more conservative, for example, regarding today's RP features of a trap–bath split and the fronting of /oʊ/, neither of which is typical of General American accents.
- American dialects also do not participate in widespread H-dropping, an innovative feature characterizing many regional dialects of England.
On the other hand, General American is more innovative than the dialects of England, or English elsewhere in the world, in a number of its own ways:
- Unrounded LOT: The American phenomenon of the LOT vowel (often spelled ⟨o⟩ in words like box, don, clock, notch, pot, etc.) being produced without rounded lips, like the PALM vowel, allows father and bother to rhyme, the two vowels now unified as the single phoneme /ɑ/. This father–bother vowel merger is in a transitional or completed stage nearly universally in North American English. Exceptions are in northeastern New England English, such as the Boston accent, as well as variably in some New York accents.
- Cot–caught merger in transition: There is no single American way to pronounce the vowels in words like cot /ɑ/ (the ah vowel) versus caught /ɔ/ (the aw vowel), largely due to a merger occurring between the two sounds in some parts of North America, but not others. American speakers with a completed merger pronounce the two historically separate vowels with the exact same sound (especially in the West, northern New England, West Virginia, western Pennsylvania, and the Upper Midwest), but other speakers have no trace of a merger at all (especially in the South, the Great Lakes region, southern New England, and the Mid-Atlantic and New York metropolitan areas) and so pronounce each vowel with distinct sounds ( listen). Among speakers who distinguish between the two, the vowel of cot (usually transcribed in American English as /ɑ/), is often a central [ä] ( listen) or advanced back [ɑ̟], while /ɔ/ is pronounced with more rounded lips and/or phonetically higher in the mouth, close to [ɒ] ( listen) or [ɔ] ( listen), but with only slight rounding. Among speakers who do not distinguish between the two, thus producing a cot–caught merger, /ɑ/ usually remains a back vowel, [ɑ], sometimes showing lip rounding as [ɒ]. Therefore, even mainstream Americans vary greatly with this speech feature, with possibilities ranging from a full merger to no merger at all. A transitional stage of the merger is also common in scatterings throughout the U.S., most consistently in the American Midlands lying between the historical dialect regions of the North and South, while younger Americans in general tend to be transitioning toward the merger. According to a 2003 dialect survey carried out across the United States, about 61% of participants perceive themselves as keeping the two vowels distinct and 39% do not. A 2009 followup survey put the percentages at 58% non-merging speakers and 41% merging.
- LOT–CLOTH split: A 17th-century split has occurred in which certain words (labeled as the CLOTH lexical set) separate away from the LOT set. Remaining in American English but not usually in British English, this split simultaneously produces a merger of this relatively recent CLOTH set with the THOUGHT (caught) set, even among modern speakers who do not merge cot and caught (the lexical sets LOT and THOUGHT). Having taken place prior to the unrounding of the cot vowel, this results in lengthening and perhaps raising, merging the more recently separated vowel into the caught vowel in the following environments: before many instances of /f/, /θ/, and particularly /s/ (as in Austria, cloth, cost, loss, off, often, etc.), a few instances before /ŋ/ (as in strong, long, wrong), and variably by region or speaker in gone, on, and certain other words.
- STRUT in special words: The STRUT vowel, rather than the one in LOT or THOUGHT (as in Britain), is used in function words and certain other words like was, of, from, what, everybody, nobody, somebody, anybody, and, for many speakers because and rarely even want, when stressed.
- Vowel mergers before intervocalic /r/: The mergers of certain vowels before /r/ are typical throughout North America; the only exceptions exist primarily along the east coast. Such mergers include:
- Mary–marry–merry merger in transition: According to the 2003 dialect survey, nearly 57% of participants from around the country self-identified as merging the sounds /ær/ (as in the first syllable of parish), /ɛr/ (as in the first syllable of perish), and /ɛər/ (as in pear or pair). The merger is already complete everywhere except along some areas of the Atlantic Coast.
- Hurry–furry merger: The pre-/r/ vowels in words like hurry /ʌ/ and furry /ɜ/ are merged in most American accents to [ə~ɚ]. Only 10% of English speakers across the U.S. acknowledge the distinct hurry vowel before /r/, according to the same dialect survey aforementioned.
- Mirror–nearer merger in transition: The pre-/r/ vowels in words like mirror /ɪ/ and nearer /i/ are merged or at least very close in most American accents. The quality of the historic mirror vowel in the word miracle is quite variable.
- Americans vary slightly in their pronunciations of R-colored vowels—such as those in /ɛər/ and /ɪər/—sometimes monophthongizing towards [ɛɹ] and [ɪɹ] or tensing towards [eɪɹ] and [i(ə)ɹ] respectively, causing pronunciations like [pʰeɪɹ] for pair/pear and [pʰiəɹ] for peer/pier. Also, /jʊər/ is often reduced to [jɚ], so that cure, pure, and mature may all end with the sound [ɚ], thus rhyming with blur and sir. The word sure is also part of this rhyming set as it is commonly pronounced [ʃɚ].
- Yod-dropping: Dropping of /j/ after a consonant is much more extensive than in most of England. In most North American accents, /j/ is "dropped" or "deleted" after all alveolar and interdental consonants (i.e. everywhere except after /p/, /b/, /f/, /h/, /k/, and /m/) so that new, duke, Tuesday, presume are pronounced [nu], [duk], [pʰɹɪˈzum] (compared to standard British /nju/, /djuk/, /pɹɪˈzjum/).
- T-glottalization: /t/ is normally pronounced as unreleased or as a glottal stop [ʔ] when occurring both (1) after a vowel or /r/ and (2) before a consonant or syllabic [n̩], as in button [ˈbʌʔn̩] ( listen). Following a vowel, /t/ is also glottalized when before a significant pause or when in absolute final position: thus, what [wʌʔ] or sit [sɪʔ]. (This innovation of /t/ glottal stopping also may occur in British English, as well as variably between vowels.)
- Flapping: /t/ or /d/ becomes a flap [ɾ] ( listen) when occurring both (1) after a vowel or /r/ and (2) before an unstressed vowel or a syllabic consonant other than [n̩], including water [ˈwɔɾɚ] ( listen), party [ˈpʰɑɹɾi] and model [ˈmɑɾɫ̩]. This results in pairs such as ladder/latter, metal/medal, and coating/coding being pronounced the same. Flapping of /t/ or /d/ before a full stressed vowel is also possible, but only when that vowel begins a new word or morpheme, as in what is it? [wʌɾˈɪzɪʔ] and twice in not at all [nɑɾəɾˈɔɫ]. Other rules apply to flapping too, to such a complex degree in fact that flapping has been analyzed as being required in certain contexts, prohibited in others, and optional in still others. According to such rules, flapping is prohibited in words like seduce [səˈdus], retail [ˈɹitʰeɪɫ], and monotone [ˈmɑnətʰoʊn].
- L-velarization: England's typical distinction between a "clear L" (i.e. [l] ( listen)) and a "dark L" (i.e. [ɫ] ( listen)) is much less noticeable in nearly all dialects of American English; it is often altogether absent, with all "L" sounds tending to be "dark," meaning having some degree of velarization, perhaps even as dark as [ʟ] ( listen) (though in initial position, perhaps less dark than elsewhere among some speakers). The only notable exceptions to this velarization are in some Spanish-influenced U.S. English varieties (such as East Coast Latino English, which typically shows a clear "L" in syllable onsets) and in older, moribund Southern speech of the U.S., where "L" is clear in an intervocalic environment between front vowels.
- Weak-vowel merger: The vowel /ɪ/ in unstressed syllables generally merges with /ə/, so effect is pronounced like affect and abbot and rabbit rhyme. The quality of the merged vowels varies considerably, though it is typically closer to [ɪ] when before a consonant; otherwise it is closer to [ə].
- Raising of pre-voiceless /aɪ/: Many speakers split the sound /aɪ/ based on whether it occurs before a voiceless consonant or not, so that in rider it is pronounced [äɪ] but in writer it is raised to [ʌɪ] (because [t] is a voiceless consonant while [d] is not). Thus, words like bright, hike, price, wipe, etc. with a following voiceless consonant (such as /t, k, θ, s/) use a more raised vowel sound compared to bride, high, prize, wide, etc. Because of this sound change, the words rider and writer ( listen), for instance, remain distinct from one another by virtue of their difference in height (and length) of the diphthong's starting point (unrelated to both the letters d and t being pronounced in these words as alveolar flaps [ɾ]). The sound-change also applies across word boundaries, though the position of a word or phrase's stress may prevent the raising from taking place. For instance, a high school in the sense of "secondary school" is generally pronounced [ˈhɐɪskuɫ]; however, a high school in the literal sense of "a tall school" would be pronounced [ˌhaɪˈskuɫ]. This sound change began in the Northern, New England, and Mid-Atlantic regions of the country, and is becoming more common across the nation.
- Many speakers in the Inland North, Upper Midwestern, and Philadelphia dialect areas raise /aɪ/ before voiced consonants in certain words as well, particularly [d], [g] and [n]. Hence, words like tiny, spider, cider, tiger, dinosaur, beside, idle (but sometimes not idol), and fire may contain a raised nucleus. The use of [ʌɪ] rather than [aɪ] in such words is unpredictable from phonetic environment alone, though it may have to do with their acoustic similarity to other words that do contain [ʌɪ] before a voiceless consonant, per the traditional Canadian-raising system. Hence, some researchers have argued that there has been a phonemic split in these dialects; the distribution of the two sounds is becoming more unpredictable among younger speakers.
- Conditioned /æ/ raising (especially before /n/ and /m/): The raising of the /æ/ or TRAP vowel occurs in specific environments that vary widely from region to region, though nationwide most commonly before /n/ and /m/. With most American speakers, for whom the phoneme /æ/ operates under a somewhat continuous system, /æ/ has both a tense and a lax allophone (with a kind of "continuum" of possible sounds between those two extremes, rather than a definitive split). In these accents, /æ/ is overall realized before nasal stops as more tense (approximately [eə̯]), while other environments are more lax (approximately the standard [æ]); for example, note the vowel sound in [mæs] for mass, but [meə̯n] for man). In some American accents though, specifically those from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, [æ] and [eə̯] are indeed entirely separate (or "split") phonemes, for example, in planet [pʰlænɪ̈ʔ] vs. plan it [pʰleənɪ̈ʔ]. These are called Mid-Atlantic split-a systems. Note that these vowels move in the opposite direction (high and forward) in the mouth when compared to the backed Standard British "broad a", though the two nation's a systems are probably related phonologically if not phonetically; a British-like phenomenon occurs among some older speakers of the eastern New England (Boston) area for whom /æ/ changes to /a/ before /f/, /s/, /θ/, /ð/, /z/, /v/ alone or when preceded by a homorganic nasal.
|// raising in North American English|
|Consonant after /æ/||Example words||New York City & New Orleans||Baltimore & Philadelphia||General American, Florida, Midland U.S., New England, & Western U.S.||Canadian, Northern Mountain U.S., & Upper Midwestern U.S.||Southern U.S. & African American Vernacular||Great Lakes|
|/b/, /d/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/||[eə]||[æ~ɛə]||[æ]||[eə~ɛə]|
|/f/, /s/, /θ/||[eə]|
Some mergers found in most varieties of both American and British English include:
- Horse–hoarse merger: This merger makes the vowels /ɔ/ and /o/ before /r/ homophones, with homophonous pairs like horse/hoarse, corps/core, for/four, morning/mourning, war/wore, etc. homophones. Many older varieties of American English still keep these sets of words distinct, particularly in the extreme Northeast, the South (especially along the Gulf Coast), and the central Midlands, but the merger is evidently spreading and younger Americans rarely show it.
- Wine–whine merger: This produces pairs like wine/whine, wet/whet, Wales/whales, wear/where, etc. homophones, in most cases eliminating /ʍ/, also transcribed /hw/, the voiceless labiovelar fricative. However, scatterings of older speakers who do not merge these pairs still exist nationwide and perhaps most strongly in the South.
The process of coining new lexical items started as soon as English-speaking British-American colonists began borrowing names for unfamiliar flora, fauna, and topography from the Native American languages. Examples of such names are opossum, raccoon, squash, moose (from Algonquian), wigwam, and moccasin. The languages of the other colonizing nations also added to the American vocabulary; for instance, cookie, from Dutch; kindergarten from German, levee from French; and rodeo from Spanish. Landscape features are often loanwords from French or Spanish, and the word corn, used in England to refer to wheat (or any cereal), came to denote the maize plant, the most important crop in the U.S.
Most Mexican Spanish contributions came after the War of 1812, with the opening of the West, like ranch (now a common house style). Due to the Mexican culinary influence, many Spanish words are incorporated in general use when talking about certain popular dishes: cilantro (instead of coriander), queso, tacos, quesadillas, enchiladas, tostadas, fajitas, burritos, and guacamole. These words don't really have an English equivalent and are found in popular restaurants. New forms of dwelling created new terms (lot, waterfront) and types of homes like log cabin, adobe in the 18th century; apartment, shanty in the 19th century; project, condominium, townhouse, mobile home in the 20th century; and parts thereof (driveway, breezeway, backyard). Industry and material innovations from the 19th century onwards provide distinctive new words, phrases, and idioms through railroading (see further at rail terminology) and transportation terminology, ranging from types of roads (dirt roads, freeways) to infrastructure (parking lot, overpass, rest area), to automotive terminology often now standard in English internationally. Already existing English words—such as store, shop, lumber—underwent shifts in meaning; others remained in the U.S. while changing in Britain. Science, urbanization, and democracy have been important factors in bringing about changes in the written and spoken language of the United States. From the world of business and finance came new terms (merger, downsize, bottom line), from sports and gambling terminology came, specific jargon aside, common everyday American idioms, including many idioms related to baseball. The names of some American inventions remained largely confined to North America (elevator, gasoline) as did certain automotive terms (truck, trunk).
New foreign loanwords came with 19th and early 20th century European immigration to the U.S.; notably, from Yiddish (chutzpah, schmooze) and German (hamburger, wiener). A large number of English colloquialisms from various periods are American in origin; some have lost their American flavor (from OK and cool to nerd and 24/7), while others have not (have a nice day, for sure); many are now distinctly old-fashioned (swell, groovy). Some English words now in general use, such as hijacking, disc jockey, boost, bulldoze and jazz, originated as American slang.
American English has always shown a marked tendency to use words in different parts of speech and nouns are often used as verbs. Examples of nouns that are now also verbs are interview, advocate, vacuum, lobby, pressure, rear-end, transition, feature, profile, hashtag, head, divorce, loan, estimate, X-ray, spearhead, skyrocket, showcase, bad-mouth, vacation, major, and many others. Compounds coined in the U.S. are for instance foothill, landslide (in all senses), backdrop, teenager, brainstorm, bandwagon, hitchhike, smalltime, and a huge number of others. Other compound words have been founded based on industrialization and the wave of the automobile: five-passenger car, four-door sedan, two-door sedan, and station-wagon (called an estate car in England). Some are euphemistic (human resources, affirmative action, correctional facility). Many compound nouns have the verb-and-preposition combination: stopover, lineup, tryout, spin-off, shootout, holdup, hideout, comeback, makeover, and many more. Some prepositional and phrasal verbs are in fact of American origin (win out, hold up, back up/off/down/out, face up to and many others).
Noun endings such as -ee (retiree), -ery (bakery), -ster (gangster) and -cian (beautician) are also particularly productive in the U.S. Several verbs ending in -ize are of U.S. origin; for example, fetishize, prioritize, burglarize, accessorize, weatherize, etc; and so are some back-formations (locate, fine-tune, curate, donate, emote, upholster and enthuse). Among syntactical constructions that arose are outside of, headed for, meet up with, back of, etc. Americanisms formed by alteration of some existing words include notably pesky, phony, rambunctious, buddy, sundae, skeeter, sashay and kitty-corner. Adjectives that arose in the U.S. are, for example, lengthy, bossy, cute and cutesy, punk (in all senses), sticky (of the weather), through (as in "finished"), and many colloquial forms such as peppy or wacky.
A number of words and meanings that originated in Middle English or Early Modern English and that have been in everyday use in the United States have since disappeared in most varieties of British English; some of these have cognates in Lowland Scots. Terms such as fall ("autumn"), faucet ("tap"), diaper ("nappy"; itself unused in the U.S.), candy ("sweets"), skillet, eyeglasses, and obligate are often regarded as Americanisms. Fall for example came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like "fall of the leaf" and "fall of the year." Gotten (past participle of get) is often considered to be largely an Americanism. Other words and meanings were brought back to Britain from the U.S., especially in the second half of the 20th century; these include hire ("to employ"), I guess (famously criticized by H. W. Fowler), baggage, hit (a place), and the adverbs overly and presently ("currently"). Some of these, for example, monkey wrench and wastebasket, originated in 19th century Britain. The adjectives mad meaning "angry," smart meaning "intelligent," and sick meaning "ill" are also more frequent in American (and Irish) English than British English.
Linguist Bert Vaux created a survey, completed in 2003, polling English speakers across the United States about their specific everyday word choices, hoping to identify regionalisms. The study found that most Americans prefer the term sub for a long sandwich, soda (but pop in the Great Lakes region and generic coke in the South) for a sweet and bubbly soft drink, you or you guys for the plural of you (but y'all in the South), sneakers for athletic shoes (but often tennis shoes outside the Northeast), and shopping cart for a cart used for carrying supermarket goods.
Differences between British and American EnglishEdit
American English and British English (BrE) often differ at the levels of phonology, phonetics, vocabulary, and, to a much lesser extent, grammar and orthography. The first large American dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, known as Webster's Dictionary, was written by Noah Webster in 1828, codifying several of these spellings.
Differences in grammar are relatively minor, and do not normally affect mutual intelligibility; these include: different use of some auxiliary verbs; formal (rather than notional) agreement with collective nouns; different preferences for the past forms of a few verbs (for example, AmE/BrE: learned/learnt, burned/burnt, snuck/sneaked, dove/dived) although the purportedly "British" forms can occasionally be seen in American English writing as well; different prepositions and adverbs in certain contexts (for example, AmE in school, BrE at school); and whether or not a definite article is used, in very few cases (AmE to the hospital, BrE to hospital; contrast, however, AmE actress Elizabeth Taylor, BrE the actress Elizabeth Taylor). Often, these differences are a matter of relative preferences rather than absolute rules; and most are not stable, since the two varieties are constantly influencing each other, and American English is not a standardized set of dialects.
Differences in orthography are also minor. The main differences are that American English usually uses spellings such as flavor for British flavour, fiber for fibre, defense for defence, analyze for analyse, license for licence, catalog for catalogue and traveling for travelling. Noah Webster popularized such spellings in America, but he did not invent most of them. Rather, "he chose already existing options [...] on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology." Other differences are due to the francophile tastes of the 19th century Victorian era Britain (for example they preferred programme for program, manoeuvre for maneuver, cheque for check, etc.). AmE almost always uses -ize in words like realize. BrE prefers -ise, but also uses -ize on occasion (see Oxford spelling).
There are a few differences in punctuation rules. British English is more tolerant of run-on sentences, called "comma splices" in American English, and American English requires that periods and commas be placed inside closing quotation marks even in cases in which British rules would place them outside. American English also favors the double quotation mark ("like this") over single ('as here').
Vocabulary differences vary by regions. For example, autumn is used more commonly in England, whereas fall is more common in American English. Some other differences include: aerial (England) vs. antenna, biscuit (England) vs. cookie/cracker, car park (England) vs. parking lot, caravan (England) vs. trailer, city centre (England) vs. downtown, flat (England) vs. apartment, fringe (England) vs. bangs, and holiday (England) vs. vacation.
AmE sometimes favors words that are morphologically more complex, whereas BrE uses clipped forms, such as AmE transportation and BrE transport or where the British form is a back-formation, such as AmE burglarize and BrE burgle (from burglar). However, while individuals usually use one or the other, both forms will be widely understood and mostly used alongside each other within the two systems.
British English also differs from American English in that "schedule" can be pronounced with either [sk] or [ʃ].
|The map above shows the major regional dialects of American English (in all caps) plus smaller and more local dialects, as demarcated primarily by Labov et al.'s The Atlas of North American English, as well as the related Telsur Project's regional maps. Any region may also contain speakers of a "General American" accent that resists the marked features of their region. Furthermore, this map does not account for speakers of ethnic or cultural varieties (such as African-American English, Chicano English, Cajun English, etc.).|
While written American English is largely standardized across the country and spoken American English dialects are highly mutually intelligible, there are still several recognizable regional and ethnic accents and lexical distinctions.
The regional sounds of present-day American English are reportedly engaged in a complex phenomenon of "both convergence and divergence": some accents are homogenizing and levelling, while others are diversifying and deviating further away from one another.
Having been settled longer than the American West Coast, the East Coast has had more time to develop unique dialects, and it currently comprises three or four linguistically significant regions, each of which possesses English varieties both different from each other as well as quite internally diverse: New England, the Mid-Atlantic States (including a New York accent as well as a unique Philadelphia/Baltimore accent), and the South. As of the twentieth century, the middle and eastern Great Lakes area, Chicago being the largest city with these speakers, also ushered in certain unique features, including the fronting of the LOT /ɑ/ vowel in the mouth toward [a] and tensing of the TRAP /æ/ vowel wholesale to [eə]. These sound changes have triggered a series of other vowel shifts in the same region, known by linguists as the "Inland North". The Inland North shares with the Eastern New England dialect (including Boston English) a backer tongue positioning of the GOOSE /u/ vowel (to [u]) and the MOUTH /aʊ/ vowel (to [ɑʊ~äʊ]) in comparison to the rest of the country. Ranging from northern New England across the Great Lakes to Minnesota, another Northern regional marker is the variable fronting of /ɑ/ before /r/, for example appearing four times in the stereotypical Boston shibboleth Park the car in Harvard Yard.
Several other phenomena serve to distinguish regional U.S. accents. Boston, Pittsburgh, Upper Midwestern, and Western U.S. accents have fully completed a merger of the LOT vowel with the THOUGHT vowel (/ɑ/ and /ɔ/, respectively): a cot–caught merger, which is rapidly spreading throughout the whole country. However, the South, Inland North, and a Northeastern coastal corridor passing through Rhode Island, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore typically preserve an older cot–caught distinction. For that Northeastern corridor, the realization of the THOUGHT vowel is particularly marked, as depicted in humorous spellings, like in tawk and cawfee (talk and coffee), which intend to represent it being tense and diphthongal: [oə]. A split of TRAP into two separate phonemes, using different a pronunciations for example in gap [æ] versus gas [eə], further defines New York City as well as Philadelphia/Baltimore accents.
Most Americans preserve all historical /ɹ/ sounds, using what is known as a rhotic accent. The only traditionally r-dropping (or non-rhotic) regional U.S. accents are spoken along much of the Atlantic Coast, parts of the Gulf Coast (particularly still in Louisiana), and formerly in areas of the old plantation South because these areas were in close historical contact with England and imitated London's r-dropping, a feature that has gained prestige and become widespread throughout England from the eighteenth century onwards. Today, this non-rhoticity, which makes a word like car sound like cah or source like sauce, is confined in the United States to the accents of eastern New England, New York City variably, some of the old South, and African-American Vernacular English variably nationwide (though the vowel-consonant cluster found in "bird," "work," "hurt," "learn," etc. usually retains its r pronunciation, even in these non-rhotic accents).
The most prominent and stigmatized regional accents of the country are New York City and Southern accents. Southern speech, strongest in southern Appalachia and certain areas around central Texas, is commonly identified among Americans as a "country" accent, and is defined by the /aɪ/ vowel losing its gliding quality: [aː], the initiation event for a complicated Southern vowel shift, including a "Southern drawl" that makes short front vowels into distinct-sounding gliding vowels. The fronting of the vowels of GOOSE, GOAT, MOUTH, and STRUT tends to also define Southern accents as well as the accents spoken in the "Midland": a vast band of the country between the traditional dialect regions of the North and the South. The Western U.S. has had the least amount of time to develop unique dialect distinctions and its accents mostly falls under the General American spectrum.
Below, ten major American English accents are defined by their particular combinations of certain vowel sounds:
|Accent name||Most populous urban center||Strong /aʊ/ fronting||Strong /oʊ/ fronting||Strong /u/ fronting||Strong /ɑr/ fronting||Cot–caught merger||Pin–pen merger||/æ/ raising system|
|New York City||New York City||Yes||No||No||No||No||No||split|
|North-Central (Upper Midwestern)||Minneapolis||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||pre-nasal & pre-velar|
|Northern New England||Boston||No||No||No||Yes||Yes||No||pre-nasal|
In 2010, William Labov noted that Great Lakes, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and West Coast accents have undergone "vigorous new sound changes" since the mid-nineteenth century onwards, so they "are now more different from each other than they were 50 or 100 years ago", while other accents, like of New York City and Boston, have remained stable in that same time-frame. However, a General American sound system also has some debated degree of influence nationwide, for example, gradually beginning to oust the regional accent in urban areas of the South and at least some in the Inland North. Rather than one particular accent, General American is best defined as an umbrella covering any American accent that does not incorporate features associated with some particular region, ethnicity, or socioeconomic group. Typical General American features include rhoticity, the father–bother merger, Mary–marry–merry merger, pre-nasal "short a" tensing, and other particular vowel sounds.[note 1] General American features are embraced most by Americans who are highly educated or in the most formal contexts, and regional accents with the most General American native features include North Midland, Western New England, and Western accents.
Although no longer region-specific, African-American Vernacular English, which remains the native variety of most working- and middle-class African Americans, has a close relationship to Southern dialects and has greatly influenced everyday speech of many Americans, including hip hop culture. Hispanic and Latino Americans have also developed native-speaker varieties of English. The best-studied Latino Englishes are Chicano English, spoken in the West and Midwest, and New York Latino English, spoken in the New York metropolitan area. Additionally, ethnic varieties such as Yeshiva English and "Yinglish" are spoken by some American Orthodox Jews, Cajun Vernacular English by some Cajuns in southern Louisiana, and Pennsylvania Dutch English by some Pennsylvania Dutch in Pennsylvania and the Midwest. American Indian Englishes have been documented among diverse Indian tribes. The island state of Hawaii, though primarily English-speaking, is also home to a creole language known commonly as Hawaiian Pidgin, and some Hawaii residents speak English with a Pidgin-influenced accent.
- Dictionary of American Regional English
- List of English words from indigenous languages of the Americas
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- Regional accents of English
- Canadian English
- North American English
- International English
- Received Pronunciation
- Transatlantic accent
- American and British English spelling differences
- 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 /ɑ/ 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].
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|Look up American English in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.|
|Wikisource has the text of the 1905 New International Encyclopedia article Americanisms.|
|Wikiversity has learning resources about American English|
- Do You Speak American: PBS special
- Dialect Survey of the United States, by Bert Vaux et al., Harvard University.
- Linguistic Atlas Projects
- Phonological Atlas of North America at the University of Pennsylvania
- Speech Accent Archive
- Dictionary of American Regional English
- Dialect maps based on pronunciation