Western American English

Western American English (also known as Western U.S. English) is a variety of American English that largely unites the entire Western United States as a single dialect region, including the states of California, Nevada, Arizona, Utah, New Mexico, Colorado, and Wyoming. It also generally encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho, and Montana, some of whose speakers are classified additionally under Pacific Northwest English.

Western American English
RegionWestern United States
Early forms
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottologwest2920  Western American English
Map of USA highlighting West.png
States where Western American English and its dialects are spoken
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The West was the last area in the United States to be reached during the gradual westward expansion of settlement by English speakers and its history shows considerable mixing and leveling of the linguistic patterns of other regions. Therefore, since the settlement populations are relatively young when compared with other regions, the American West continues to be a dialect region in formation.[1] According to the 2006 Atlas of North American English, as a very broad generalization, Western U.S. accents are differentiated from Southern U.S. accents in maintaining /aɪ/ as a diphthong, from Northern U.S. accents by fronting /u/ (the GOOSE vowel), and from both by most consistently showing the cot–caught merger.[2] The standard Canadian accent also aligns to this definition, though it typically includes certain additional vowel differences.

Phonology and phoneticsEdit

Western American English vowel formant plot

The Western regional accent of American English is somewhat variable and not necessarily distinct from "General American" or from the speech of younger or educated Americans nationwide. Western American English is defined primarily by two phonological features: the cot-caught merger (as distinct from most traditional Northern and Southern U.S. English) and the fronting of the /u/ (GOOSE) vowel but not the /oʊ/ (GOAT) vowel. This fronting is distinct from most Southern and Mid-Atlantic American English, in which both of those vowels are fronted, as well as from most Northern U.S. English, in which both of these remain backed.[3]

Like most Canadian dialects and younger General American, /ɑ/ (LOT/PALM) allophones remain back and may be either rounded or unrounded due to a merger between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ (THOUGHT), commonly represented as words like cot and caught, or pod and pawed, becoming perfect homophones.[3] Linguists believe this may be the cause of, or at least related to, more and more Western speakers in general lowering or retracting the TRAP vowel and the DRESS vowel in a chain shift most intensely associated with California and led by young women.[4][5] This shift, too, is documented in mainland Canadian English: the Canadian Shift. Unlike in Canada, however, the raising before voiceless consonants of /aʊ/ does not exist in Western American English and of /aɪ/ is not as consistent and pronounced.[6] As in General American, the West is entirely rhotic and the Mary–marry–merry merger is complete, so that words like Mary, marry, and merry are all pronounced identically because of the merger of all three of those vowels' sounds when before r.

Although it occurs at least occasionally nationwide, T-glottalization at word boundaries, as in "right ankle", is more common in Western dialects, particularly among younger speakers and women.[7] The use of a full (orally released) rather than syllabic pronunciation of /ən/ in the sequence /-tən/, in words like "kitten" or "mountain", is a minor but noted variant reported in the West, for example among some Californians and younger, female Utah speakers;[8] thus, kitten as [ˈkʰɪʔən] in addition to more General American [ˈkʰɪʔn̩]; however, this feature has also been reported elsewhere in the country, like New Jersey.[9] Men and teenage girls from Utah are also slightly more likely than average to elide the /t/ altogether in these words, and Utahns as a whole are slightly less likely to glottalize the /t/ in general.[10]

A trend evident particularly in some speakers from the Salt Lake City, Utah, and Flagstaff, Arizona, areas, as well as in some Californian and New Mexican English, is the completion of, or transition towards, a full–fool merger.[11] This may be related to scatterings of Western speakers, such as some Utah speakers,[12][13] generally producing lax pronunciations of the tense front vowels before /l/, such as pronouncing "sale" as "sell" /sɛl/ or "milk" as "melk" /mɛlk/.[14] Southern twang-like monophthongization of /aɪ/ has been sporadically reported in the Southwest,[15] for example in some speakers before /l/ in southern Arizona and Utah.[16][17] A significant minority of Western speakers have the pin–pen merger or a closeness to the merger, especially around Bakersfield, California, though it is a sound typically associated with Southern American English, which influenced Bakersfield settlers.[18] Another recognizable though nonstandard trait particularly in California and the Pacific Northwest, is raising the short i /ɪ/ sound to an almost long ee [i] sound before ng so that their pronunciation of -ing with G-dropping, /in/, is shorter than the vowel of bean or the traditional British pronunciation of been [iːn].[19]


  • baby buggy: baby carriage (more common east of the Mississippi River, mixed in the region between the Mississippi and Appalachian Mountains, rare east of the Appalachians)[20]
  • bear claw: a large stuffy pastry[21]
  • buckaroo: cowboy
    • Originating in California, buckaroo is an Anglicization of the Mexican Spanish translation of cowboy vaquero; the corresponding term which originated in Texas is "wrangler" or "horse wrangler", itself an Anglicization of the Mexican caballerango.[22]
  • chippie: a woman of loose morals[23]
  • coke predominates in eastern New Mexico; pop in the Northwest and Northern Mountain States; and soda in California and Arizona: sweet carbonated soft drink[24]
  • firefly: any insect of the Lampyridae family,[25] now widespread nationwide
  • frontage road: a service or access road[25]
  • gunnysack: burlap bag (the latter more common east of the Mississippi)[20]
  • hella: very (adverb), much, or many (adjective); originated in the San Francisco Bay Area and now used throughout Northern California
  • mud hen: the American coot[20]
  • shivaree: a belling or serenade
    • Shivaree is the more common usage east of the Mississippi and in Kentucky and Tennessee; "belling" is the more common usage in Ohio, while "serenade" is the more common usage in Atlantic states—except New York and Connecticut—and the Appalachians)[20]


Several sub-types of the Western dialect appear to be currently in formation, and the West, being an area of especially recent English-speaking settlement, shows relatively low homogeneity and internal consistency.[3] Additionally, most Mexican-American English is spoken within, and arguably falls under the regional dialect of, the Western United States.


Currently, there is not enough data on the English of Alaska to either include it within Western American English or assign it its own "separate status".[26] Of two documented speakers in Anchorage, their cot-caught merger is completed or transitional, /aʊ/ is not fronted, /oʊ/ is centralized, the placement of /u/ is inconsistent, and ag approaches the sound of egg.[27] Not far from Anchorage, in Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley, is a distinctly Minnesota-like accent due to immigration of Minnesotans to the valley in the 1930s.[28]


A noticeable California Vowel Shift has been observed in the English of some California speakers scattered throughout the state,[29] though especially younger and coastal speakers. This shift involves two elements, including that the vowel in words like toe, rose, and go (though remaining back vowels elsewhere in the Western dialect), and the vowel in words like spoon, move, and rude are both pronounced farther forward in the mouth than most other English dialects; at the same time, a lowering chain movement of the front vowels is occurring (identical to the Canadian Vowel Shift), so that, to listeners of other English dialects, sit may approach the sound of set, set may approach sat, and sat may approach sot. This front-vowel lowering is also reported around Portland, Oregon, the hub of a unique Northwestern variety of American English that demonstrates other similarities with Canadian English.[30]


Studies demonstrate that gender, age, and ability to speak Hawaiian Creole (a language locally called "Pidgin" and spoken by about two-fifths of Hawaii residents) correlate with the recent emergence of different Hawaiian English accents. In a 2013 study of twenty Oʻahu-raised native English speakers, non-Pidgin speakers and males were shown to lower /ɪ/ and /ɛ/; younger speakers of the first group also lowered /æ/, and younger participants in general backed /æ/.[31] Though this movement of these vowels is superficially similar to the California Vowel Shift, it is not believed to be due to a chain shift, though Hawaii residents do have a cot–caught merger, at least among younger speakers.[31] Unlike most Americans, Hawaii residents may not demonstrate any form of /æ/ tensing (even before nasal consonants, as with most Western Americans).[32]

New MexicoEdit

In New Mexico, the state with the largest Hispanic population by percentage and no Anglo majority population, studies have distinguished the English of English-Spanish bilinguals versus (Anglo) English monolinguals.[33] Research showed the former more likely to participate in monophthongization of // and a recently developing Hispanic English vowel shift.[34][35] However, this same shift failed to appear in a later study, in which Anglo New Mexicans (and particularly young women) were the ones more likely to engage in an innovative California-like vowel shift,[4] whereas Hispanic speakers raised /æ/ before nasals significantly less, while pronouncing /u/ higher and further back.[36] Many New Mexicans, both Anglo-American and Hispanic, pronounce the cluster /nj/ in the word new. That is, they don't show yod-dropping after /n/, unlike most Americans.[36] Aside from noting a possible full–fool merger regardless of ethnicity,[37] New Mexican English research has tended to focus on vocabulary: particularly loanwords from New Mexican Spanish. The word acequia [ɑˈseɪkjɑ] is used for a ditch;[38] canales [kɑˈnɑleɪs] for rain and street gutters;[39] corazón [ˌkʰɔɹɑˈsoʊn] for sweetheart, darling, courage, or spirit;[40] nana for one's grandmother (more widely than elsewhere in the U.S.);[41] and vigas for rafters.[39] The New Mexican chile pepper has had such a large cultural impact that it has even been entered into the Congressional Record spelled as chile, not chili.[42][43]

Pacific NorthwestEdit

The states of Oregon and Washington show a mixture of features that vary widely among the local speakers themselves. Overall, these features are strongly similar to both Californian as well as Canadian English. Studies are therefore inconclusive about whether this region constitutes a distinct dialect or not.


The English of Utah shows great variation, though little overall consistency,[44] making it difficult to classify as either a sub-dialect of Western American English or a separate dialect of its own.[44][12][8][16] Members of the LDS Church may use the propredicate "do" or "done", as in the sentence "I would have done", unlike other Americans, suggesting a more recent British influence within the Church.[45] One prominent older, declining feature of Utah English is the cord-card merger without a horse-hoarse merger, particularly along the Wasatch Front, which merges /ɑɹ/ (as in far) and /ɔɹ/ (as in for), while keeping /oʊɹ/ distinct (as in four).[8][13] Utahns may use slightly distinct vowel placement and vowel space area during articulation, particularly with young, female speakers documented as pronouncing /æ/ as higher than /ɑ/—the opposite of a typical modern Western accent.[8] Throughout the Mormon corridor beyond Utah, practicing Mormons tend to lag behind regional dialect changes while maintaining characteristic Utah features.[46]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Busby, M. (2004). The Southwest. The Greenwood encyclopedia of American regional cultures. Vol. 8. Greenwood Press. pp. 270–271. ISBN 978-0-313-32805-3. Retrieved August 29, 2014.
  2. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 146.
  3. ^ a b c Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 279.
  4. ^ a b Brumbaugh, Susan; Koops, Christian (December 1, 2017). "Vowel Variation in Albuquerque, New Mexico". Publication of the American Dialect Society. 102 (1). 31-57. p. 49. doi:10.1215/00031283-4295200.
  5. ^ Fridland, Valerie; Kendall, Tyler (December 1, 2019). "5. On the Uniformity of the Low-Back-Merger Shift in the US West and Beyond". Publication of the American Dialect Society. 104 (1): 100–119. doi:10.1215/00031283-8032957. S2CID 213029625.
  6. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 135.
  7. ^ Eddington, David; Taylor, Michael (August 1, 2009). "T-Glottalization IN AMERICAN ENGLISH". American Speech. 84 (3): 298–314. doi:10.1215/00031283-2009-023. ISSN 0003-1283. S2CID 145615569.
  8. ^ a b c d Reeves, Larkin (August 6, 2009). "Patterns of Vowel Production in Speakers of American English from the State of Utah". All Theses and Dissertations.
  9. ^ Jones, Jennifer G. (2012). "Do Utahns Talk Funny?" BYU Magazine. Brigham Young University.
  10. ^ Eddington, David; Savage, Matthew (September 1, 2012). "Where Are the Moun[ɁƏ]ns in Utah?". American Speech. 87 (3): 336–349. doi:10.1215/00031283-1958345.
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 67, 70, 285–286.
  12. ^ a b Lillie, Diane Deford. The Utah Dialect Survey. 1998. Brigham Young University, Master's thesis.
  13. ^ a b Bowie, David (February 2, 2008). "Acoustic Characteristics of Utah's Card-Cord Merger". American Speech. 83 (1): 35–61. doi:10.1215/00031283-2008-002. ISSN 0003-1283.
  14. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 285–286.
  15. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 283.
  16. ^ a b Morkel, Wendy McCollum. Tracing a Sound Pattern: /ay/-Monophthongization in Utah English. 2003. Brigham Young University, Master's Thesis.
  17. ^ Sykes, Robert D. (2010). A Sociophonetic Study of (aI) in Utah English (MA). University of Utah.
  18. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 68.
  19. ^ Metcalf, Allan (2000). "The Far West and beyond". How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 143. ISBN 0618043624. Another pronunciation even more widely heard among older teens and adults in California and throughout the West is 'een' for -ing, as in 'I'm thinkeen of go-een campeen.'
  20. ^ a b c d Carver, Craig M. (1987). American Regional Dialects: A Word Geography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. pp. 206f. ISBN 9780472100767.
  21. ^ "Bear claw". Dictionary of American Regional English.
  22. ^ Carver (1987), p. 223.
  23. ^ Schneider, Edgar W. (2019). "English in the United States". The Handbook of World Englishes. pp. 35–51. doi:10.1002/9781119147282.ch3. ISBN 9781119164210. S2CID 213403883.
  24. ^ Vaux, Bert; Golder, Scott (2003). "The Harvard Dialect Survey". Harvard University Linguistics Department. Archived from the original on October 2, 2011.
  25. ^ a b Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  26. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 141.
  27. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 104, 141, 159, 182.
  28. ^ Sheidlower, Jesse (October 1, 2008). "Placing Sarah Palin's accent". Slate Magazine.
  29. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 78, 80, 82, 105, 158.
  30. ^ Ward, Michael (2003). Portland Dialect Study: The Fronting of /ow, u, uw/ in Portland, Oregon (PDF). Portland State University.
  31. ^ a b Drager, Katie, M. Joelle Kirtley, James Grama, Sean Simpson (2013). "Language variation and change in Hawai‘i English: KIT, DRESS, and TRAP". University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics, Vol. 19: Iss. 2, Article 6: 42, 48-49.
  32. ^ Kirtley, M. Joelle; Grama, James; Drager, Katie; Simpson, Sean (April 2016). "An acoustic analysis of the vowels of Hawai'i English". Journal of the International Phonetic Association. 46 (1): 79–97. doi:10.1017/S0025100315000456. S2CID 147549962.
  33. ^ Balukas, Colleen; Koops, Christian (2014). "Spanish-English bilingual voice onset time in spontaneous code-switching". International Journal of Bilingualism. 19 (4): 423–443. doi:10.1177/1367006913516035. ISSN 1367-0069. S2CID 144159300.
  34. ^ Balukas, Colleen (November 2014). Patterns of /eɪ/-monophongization in Northern New Mexican English. 11th High Desert Linguistics Conference. High Desert Linguistics Society. p. 21. Retrieved November 5, 2015 – via ResearchGate.
  35. ^ Hernández, Pilar (1993). "Vowel shift in Northern New Mexico Chicano English". Mester. 22 (2): 227–234. doi:10.5070/M3222014266.
  36. ^ a b Brumbaugh, Susan (2017). Anglo and Hispanic Vowel Variation in New Mexican English (PhD). University of New Mexico. Retrieved March 15, 2022.
  37. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 286.
  38. ^ "New Mexico". Worldmark Encyclopedia of the States. June 10, 2010. Retrieved June 22, 2018 – via Encyclopedia.com.
  39. ^ a b Worldmark 2010.
  40. ^ Madrid, A. L. (2011). Transnational Encounters: Music and Performance at the U.S.–Mexico Border. Oxford University Press. p. 304. ISBN 978-0-19-987611-2. Retrieved August 3, 2015 – via Google Books.
  41. ^ Grieve, Jack et al. (2013). "Site-restricted web searches for data collection in regional dialectology". American Speech 88: 413-440. Draft pp. 40, 42.
  42. ^ King, L. S. (2009). Frommer's Santa Fe, Taos and Albuquerque. Frommer's Complete Guides. Wiley. p. 27. ISBN 978-0-470-43795-7. Retrieved May 31, 2015 – via Google Books.
  43. ^ Smith, A.; Kraig, B. (2013). The Oxford Encyclopedia of Food and Drink in America. Oxford University Press. p. 382. ISBN 978-0-19-973496-2. Retrieved May 31, 2015 – via Google Books.
  44. ^ a b Lillie, Diane (April 1, 1997). "Utah English". Deseret Language and Linguistic Society Symposium. 23 (1): 54.
  45. ^ Di Paolo, Marianna (1993). "Propredicate Do in the English of the Intermountain West". American Speech. 68 (4): 339–356. doi:10.2307/455771. ISSN 0003-1283. JSTOR 455771.
  46. ^ Stanley, Joseph A. (December 1, 2020). "6. The Absence of a Religiolect Among Latter-Day Saints in Southwest Washington". The Publication of the American Dialect Society. 105 (1). 95–122, pgs. 99–100. doi:10.1215/00031283-8820642. S2CID 229413823.

External linksEdit