Mid-Atlantic American English

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Mid-Atlantic American English, Middle Atlantic American English, or Delaware Valley English is a class of American English, considered by The Atlas of North American English to be a single dialect,[1] spoken in the southeastern part of the Mid-Atlantic United States and especially the Delaware Valley, comprising the Philadelphia and Baltimore subsets of English. The dialect is found throughout southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, some southern parts of Central Jersey, Delaware, and eastern and especially northeast Maryland.

The dialect consists mainly of the widely studied subsets known as Philadelphia English and Baltimore English.

This dialect of English centers most strongly on Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore, Maryland; and Atlantic City and Trenton, New Jersey.[2]

Phonological characteristics[edit]

A chart of all vowels of Mid-Atlantic American English
Pure vowels (Monophthongs)
English diaphoneme Mid-Atlantic realization Example words
/æ/ [æ] act, pal, trap
[æə~ɛə~eə] ham, pass, yeah
/ɑː/ [ɑː] blah, father
/ɒ/ bother,
lot, top, wasp
[ɔə]~[ɒ̝ə] dog, loss, cloth
/ɔː/ all, bought, taught, saw
/ɛ/ [ɛ] dress, met, bread
/ə/ [ə~ɜ] about, syrup, arena
/ɪ/ [ɪ~ɪ̈] hit, skim, tip
/iː/ [iː] beam, chic, fleet
/ʌ/ [ʌ] bus, flood, what
/ʊ/ [ʊ] book, put, should
/uː/ [ʉu] food, glue, new
/aɪ/ [äɪ] ride, shine, try
[ɐɪ] bright, dice, pike
/aʊ/ [æʊ~ɛɔ] now, ouch, scout
/eɪ/ [eɪ] lake, paid, rein
/ɔɪ/ [ɔɪ~oɪ] boy, choice, moist
/oʊ/ [ɘʊ~ɜʊ] goat, oh, show
R-colored vowels
/ɑːr/ [ɑɹ] barn, car, park
/ɪər/ [iɹ] fear, peer, tier
/ɛər/ [er] bare, bear, there
/ɜːr/ [əɹ~ɜɹ] burn, first, herd
/ər/ [əɹ] doctor, martyr, pervade
/ɔːr/ [ɔɹ~oɹ] hoarse, horse, poor
score, tour, war
/jʊər/ [jɔɹ~joɹ~jəɹ] cure, Europe, pure

The Mid-Atlantic dialectal region is characterized by several unique phonological features:

  • No cot-caught merger: There is a huge difference in the pronunciation between the cot class of words (e.g. pot, glob, and rock) and the caught class (e.g. thought, awe, and call), as in New York City.[3] The caught class is raised and diphthongized towards [oə]~[o̝ə].[4]
  • Lot-cloth split: Similarly, the single word "on" has the vowel of "dawn", and not the same vowel as "don" etc. Labov et al. regard this phenomenon as occurring not just in the Mid-Atlantic region, but in all regions south of a geographic boundary that they identify as the "ON line", which is significant because it distinguishes most varieties of Northern American English (in which on and Don are rhymes) from most varieties of Midland and Southern American English (in which on and dawn are rhymes).[5]
  • Short-a split system: The Mid-Atlantic region uses a short-a split system similar to, but more limited than, the New York City short-a split system. (In the Trenton area, an intermediate system is used, falling between the typical Mid-Atlantic and the New York City system.)[6] Generally, in the Mid-Atlantic system, the vowel /æ/ is tensed (towards [eə]) before the consonants /m/, /n/, /f/, /s/, and /θ/ in a closed syllable (so, for example, bats and baths do not have the same vowel sound, being pronounced [bæts] and [beəθs], respectively), and in any words directly inflectionally derived from root words with this split. Therefore, pass and passing use the tense [eə], but passage and passive use the lax [æ].[7] The lax and the tense reflexes of /æ/ are separate phonemes in these dialects, though largely predictable using the aforementioned rules. There are exceptions, however; the three words bad, mad, and glad become tense, and irregular verbs ending in "-an" or "-am" remain lax.[8]
/æ/ raising in North American English[9]
New York
,[10] New
New England,
Western US
Midland US,
/m, n/
fan, lamb, stand [ɛə][13][A][B] [ɛə][13] [ɛə] [ɛə~ɛjə][15] [ɛə][16] [ɛə][17][13]
/m, n/
animal, planet,
/ŋ/[18] frank, language [ɛː~eɪ][19] [æ][18] [æ~æɛə][15] [ɛː~ɛj][16] [eː~ej][20]
bag, drag [ɛə][A] [æ][C] [æ][13]
Prevocalic /ɡ/ dragon, magazine [æ]
/b, d, ʃ/
grab, flash, sad [ɛə][A] [æ][21] [ɛə][21]
/f, θ, s/
ask, bath, half,
Otherwise as, back, happy,
  1. ^ a b c d In New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore, most function words (am, can, had, etc.) and some learned or less common words (alas, carafe, lad, etc.) have [æ].
  2. ^ In Philadelphia, the irregular verbs began, ran, swam, and wan (a local variant of won) have [æ].[14]
  3. ^ In Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone have [ɛə].
  4. ^ In New York City, certain lexical exceptions exist (like avenue being tense) and variability is common before /dʒ/ and /z/ as in imagine, magic, and jazz.[22]
    In New Orleans, [ɛə] additionally occurs before /v/ and /z/.[23]

Lexical characteristics[edit]

  • To refer to a sweetened, flavored, carbonated soft drink, the term soda is preferred (rather than pop or the generic coke which are common to the west and to the south, respectively).
  • Positive anymore may be used without its negative polarity to mean "nowadays," as in "Her hoagies taste different anymore."
  • The term jimmies is sometimes used in this and the Boston dialect to refer to small confectionaries used to top ice cream and icing, generally called sprinkles in New York and the rest of the United States.
  • The term rail drink may be used in parts of the Mid-Atlantic region, in particular in much of the Washington, D.C./Baltimore metro area, for what is known as a "well drink" in bars and pubs in much or most of the rest of the U.S.

Notable speakers[edit]


  1. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 236
  2. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 233
  3. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 125
  4. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 130
  5. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 189
  6. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 239
  7. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 173
  8. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), chpt. 17
  9. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 182.
  10. ^ a b c Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–4.
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 260–1.
  12. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 238–9.
  13. ^ a b c d Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2.
  14. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 238.
  15. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 178, 180.
  16. ^ a b Boberg (2008), p. 145.
  17. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 175–7.
  18. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 183.
  19. ^ Baker, Mielke & Archangeli (2008).
  20. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 181–2.
  21. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 82, 123, 177, 179.
  22. ^ Labov (2007), p. 359.
  23. ^ Labov (2007), p. 373.
  24. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 237
  25. ^ "The Best Show with Tom Scharpling". thebestshow.libsyn.com. Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  26. ^ a b "Philadelphians have a unique accent, with pronunciation evolving over the decades". Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  27. ^ "Senator Barbara Mikulski Delivers Farewell Speech". c-span.org. Retrieved 2017-04-02.
  28. ^ "Simply Laura".