Western American English

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Western American English
RegionWestern United States
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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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.

The West was the last area in the United States to be reached during the gradual westward expansion of English-speaking settlement and its history shows considerable mixing and leveling of the linguistic patterns of other regions. As the settlement populations are relatively young when compared with other regions, the American West is 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 phonetics[edit]

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 /u/ but not /oʊ/ (as 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/ allophones remain back and may be either rounded or unrounded due to a merger between /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ (commonly represented as words like cot and caught, or pod and pawed, becoming perfect homophones.[3] Unlike in Canada, however, the raising before voiceless consonants of /aʊ/ does not exist and of /aɪ/ is not as consistent and pronounced.[4] 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 U.S. dialect, which influenced the area.[5] 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 (towards [ɛ]). T-glottalization is more common in Western dialects than other varieties of American English, particularly among younger speakers.[6] Another recognizable though nonstandard trait particularly in California and the Pacific Northwest, even among General American speakers from the West, is raising the "short i" /ɪ/ sound to a "long ee" [i] sound before ng so that their pronunciation of -ing with G-dropping, /i(ː)n/, rhymes with bean or the traditional British pronunciation of been.[7]


  • baby buggy as opposed to baby carriage (more common east of the Mississippi River, mixed in the region between the Mississippi and Appalachian Mountains, rare east of the Appalachians)[8]
  • bear claw: a large stuffy pastry[9]
  • 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.[10]
  • firefly: preferred term for any insect of the Lampyridae family[11]
  • frontage road: a service or access road[11]
  • gunnysack as opposed to burlap bag (the latter more common east of the Mississippi)[8]
  • 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[8]
  • shivaree as opposed to 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)[8]


Several sub-types of the Western dialect exist or appear to be currently in formation. 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.[12] This may be related to scatterings of Western speakers, such as some Utah speakers,[13][14] generally producing lax pronunciations of the tense vowels before /l/, including before front vowels, such as pronouncing "sale" as "sell" /sɛl/ or "milk" as "melk" /mɛlk/.[15]


A noticeable California Vowel Shift has been observed in the English of some California speakers scattered throughout the state,[16] 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.[17] Some older, Irish-American residents once spoke a dialect of English far more similar to New York City English.


The English of Utah shows great variation, though little overall consistency,[18] making it difficult to classify as either a sub-dialect of Western American English or a separate dialect of its own.[18][13][19][20] 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.[21] 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).[19][14] 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.[19] The use of a full rather than syllabic pronunciation of /ən/ in the sequence /-tən/, in words like "kitten" or "mountain", is a minor but noted variant among younger, female Utah speakers;[19] thus, kitten as [ˈkʰɪʔɨn] in addition to more General American [ˈkʰɪʔn̩]. However, this feature has been reported elsewhere in the country too, including California and New Jersey.[22]


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, those who do not speak Pidgin or are male were shown to lower /ɪ/ and /ɛ/; younger speakers of the first group also lowered /æ/, and younger participants in general backed /æ/.[23] 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.[23] Unlike most Americans, Hawaii residents may not demonstrate any form of /æ/ tensing (even before nasal consonants, as with most Western Americans).[24]


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".[25] 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.[26] 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.[27]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Busby, M. (2004). The Southwest. The Greenwood encyclopedia of American regional cultures. 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 Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 279.
  4. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 135.
  5. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 68.
  6. ^ 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.
  7. ^ 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 think-een of go-een camp-een.'
  8. ^ a b c d Carver, Craig M. (1987). American Regional Dialects: A Word Geography. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. pp. 206f. ISBN 9780472100767.
  9. ^ "Bear claw". Dictionary of American Regional English.
  10. ^ Carver (1987), p. 223.
  11. ^ a b Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  12. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 70, 285–286.
  13. ^ a b Lillie, Diane Deford. The Utah Dialect Survey. 1998. Brigham Young University, Master's thesis.
  14. ^ 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.
  15. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 285–286.
  16. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 78, 80, 82, 105, 158.
  17. ^ Ward, Michael (2003). Portland Dialect Study: The Fronting of /ow, u, uw/ in Portland, Oregon (PDF). Portland State University.
  18. ^ a b Lillie, Diane (April 1, 1997). "Utah English". Deseret Language and Linguistic Society Symposium. 23 (1): 54.
  19. ^ 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.
  20. ^ Morkel, Wendy McCollum. Tracing a Sound Pattern: /ay/-Monophthongization in Utah English. 2003. Brigham Young University, Master's Thesis.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Jones, Jennifer G. (2012). "http://magazine.byu.edu/article/do-utahns-talk-funny/ Do Utahns Talk Funny?]" BYU Magazine. Brigham Young University.
  23. ^ 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.
  24. ^ Kirtley, M., Grama, J., Drager, K., & Simpson, S. (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
  25. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 141.
  26. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 104, 141, 159, 182.
  27. ^ Sheidlower, Jesse (2008). "What Kind of Accent Does Sarah Palin Have?" Slate. The Slate Group, LLC.

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