North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns

Recent Additions

What’s New

Sections

Help me complete this map!

Record your own voice!

Print the map!

View the Layers!

(New! 12-Aug.-2014)

Special Interest and Historical Articles

Individual Words
(27-June-2013)

 

The Map

1. Click on the map to enlarge it, selecting either the U. S. or Canada.

2. Click again to zoom in more.

3. Click on a state or province to listen to audio or video samples for each location.

(Full instructions)

$Mapping1 1

Western dialects:

7. North Central

8. The West

Dialects that start from the eastern seaboard:

1. Canada

2. Northern New England

3. The North

4. Greater New York City

5. The Midland

6. The South

 

 

Dialect Survey of Individual Words
(27-June-2013)

                Many of you have written in to ask, “What about such-and-such a word? What is its distribution across North America?” And my answer has always been, “That’s not what this map is about, it’s about sound patterns affecting many words at once, it’s about phonemic patterns.” Not that I’m not interested, I am, it’s just that there is no place for this sort of information on my map.

                However, finally someone has done just what many of you have wanted, they have mapped the distribution of lots of these individual words, as well as some grammatical constructions, and you can enjoy browsing through them here. If you don’t want to struggle through the whole list, a selection of some of the most interesting with whimsical comments can be found here. 21-Aug.-2013

                Sadly, they still don’t have some of the ones I’m interested in, like “greasy/greazy”, which has a north-south distribution similar to “on”! Does anyone know of one? Adj. 19-Aug.-2014

                The link for this site was sent in by Joshua Katz. Thanks! Also, Joshua has redone the maps to make a lot of them more readable, as for example his map of words for carbonated beverage. 1-July-2013

This is just a hobby of mine, that I thought might be interesting to a lot of people. Some people collect stamps. Others collect coins. I collect dialects. - Rick Aschmann. (Page last updated: September 16, 2014, finally, since November, 2013!)

Please continue to be patient! I had worked through well over half of the e-mails I had received since the huge jump in popularity of this site over the 2010 Christmas break, due to a number of web forums about it, but suddenly it has happened again, with two more huge surges recently, one since late April, 2013, and one the result of this article on May 9, making me doubt if there is any way I can ever keep up! 15-May-2013

Thanks to all of you who have written expressing appreciation for the page! I don’t promise to respond to every e-mail, but I am still trying to answer all those who sent in a sample or other information, or even a complaint. Unfortunately, my life is always very busy, and I can only dedicate a small portion of my time to this, so I have trouble even keeping up with current correspondence about this page. Worse yet, from time to time this page gets posted to another popular blog, and I get a new surge of e-mail, so I have doubts of ever being able to answer it all. But I’ll keep working at it! Adj. 12-Aug.-2014

 

There are 8 major English dialect areas in North America, listed below the map at left. These are shown in blue, each with its number, on the map and in the Dialect Description Chart below, and are also outlined with blue lines on the map. The first 6 of these begin at the eastern seaboard and proceed west, reflecting western settlement patterns.

The many subdialects are shown in red on the map and in the chart, and are outlined with red lines on the map. All of these are listed in the margins of the map as well.

(If after looking at the map it is still not clear what the dialect boundaries are, check out the new Simplified Map.) Adj. 13-Aug.-2010

In the Dialect Description Chart additional features not shown on the map are provided for distinguishing the dialects.

 

Recent additions

 

• I recently made several adjustments to the lines through northern Montana, realizing that I had not analyzed correctly several samples, being influenced by how the ANAE drew the lines for Great Falls, which I think now were in error. New! 12-Aug.-2014

• Oops! I recently realized that I had failed to extend the yellow long /ō/ [oʊ] fronting line through Maine and into Canada, even though this is clearly indicated on Map 20.2 in ANAE chapter 20. I have now done this, and have even gone further: I have extended two of the long /ō/ [oʊ] fronting lines all the way up into part of Nunavut, as well as the bout-bite line, though I need more data to continue extending them north. In the process I have now finally added some samples from Nunavut and the Northwest Territories. 25-Sep.-2013

• Every U.S. state and Canadian province now has at least one sample, so they are all now clickable! I have also changed the color scheme slightly. 25-Sep.-2013

• Continuing survey: I only discovered in 2011 that many if not most Americans pronounce the “l” in words like “calm” and other words ending in “-alm”, which surprised me very much, since I don’t. Some also pronounce the “l” in “folk”, and even a few may pronounce the “l” in “talk”. See The Pronunciation of “-alm” and “-olk” and “-alk” for more details. I would love to know if you do or do not pronounce the “l” in such words, and where you grew up! Yes, I know many of you have sent in data, and I am still trying to get it all compiled. One thing that has discouraged me is that so far no very discernible patter is emerging! Adj. 12-Aug.-2014

• I made a major adjustment to the southern part of San Francisco Bay, straightening out a number of the lines. 18-July-2013

• Contributor Joshua Katz recently sent in a link for a Dialect Survey of Individual Words, which is a completely separate study, but very interesting. 27-June-2013

• I fixed the Small-Scale Dialect Map so that when you click on it, it actually goes to the right section of the full-scale map! New! 24-Dec.-2012

• I added the Sō kŏŏd wē rīt ŧħə wā wē spēk? section. New! 21-Dec.-2012

• I have added a new subdialect in the North Central dialect area, the Iron Ranges, Minnesota dialect. This had been suggested by others in the past, but I was not able to properly evaluate it until I received several very helpful samples from contributor Adam Jarvi. New! 25-Mar.-2011

• The curl-coil merger has not completely died out! I have recently found a couple of samples of living people that retain it. New! 3-Mar.-2011

• Oops! I have completed reevaluated Ohio as far as the pin-pen line is concerned! Because of Cincinnati and Dayton (which clearly have “pin”≠“pen”), and because I made the invalid assumption that Gavin Veris from Chillicothe, who also has “pin”≠“pen”, represented the local “white” dialect, I assumed that the pin-pen line ran below Cincinnati and Chillicothe, so I failed to listen carefully to the samples for Urbana and for Yellow Springs, not noticing that they had “pin”=“pen”. It was only when I was watching a documentary in which all of the people interviewed were from Chillicothe that I realized my mistake, and listened again to the samples for Urbana and for Yellow Springs. Since then I have found samples for Columbus and for Washington Court House which are also clearly “pin”=“pen”. The good thing is that the shape of the pin-pen line through the Midland now makes a lot more sense: How likely was it that the pin-pen line would take two deep bends across the Midlands? Now it only takes one: the Saint Louis corridor is well established, but the “Cincinnati corridor” was not. Instead, Cincinnati turns out to be a linguistic island, which matches the conclusions of the ANAE, Dayton having apparently been included in its sphere, and Portsmouth, home of Roy Rogers, which was already clearly identified as “pin”=“pen”, is no longer an island. 21-Dec.-2010

• I have made the cot-caught line a visible light-blue line now, rather than simply allowing the hatching to indicate where it would be. I also adjusted the map colors slightly. 16-Nov.-2010

• Finally! Now all of the maps are fully clickable, including the Full-Scale map. (The only states and provinces that are still not clickable are those for which there are no samples yet.) 4-Nov.-2010

 

What’s New? All additions or changes within the last two or three months are marked with New! and the date, or with Adj. (for “Adjusted”.) To see this new information, simply search for these words.

 

Web Forums: There are several web forums or blogs that refer to my map. The most recent ones that I know of are: 12-Dec.-2011

this one, set up on December 5, 2011, primarily for German speakers 12-Dec.-2011

this one, set up on November 15, 2011

 

There are several much older ones, which are mostly no longer active: 28-Nov.-2011

this one, set up on December 31, 2010

this one (specifically for actors and dialect coaches), set up on December 31, 2010

this one, set up on January 1, 2011

this one, set up on December 30, 2010

this one, set up on December 27, 2010.

this one, set up on June 7, 2010

this one, set up on November, 2009.

 

Map Format

                I have made a number of adjustments to the map format based on comments and suggestions from people who write in. However, the main complaint, that the map is too complicated and confusing, I can’t really fix: the subject is complicated, and I am well aware that I have tried to include too many features. However, if people have ideas on how to make the map or web page less confusing, I am all ears! 8-May-2013

                One thing that may help is that you can now view the file in layers. Adj. 16-Sep.-2014

 

Most Common Second and Third Languages by State in the U.S.

                The following page is interesting, and was pointed out to me by several people, although it probably has no direct correlation to the data presented here: gizmodo.com/the-most-common-languages-spoken-in-the-u-s-state-by-1575719698. New! 19-Aug.-2014

 

Web-Based Survey now completed

                A group of linguists had been gathering data on North American English dialects using a web-based survey. They asked for our help, and some of you helped with this survey. This survey is now closed, with 3903 total responses in December 2012. You can see some preliminary results at: pantheon.yale.edu/~clb3/NorthAmericanDialects.

                However, I find that some of their samples definitely do not represent the local dialect! 26-Dec.-2012

Guide to the Sounds of North American English (Now showing pronunciations in IPA as well the Traditional Dictionary Pronunciation System!)

How Many Vowels are there in American English?

How Many Consonants are there?

The Stress Pattern of English, and How it Messes with the Pronunciation

R-Coloring 8-July-2013
          R’s Between Vowels: To Color or Not to Color 8-July-2013

Sō kŏŏd wē rīt ŧħə wā wē spēk, yōōzĭng dĭkshənârē sĭmbəlz? 19-June-2013

Soh kuud wee riyt thə way wee speek, yoozing just playn letərz? 19-June-2013

          Key to the Spelling Systems 21-Aug.-2013

How I Use the IPA (and how I don’t)

John Wells’s Lexical Sets

Rick Aschmann’s Lexical Sets

 

Special Interest and Historical Articles:

The Cot-Caught Merger

Did the cot-caught merger come from Scotland?

The Father-Bother Distinction

The Pronunciation of “-alm” and “-olk” and “-alk”

Inland and Lowland Southern and their relationship to the extent of slavery before the Civil War 17-Apr.-2013
          What’s the Difference between Inland Southern and Lowland Southern?
          My Theory of the Settlement of the American South
          Southern Areas Settled after the Civil War
          Possible Southern Class Distinction?
          My Theory about the Original Area of Inland Southern

Classical Southern and African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

The Pin-Pen Merger, the Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Texas Cattle Drives

New York City and Its Offspring

New Orleans

Where do they speak without an accent? Or where do they speak “General American”?

Do some geographic features coincide with dialect boundaries or areas?

Do state or provincial borders coincide with dialect boundaries?

Which states are the most linguistically complex?

The Unique Position of Nebraska

The U.S. - Canada Border and the “Badge of Identity”

 

About Me

 

Print the Map!

Several people have asked if I intend to make posters of this map. I do not! I’m not going to get into marketing my hobby!

However, I wanted a poster myself, so I figured out how to print it out in pieces and tape it together. You can do the same. It will print out on 9 pieces of standard letter size paper (81/2 x 11 inches), and you will then need to trim the inner margins with scissors or a paper cutter, and then tape the pieces together. I ended up with a nice poster, and you can too.

Click here to open the printable PDF file.

After you have opened it, you can print it directly to your printer.

I don’t promise to update this PDF each time I update the map, but I’ll try to update it fairly frequently. This PDF was last updated on: September 16, 2014.

 

If you want to use the original file to print a full-sized poster or for other purposes, or if I haven’t updated the PDF for a while, right click here to download it. Adj. 16-Sep.-2014

 

View the Layers!

If you want to see the layered file that the map is based on, click here. This will allow you to see individual features without the clutter of the other features. New! 12-Aug.-2014

This map was created using the Paint.NET program, and can probably only be displayed using that program. I still have not learned a simple way to display these layers on the screen and still have clickable maps as I now have. If anyone can tell me how I can do that, I would be grateful! New! 12-Aug.-2014

A description of each layer and suggestions can be found here.

 

Small-Scale Dialect Map

The small map below is the same as the Full-Scale Dialect Map that follows, but shows the entire width of the map (on most monitors). 24-Aug.-2010

Click on any part of this map to move to the equivalent part of the Full-Scale Dialect Map. (For now this only moves to the far left or the far right of the Full-Scale Dialect Map, so unfortunately it doesn’t work well for the middle portions, and you will just have to scroll over.) 24-Aug.-2010

$Mapping2 $$width=1000 height=862$$



 

Full-Scale Dialect Map

Instructions

For many of the cities or towns on this map, you can listen to an audio or video sample of speech of a native (more specifically, someone who was raised there, though not necessarily born there, and whose dialect clearly represents that place). All of the cities or towns with a green center have such an audio or video sample that can be listened to (and a few of the ones with pink centers do also). I will continue adding new audio and video samples, so check back from time to time. So far there are over 900 samples listed, more and more of which are from contributors! Thanks! Adj. 1-Sep.-2014

Use the scroll bars to move around on this map, or, even simpler, start at the tiny map above and click the country (U.S. or Canada) that you want to look at. This will take you to the Small-Scale Dialect Map. Click again to zoom in further on your location. (For now this only moves to the far left or the far right of the Full-Scale Dialect Map, so unfortunately it doesn’t work well for the middle portions, and you will just have to scroll over.) 24-Aug.-2010

The entire map is clickable, taking you to the list of samples for that state or province. Only those locations with green centers, and a few with pink centers, have a sample so far. There will be a few areas of the oceans and the legends that are not clickable, but all of the states and provinces now are. Place the mouse over a particular state or province to see its name. (The map guides, showing the meaning of all the colors, are on the top right and bottom left of the map.) 25-Sep.-2013

 

Help! For many places I haven’t found an audio sample yet. If you know of an audio or video sample on the Internet that features a speaker who was raised in a particular place, and whose dialect clearly represents that place, please let me know, whether that place is currently listed or not! Although many of the people in these samples are prominent people, I actually prefer ordinary local people, but anyone at all will do, as long as their pronunciation represents the local dialect. (The ones I especially need, and cannot find, are those with an orange-yellow center.) Also, if you think that one of the audio examples does not truly represent the local dialect, please let me know in the same way. (Oh, but please keep the samples clean. I have a policy of not using a sample if it uses a word you can’t say on TV in the U.S.!) I will normally list your name as the contributor, to make this more of a community project, unless you’d rather I didn’t, in which case I will use initials. However, I will not publish anyone’s e-mail address. 10-May-2011

Numbered Locations: Thanks mostly to enthusiastic contributor Eli K. in 2010, much of Kentucky and Tennessee and neighboring areas are about as thoroughly mapped as they possibly can be. That’s the kind of help needed to really fill out this map! In fact, I was forced to go to a numbering system for such areas, since the scale of the map is already big enough! I put the key to the numbers off the east coast of Canada. Adj. 1-Sep.-2014

 

 

$Mapping3 $$width=2717 height=2342$$

 

 

 

Data from the Atlas of North American English (ANAE)

I am grateful to the Atlas of North American English (ANAE) by William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg, for a good part of the data on which this map was based. Specifically, much of the information on the map above and in the Dialect Description Chart below was obtained from ANAE chapter 11 (a draft version available on the Internet), as well as from many other chapters of the same work, with a few ideas from a much older version of the same: ling.upenn.edu/phono_atlas/home.html. (The Table of Contents of the draft version of the atlas can be seen at: www.ling.upenn.edu/phonoatlas/ANAE_ToC.pdf, but this does not link directly to the chapters. Links to each chapter are: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 18, 19, 20, 21, 22, 23.) 23-Sep.-2013

However, the names of a number of the dialects are my own, and I have made many adjustments to their borders (especially Inland and Lowland South, West Midland, and Allegheny Midland). Also, a lot of the data is from my own research and analysis. - Rick Aschmann

I discovered in late 2011 that much or all of the audio data upon which the atlas was based is now available on the Internet, on this website (select North American English Dialects). (Replaced bad link.) I will be adding samples from this site as I have time, marked as “ANAE info and audio”. 26-Jan.-2013

 

Map Notes

The following notes refer to numbers on the map, and show the corresponding section of the ANAE:

1: Pin-pen merger: See Map 9.5 in ANAE chapter 9 and www.ling.upenn.edu/phono_atlas/maps/Map3.html. This is the only feature in which I find myself in significant disagreement with the ANAE: I have found that the pin-pen merger area is much larger than they show, especially in the west.[1] (See The Pin-Pen Merger, The Kansas-Nebraska Act, and the Texas Cattle Drives below.) 6-Aug.-2011

2: Long /ō/ [oʊ] fronting: See Map 20.2 in ANAE chapter 20. 2: The boundary between central-back and central-front (the yellow dots) was used by the ANAE to define the boundary between North and Midland, but this line then extends into the West. The deep dip that it takes southwards in Utah and Nevada would seem to indicate settlement of these areas by Northerners, probably represented by the Mormon settlement. Thus this dip corresponds to a large degree to the “Mormon Corridor”. Many of these settlers were originally from the Palmyra, New York, area and from Kirtland, Ohio. Another northern contribution may have been the early northeastern organized crime influence in Las Vegas. Now I’m not saying that people in these areas sound like northeasterners: they don’t, they sound like westerners, with this one feature being dragged south because of this origin. 20-Jan.-2010

3: R-dropping: See Map 7.1 in ANAE chapter 7. R-droppers are also called non-rhotic English speakers, though I find this term rather obscure and academic. There are two types of r-droppers, which I call Systematic R-droppers and Simple R-droppers. 2-Jan.-2012

Systematic R-droppers are found in the northeastern U. S., in much of England, and in Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, India, much of the Caribbean, and other places. Systematic R-droppers have linking and intrusive r’s. John F. Kennedy is an excellent example of a Systematic r-dropper. In a speech he gave prior to being elected, he says “The hungry children I sawr in West Vaginia.” This quote has one intrusive r, and one dropped r, both highlighted in red. In another speech during the Cuban missile crisis he says, starting at 4:55: “...Soviet foreign minister Gromyko told me in my office that he was instructed to make it cleah once again, as he said his govament had already done, Soviet assistance to Cubar, and I quote, ...”, which again has one intrusive r, and two dropped r’s, again highlighted in red. 2-Apr.-2011

Simple R-droppers are found in parts of the Lowland South. As a general rule, they do not have linking and intrusive r’s. All of the areas in the South marked as r-droppers on my map are Simple R-dropper areas. (It turns out that Hawai’i Creole English is also of this type.) 1-Aug.-2012

Numerous examples of both kinds of r-droppers are given in the audio samples below. This pattern is receding, so occasionally only much older speakers retain the r-dropping in a given location. These are surrounded on the map by a dotted green circle, and in the chart below will be indicated with the phrase “Older r-dropper”. 3-Apr.-2010

4: Canadian and Tidewater raising: See Map 15.5 in ANAE chapter 15, noting only the info for the /ou/ [aʊ] vowel (which he writes /aw/), not the /ī/ [aɪ] vowel (which he writes /ay/). For Tidewater I have gleaned the info from various sources, including stray comments in ANAE. 3-July-2010

5: Bite-bout line: See Map 14.1 in ANAE chapter 14.

6: “On” line: See Map 14.2 in ANAE chapter 14. This is the only lexical item included in this analysis, but it seems to correlate with the phonological data. Why it turns north at its western end in the Dakotas and does some contortions is unclear. (The ANAE did not have Mitchell, SD or Ashley, ND, which are the surprises. Actually, Mitchell is not a surprise, or even borderline, but one speaker seems to be anomalous.) Miles City, Montana, an outlier of Western North, is also below the line. In San Francisco the pattern seems to be reversed, with the “Don” group possibly representing a later influx of some type. 22-Sep.-2010

 

Dialect Description Chart

 

vowel

of “lot”

fronted

almost

as much

as vowel

of “let”

vowel

of “cot”

more

fronted

than

vowel

of “cut”

vowel

of “too”

much

more

fronted

than

vowel

of “toe”

Vowel

of “far”

fronted

Vowel

of

“caught”

strongly

raised

“hoarse”

=“horse”,

“mourning”

=

“morning”,

“four”=

“for”

Unique

Features

Chapter

and

map in

ANAE

Chapter and map in ANAE

14.8

14.8

10.24,

20.2

10.34

10.31

8.2

7. North Central

 

yes

Like Western North, but “cot”=“caught”

14

Iron Range, Minnesota *

 

yes

Subtle differences from the rest of the North Central, particularly /ŧħ/ [ð] becomes /d/ [d].

Mat-Su Valley, Alaska *

yes

 

yes

Strongly like North Central, but with some admixture from the main Alaska dialect. (See Sarah Palin.)

8. West

yes

 

yes

Vowel of “too” significantly more fronted than vowel of “toe”, “cot”=“caught”

20

Alaska

yes

 

yes

Same as West (ANAE chapter 11 says there are significant differences, but does not make clear what they are.)

( 11, 20)

Silver City, NM

yes

 

yes

Same as West, but “cot”≠“caught”

1. Canada (main area)

yes

very little

 

yes

Same as West, plus Canadian vowel shift, vowel of “cat” central, raising of “bite”, “bout”

15

Atlantic Provinces

mixed?

yes

 

yes

vowel of “far” fronted (but not “father”)

15

Irish Newfoundland

yes

yes

 

yes

like the Atlantic Provinces, but with a strong Irish component

2. Northern New England

                Eastern New England (ENE)

yes

 

no

“far” & “father” fronted, systematic r-dropping, “cot”=“caught”, “father” & “bother” don’t rhyme

16

NW New England

very little

very little

yes

 

yes

vowel of “far” fronted (but not “father”) , “cot”=“caught”

16, (14)

3. The North

mixed

mixed

mostly

 

almost all

Back vowels strongly backed, defined as the “cot”≠“caught” area north of the line of yellow dots, except for the St. Louis Corridor.[2]

14

Western North

mixed

mixed

mostly

 

yes

Least distinctive dialect of the North, some sections are “General American

14

Inland North

yes

yes

mostly

 

almost all

Northern Cities Shift: “bat” strongly raised, most short vowels shifted

14

St. Louis Corridor

yes

yes

Mixed

 

mixed

Northern Cities Shift: “bat” strongly raised, most short vowels shifted, but many other vowels like Midland

19, 14

Indiana North[3]

no

no

yes

Very similar to Western North, but separated from it geographically[4].

14

Eastern North

yes

yes

very little

mixed

yes

Mostly like Western North, but some similarities to Greater New York City

14, 16

Albany

yes

yes

very little

yes

yes

Many vowels like Greater New York City, but no r-dropping

Providence

yes

 

no

Vowel of “cat” central, systematic r-dropping, “cart”=“cot”, which is not seen anywhere else in the world!

14

4. Greater New York City (GNYC)

yes

yes

Various unusual vowels, systematic r-dropping, “bad” & “had” don’t rhyme, “father” & “bother” don’t rhyme

17

The Hamptons

 

yes

A lot like Greater New York City, but more research needed!

Downtown New Orleans

 

no?

More like Greater New York City than anything else, although “bad” & “had” probably rhyme, and “on” rhymes with “Dawn”. 24-Nov.-2012

18

5. The Midland

 

almost all

In many ways is intermediate between Northern and Southern[5]

19

Central Midland

 

almost all

Least distinctive dialect in the U.S., many sections are “General American

Canton, Ohio

 

yes

“bat” strongly raised, “on” rhymes with “Don”, not “Dawn”

11, (14)

Cincinnati, Ohio

 

yes

Many vowels are pronounced like Greater New York City, “pin”≠“pen”, unlike the surrounding area[6]

19, 11

West Midland *

 

yes

“cot”=“caught”

(19)

Allegheny Midland[7]

 

yes

“cot”=“caught”

19

Pittsburgh

 

yes

Pittsburgh vowel shift: “out” is pronounced [ˈat], with no diphthong, the way a Bostonian says “art”.

19

Oklahoma City * [8]

 

yes

Like the parts of the Central Midland south of the pin-pen line

19

East Midland *

yes

yes

Like the Central Midland, with influences from Atlantic Midland

17

Atlantic Midland[9]

yes

yes

“bad” does not rhyme with “had”, like Greater New York City

17

North Florida

 

yes

Like the Central Midland, “pin”=“pen”

11, 18

South Florida

 

yes

Like the Central Midland, “pin”≠“pen”

11

El Paso

 

yes

“cot”≠“caught”, “pin”=“pen”

11

Galveston *

 

yes

Very similar to East Midland, or even to Atlantic Midland, except that “bad” rhymes with “had”

San Francisco Bay

yes

yes

Very similar to East Midland, or even to Atlantic Midland, except that “bad” rhymes with “had”

(11)

6. The South

 

mixed

Partial to full Southern shift: vowels of “ride” and “buy” have no diphthong: long /ī/ is [a].

18

Lowland South

 

mixed

Partial Southern shift: vowels of “ride” and “buy” have [a], with no diphthong, but “right” does ([aɪ]), “pin”=“pen”.

Classical Southern

 

mixed

Outlined in dark green rather than red, a catch-all for all R-dropping dialects in the South, includes or cuts across some of the dialects below.

7

The Tidewater

 

mixed

Outlined in pink rather than red, a catch-all for those parts of the coastal south that have the Tidewater raising, as explained on the map. It actually includes two areas that lack the Southern shift, Down East & Outer Banks and Charleston.

Note 4

Savannah

 

yes

R-dropping, “pin”≠“pen”

18

Cajun English[10]

 

yes

East is R-dropping, west apparently not, “pin”=“pen”, French influence, th > t,d.

New Orleans, Mid City

 

no?

See New Orleans inset on map and the New Orleans section below

18

New Orleans, Irish Channel

 

no?

See New Orleans inset on map and the New Orleans section below

18

Inland South

 

almost all

Full Southern shift: vowels of “ride”, “buy”, and “right” all have [a], with no diphthong, “pin”=“pen”

18

Anomalous peripheral areas in the southeast that resisted the Southern shift:

 

Charleston

 

yes

No Southern shift, R-dropping, vowels of “bait” and “boat” are not diphthongs, but simple [e] and [o].

11, 18

Down East & Outer Banks *

 

 

 

 

 

yes

No Southern shift, long /ī/ [aɪ] vowel often almost like /oi/ [ɔɪ], “pin”=“pen”[11] 11-July-2011

(18, 11)

Chesapeake Islands *

 

 

 

 

 

yes

No Southern shift, long /ī/ [aɪ] vowel less like /oi/ [ɔɪ] than Down East & Outer Banks, “pin”≠“pen”

 

 

* Those dialects marked with an asterisk are not in the Atlas of North American English (ANAE).

 

Colors:

Transitional areas within main dialects

Distinctive or innovative features of a given dialect

Transitional areas outside main dialects

Intermediate or partial features

 

Other Sources

I have added and adjusted a lot of the information on the map based on the following audio and non-audio data. - Rick Aschmann

Regional non-audio data

Location

Source

English, French, and indigenous mother-tongue areas of Canada

atlas.nrcan.gc.ca/site/english/maps/population.html#language 25-Sep.-2013

French mother-tongue areas of Maine

Wikipedia, www.francomaine.org/English/Carto/carto.htm

Indigenous languages

ethnologue.com/region/NAM 9-Sep.-2013

the eastern boundary of Inland North

ling.upenn.edu/~dinkin/GapHandout.pdf

Greater New York City

ling.upenn.edu/~wlabov/Papers/TD.pdf

Eastern boundary between Eastern New England and Providence

ling.upenn.edu/~johnson4/pwpl_draft.pdf 30-Mar.-2010

Multiple-region audio samples found on the Internet

Location

Source

Comment

Samples from al­most all U. S. states and a few from Canada

International Dialects of English Archive (IDEA) (or new clickable map: www.dialectsarchive.com/globalmap)

This site has been completely redone, perhaps in 2013, and is vastly improved, since it now provides a lot more information about the speakers, including place of birth and sometimes a list of places where they have lived, plus a lot of other information!

                However, I still find that many of the samples do not represent well the bedrock pronunciation of the area, but instead represent those who have tried to sound less “local”. Also, locations are often limited (though I see that more have been added recently), and often only urban locations are given.

                Even so, in many cases the data is useful, and I have used it in the sound samples below, especially when clearer indications are given of “nativeness”, and now that more information has been provided, I will probably add more. If anyone finds any of these that I have left out and shouldn’t have, please let me know!

                (Because this site changed its entire structure, none of the old links worked anymore, and I have redone them all. The original site was web.ku.edu/~idea or web.ku.edu/~idea.) Adj. 8-Nov.-2013

Samples only from north-central U. S.

csumc.wisc.edu/AmericanLanguages/english/eng_us.htm

Again, not always clear if the speakers are natives of the area in which they were interviewed, or if they represent well the local dialect. However, includes rural speakers, which can help fill in holes. Used occasionally. If anyone finds any of these that I have left out and shouldn’t have, please let me know! 25-Feb.-2011

 

Guide to the Sounds of North American English

In many places on this web page the pronunciation of a name or other word will be given after it. These pronunciation guides will have two forms: a phonemic guide between slashes / /, based on the Traditional Dictionary Pronunciation System (TDPS) that is found in many dictionaries, especially American ones[12], and a phonetic guide (providing the phonetic details) between square brackets [ ], based on the International Phonetic Alphabet (IPA). (Thanks, Maria Mikkonen![13]) 26-Aug.-2013

The advantage of the phonemic guide is that it allows different dialects to use the same pronunciation key and get the right result for each dialect. For this guide I have mostly followed the TDPS system used in the American Heritage Dictionary[14] (also here), rather than the one used by Merriam-Webster or others, since it is more complete and applies to more dialects. 26-Aug.-2013

However, I have included the phonetic guide as well, partly to give a more precise phonetic pronunciation of local variants, and partly because many have complained that they prefer the IPA or are familiar only with it. (This guide includes allophonic variation such as aspiration on voiceless consonants, which is conditioned by stress and word position. However, it would be impractical to represent all the fine detail, such as the rounding that many English consonants have, or the differences between “clear l[l] and “dark l[ɫ].) 18-July-2013

 

In the phonemic guide I have followed the American Heritage Dictionary system to the letter, except for a few minor adjustments in the vowel system and one in the consonant system, and the following differences:

1. I write the syllable with primary stress using bold and underline, and syllables with secondary stress with just bold, rather than using an apostrophe after it like the AHD. In other words, I show the pronunciation of “underneath” as /ŭndərnēth/, whereas the AHD does it as /ŭn'dər-nēth'/.

2. I do not separate syllables with a hyphen except when absolutely necessary, as in “cartridge” /kärtrij/ versus “cartwright” /kärt-rīt/, or “mission” /mĭshən/ versus “mishap” /mĭs-hăp/; although technically in these two cases the underlining of the primary-stressed syllable gives enough information, even so the hyphens help to clarify.

3.  I show the pronunciation of words like “needle” and “sudden” as /nēdəl/ and /sǔdən/, rather than treating them as having syllabic /l/ or /n/, which they clearly have phonetically: [ˈniɾl̩, ˈsʌdn̩]. 2-Jan.-2012

 

The ANAE does not use either the TDPS or the IPA, but instead uses a completely different transcription system, described in ANAE chapter 2. This system is phonemic, like the TDPS.[15] 3-July-2010

 

How Many Vowels are there in American English?

No, the answer is not: “Five: a, e, i, o u.” Granted, in traditional English spelling those are the vowel letters, yes, but I’m talking about our spoken language: How many significant vowel sounds are there? Well, if you consult any popular American English dictionary, and study the Pronunciation Key, there will be a long list of vowels. In the Pronunciation Key to the American Heritage Dictionary, 19 different vowel symbols are listed (not counting the ones only used in foreign words)! However, some of these are special vowels that only occur before the /r/ sound, which are “colored” by the /r/, so these can be separated out as special cases. And one of these vowels, /ə/, only occurs in weak syllables (completely unstressed syllables), never in stressed syllables, so it also can be separated out as a special case. This leaves us with 15 Ordinary Vowels that can occur in stressed syllables. Very few North American English speakers have all of these vowels: Many have 14 (lacking the /ä/ vowel), and many have only 13 (lacking both /ä/ and /ô/). Greater New York City has 16 Ordinary Stressed Vowels, the 15 in the American Heritage list plus one that is not usually listed in dictionary pronunciation guides, found in the word “bad”, which it makes sense to spell /â/, since in this dialect it is the same as the r-colored vowel that occurs before /r/ in words like “bearing”! This vowel also occurs in the Atlantic Midland dialect. (I had initially spelled this vowel as /ăə/, but there is no need to use additional symbols when this is not necessary.) Adj. 26-Aug.-2014

These 16 vowels are listed below in the second column, with sample words shown in the first column. Those with a breve ˘ over them, ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, ŭ, and ŏŏ, are those vowels that historically were short vowels in English (and still are in British English), while those with a macron ˉ over them, ā, ē, ī, ō, and ōō, are those vowels that historically were long vowels in English (and still are in British English). In American English these vowels are no longer phonetically long or short, though the “short” ones tend to be phonetically lax, and the long ones tense. As a general rule the short/lax ones do not occur at the end of a word or syllable, only before a consonant; this rule has no exceptions in British English, though it does seem to have a few in American English. (The remaining Ordinary Stressed Vowels ä, â (in Greater New York City and Atlantic Midland), ô, oi, and ou fit in more with the long/tense group in terms of their pronunciation, history, and distribution.) (See also the section How I Use the IPA (and how I don’t) for more discussion about this.) 8-July-2013

The remaining columns show what happens to vowels before final r, showing the “R-colored” vowels used in most of North America, and showing the Southern System in the final column, representing the system used in much of the South, which does not have “R-colored” vowels.

(I have included the IPA equivalents of these vowels in brackets [ ] as well. However, keep in mind that the actual pronunciation of a given phonemic vowel may vary greatly from region to region. For example, the /ŏ/ vowel is pronounced as [a], an open front unrounded vowel, in much of the Inland North, but is pronounced as [ɔ], an open-mid back rounded vowel, in England. A whole gamut of vowel sounds in between these two occurs somewhere in North America: in much of Canada and in some other “cot”=“caught” areas the pronunciation is [ɒ], whereas most others use [ɑ] or [a] or something in between. Many other vowels have similar variants. The most distinctive Southern pronunciation is shown in a separate column. However, keep in mind that I have not listed all possible variants for any region.) 3-July-2010

If anyone finds that any of the symbols in the chart do not display properly on their web browsers, please let me know. Most of them are standard Unicode characters. (Up until very recently, on Android phones the symbols /ȯ/, one of the R-colored vowels below, and uppercase /Ə/, used in the phonemic respelling section, did not display correctly. However, now with version 4.3 these problems have finally been fixed. Unfortunately, they still haven’t fixed a few of the IPA characters, like [ᵿ], which I use to show the Southern pronunciation of the vowel in “boot”. And they still haven’t fixed other font problems, like for Ancient Greek, so I am still a bit frustrated with my Android phone!) Adj. 8-Nov.-2013

 

Ordinary Stressed Vowels

 

“R-colored” Stressed Vowels

                Final                Wells                (sample words)

phonemic

IPA

 

 

IPA

South ††

 

keepers

droppers

Southern System

beat        bee                fleece                 feel

ē

[i]

 

 

[ɪi]

 

fear, pier,
peer, near

îr

[ɪɹ]

[ɪə]

intermediate

between /ē/ and /ĭ/

/ēər/ [ɪiə(ɹ)], rhymes with “skier”

bit                           kit                fill

ĭ

[ɪ]

 

 

[iə]

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bait         bay                face                 fail

ā

[eɪ/e]

 

 

[ɛɪ]

 

fair, bear,
care, square,
pair, hair

âr

[eɹ]

[eə]

(British

[ɛə])

For most speakers,

intermediate between

/ā/ and /ĕ/,

but [eə(ɹ)] in GNYC

and Atlantic Midland

/ăr/ [æɹ/æə]: “hairy”=“Harry” /hărĭ/ [ˈhæɹɪ]

which rhyme with “marry” /mărĭ/ [ˈmæɹɪ],

but “merry” /mĕrĭ/ [ˈmeɹɪ] and

“Mary” /rĭ/ [ˈmɛɪɹɪ] are different.

bet                          dress                fell

ĕ

[ɛ]

 

 

[e]

 

bat                          trap                had

ă

[æ]

 

[æ(ɪə)]

 

                                                bad                man

â

[eə]

(GNYC,

Atlantic Midland)

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

                ah                palm                father                Bach’s

ä

[a/ɑə]

(E. New England,

GNYC)

 

 

far, farther,
heart, start

är

[aɹ/ɑɹ/ɒɹ]

[a/ɑ/ɒə]

Everyone has this![16]

/är/ [ɑ(ɹ)/ɔɹ]

cot                          lot                bother                box
                                                doll, yacht, watch

ŏ

[a/ɑ/ɒ]

 

[ɑ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

caught    awe                thought                                balks
                paw                                fall, cough, talk

ô

[ɒ/ɔ/oə]

(Eastern U.S.

See map.)

[ɒʊ]

 

for, horse,
morning, north

(ôr) **

[ɔɹ]

[ɔə/oə]

See ANAE map 8.2

[ɑ(ɹ)/ɔɹ/ɒʊ]; /är/ for many speakers,

/ôr/ for others

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

boat        toe                goat                foal

ō

[oʊ/o]

 

 

[əʊ]

 

four, hoarse,
mourning, force

ȯr **

[oɹ]

[oə]

For most speakers,

intermediate between

/ô/ and /ō/

/ôər/ [ɒʊə(ɹ)], rhymes with “rawer”

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

cut                          strut                rush, love, rough

ŭ

[ʌ]

 

 

[ə]

 

fur, urge, nurse,
term, firm,
word, heard

ûr

[ɝ]

[ɝ/ɜ/ɜɪ]

Varies.

/ûr/ [ɝ] or /ŭr/ [ʌɹ] or /ŏŏy/ [ɜɪ]

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

foot                        foot                full, took, put, bush

ŏŏ *

[ʊ]

 

 

[ʏ]

 

poor, tour

cure, pure

ŏŏr

(yŏŏr)

[ʊɹ],

etc.

([jʊɹ])

[ʊə],

etc.

([jʊə])

Many lack this,

using /ōōər/, /ȯr/,

or /ûr/ instead

/ōōər/ [ᵿuə(ɹ)],

“poor” often /pôər/ [ˈpʰɒʊə(ɹ)]

boot        true                goose                fool, spook
                through

ōō *

[u]

 

 

[ᵿu]

 

(cute)      cue                                beauty
                you

(yōō) †

[ju]

 

 

[ɪʊ]

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bite         by                price

ī

[aɪ/ɑɪ]

 

 

[a/aɛ/aɪ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

bout        now                mouth

ou

[æʊ/aʊ/ɑʊ]

 

 

[æə]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hoyt       boy                choice                noise

oi

[ɔɪ]

 

 

[ɒʊɛ/ɔɛ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Vowel that Only Occurs in Weak (Completely Unstressed) Syllables

 

“R-colored” Vowel that Only Occurs in Weak (Completely Unstressed) Syllables

about, item, civil, gallop, circus

ə

[ə]

 

 

[ə]

 

butter, motor, solar

ər

[ɚ]

[ə]

 

Same

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Other Vowels that Can Occur in Weak (Completely Unstressed) Syllables

 

 

1

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

permit, colic, impose

ĭ

[ɪ]

 

 

[ɪ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

funny, linear

ē (ĭ) ºº

[i]

 

 

[ɪ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

situate, fruition, issue

ōō º

[u/ʊ]

 

 

[u/ʊ/əw/ə]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

billowing, pillow, potato

ō º

[o/ʊ]

 

 

[o/ʊ/əw/ə]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9-July-2013

Black: The black vowels are those which all Americans have as distinct vowels.

 

Red: The red vowels are those which many but not all Americans have, as distinguished from the other vowels. I decided to make /ŏ/ the default vowel of the /ä/ŏ/ô/ group, since for those who make the distinction it is by far the most common. 5-Oct.-2010

Green: The green vowels are those which a small minority of Americans have, as distinguished from the other vowels, in particular regions or dialects.

 

†† The pronunciation given here shows the most distinctive Southern pronunciation, specifically those areas which have experienced both Stage 2 and Stage 3 of the Southern Shift, as shown on Map 18.6 in ANAE chapter 18. Stage 2 covers most of the South, whereas Stage 3 only covers much of Alabama and parts of neighboring states. These stages are independent of and cut across the boundary between Inland Southern and Lowland Southern. 8-July-2013

 

* These two sounds are actually spelled as  and  instead of ŏŏ and ōō in the AHD and most other dictionary pronunciation systems, but since there is not a practical way to display such a combination in Unicode, I have followed the example of this web site. (Technically there is actually a way to do  and  in Unicode, as contributor Brian Ewins showed me[17], but I have tried them in various browsers, and they will not display consistently.) 25-Feb.-2011

 

** Which of these two vowels occurs before /r/ is highly variable among North American speakers, and falls into three groups: 7-Feb.-2013

1) Most speakers in North America only have /ȯr/ [oɹ],

not /ôr/ [ɔɹ], including me!

You fall into this group if the pairs “for” / “four”, “horse” / “hoarse”, and “morning” / “mourning” are pronounced the same, but the vowel before the r is quite different from the vowel sound in “caught” or “lawn” or “saw”.

This includes both speakers who distinguish “cot” and “caught” and those who don’t.

2) Others have only /ôr/ [ɔɹ], not /ȯr/ [oɹ].

You fall into this group if the pairs “for” / “four”, “horse” / “hoarse”, and “morning” / “mourning” are pronounced the same, and the vowel before the r is the same vowel sound as in “caught” or “lawn” or “saw”.

This includes only speakers who distinguish “cot” and “caught”, and includes Greater New York City, Atlantic Midland, probably some surrounding areas, and perhaps parts of South.

3) Others have both /ôr/ [ɔɹ] and /ȯr/ [oɹ].

You fall into this group if the pairs “for” / “four”, “horse” / “hoarse”, and “morning” / “mourning” are all pronounced differently, and the vowel before the r in the first item in each pair is the same vowel sound as in “caught” or “lawn”.

This includes both speakers who distinguish “cot” and “caught” and those who don’t. According to ANAE map 8.2, it only occurs in Eastern New England, parts of the South, and in a band running from St. Louis, Missouri across to Louisville, Kentucky. If any of you fall outside the areas on this map, I would love to know that! 6-Sep.-2013

For some Southerners, especially those in third group, “four” may rhyme with “rawer”, in which case “four” would be /fôər/ [fɒʊəɹ], and they would not actually have the /ȯr/ [oɹ] vowel.

 

† The /yōō/ sound is not a single sound, but is simply /y/ followed by /ōō/.[18] Thus, there really is no “long /ū/” vowel. Similarly, /yŏŏr/ is simply /y/ followed by /ŏŏr/.

 

ºº This vowel is often pronounced as /ĭ/ [ɪ] by Southern Americans and Britishers. 8-Feb.-2013

 

º According to Merriam-Webster, these two vowels are actually pronounced the same, and are more properly represented as a neutral weak diphthong /əw/. They may be right for many speakers, and are probably right for me in many cases, but no other dictionary that I have found agrees with them. They are probably right for most Southerners, and possibly for most Britishers. 8-Feb.-2013

 

How Many Consonants are there?
(1-Aug.-2012)

The answer to this one is a bit less complicated, but again the answer is not based on the traditional English alphabet. Most English speakers have 24. (The /hw/ [ʍ] sound, which is usually spelled “wh” in English, is really just a combination of /h/ followed by /w/, and was originally spelled this way in Old English. Most English speakers no longer have this sound, though I and many other older speakers do in many parts of North America, and in certain regions, particularly the South, nearly all speakers do.) 8-July-2013

The AHD uses /th/, in italics, for the voiced “th” sound, as in “this” (which is different from the voiceless “th” sound, as in “thin”), and for a long time I did the same on this page, but I am now using /ŧħ/ for this sound, for several reasons, one of which is that using a formatting feature like italics limits the places this writing system can be used, and anyway I would prefer to keep italics for their usual purpose. 9-Feb.-2013

Note that the letters c, q, and x are not listed. This is because they are simply different ways of spelling sounds already listed: /k/ or /s/, /kw/, and /ks/ or /gz/. I show the comparison below:

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

10

11

12

13

14

15

16

17

18

19

20

21

22

23

24

 

 

Dictionary symbol

b

ch

d

f

g

h

j

k

l

m

n

ng

p

r

s

sh

t

th

ŧħ

v

w

y

z

zh

 

(hw)

IPA

b

tʃ*

d

f

ɡ

h

k*

l

m

n

ŋ

p*

ɹ

s

ʃ

t*

θ

ð

v

w

j

z

ʒ

 

(ʍ)

 

 

church”,

“nature”

 

 

 

 

judge”

 

 

 

 

“sing”,

“singer”,

“finger”

 

 

 

shush”,

“nation”

 

thin”,

“bath

this”,

“bathe”

 

 

 

 

“pleasure”,

“vision”,

genre”,

“rouge”

 

(“which”,

whale”)

*These often have an aspirated allophone, e.g. [kʰ], which I have represented in the phonetic guide for many names, though not in the phonemic guide.

(8-July-2013)

 

The Stress Pattern of English, and How it Messes with the Pronunciation
(8-Feb.-2013)

American English (and most other varieties of English) has three levels of stress on each syllable of a word, primary stress, secondary stress, or no stress. Only one syllable in the word can have primary stress, and this is the syllable that is pronounced with the greatest intensity or loudness. The other syllables can have either secondary stress or no stress. An example is the word “counterrevolutionary”, pronounced /kountərrĕvəlōōshənârē/ [ˌkʰaʊɾ̃ɚˌɹɛvəˈluʃəˌneɹi]. This word has 8 syllables, divided with hyphens as /koun-tər-rĕv-ə-lōō-shə-nâr-ē/ [ˌkʰaʊ-ɾ̃ɚ-ˌɹɛv-ə-ˈlu-ʃə-ˌneɹ-i]. It has one syllable with primary stress, /lōō/ [ˈlu], marked with bold and underline in the dictionary spelling and with [ˈ] before it in the IPA. It has three syllables with secondary stress, syllables 1, 3, and 7, marked with bold in the dictionary spelling and with [ˌ] before them in the IPA, and four with no stress, syllables 2, 4, 6, and 8. As is true with many words in English, especially long ones, every other syllable is weak (unstressed). 10-Aug.-2013

In stressed syllables (whether primary or secondary) all of the Stressed Vowels in the chart above can occur, but in completely unstressed syllables (weak syllables) in English a phenomenon called vowel weakening or neutralization occurs. As a result, most of the vowels in these syllables are weakened or neutralized to the vowel /ə/, and the rest of the vowels are weakened or neutralized to a very small group, listed under “Other Vowels that Can Occur in Weak (Completely Unstressed) Syllables” above. This vowel weakening is a characteristic of English in particular (though it does occur in other languages as well), but it does not occur at all in some languages, like Spanish, which makes it especially hard for English speakers to speak good Spanish or vice versa, since they are each always subconsciously trying to apply their own pattern to the other language. 22-Mar.-2013

We can see this weakening process in action in many groups of words in English. For example, “melody”, “melodious”, and “melodic” are spelled as if they should have the same vowel sounds, but in fact they do not, being /mĕlədē/ [ˈmɛlədi], /mədēəs/ [məˈloʊdiəs], and /məlŏdĭk/ [məˈlɑdɪk]. The vowel in the second syllable has three pronunciations, two stressed and one unstressed (weak), and the vowel in the first syllable has two. Spanish has equivalents of these three words, “melodía, melodioso, melódico”, but unlike English, the vowels are pronounced exactly as they are spelled in IPA, with no changes at all in the vowel quality, even though the stress falls on a different syllable in each word. 22-Mar.-2013

So, just to see if you’ve got the idea, take the word “supercalifragilisticexpialidocious”, invented for the Walt Disney movie Mary Poppins. How many syllables does it have? Which syllables are completely unstressed (weak)? Which syllable has the primary stress? The answers can be found in the endnote.[19] 22-Mar.-2013

 

R-coloring
(8-July-2013)

In the vowel section above, we saw that there are a limited number of vowel sounds that can come before /r/ at the end of a word, or when the /r/ comes before another consonant, and that these are usually “colored” by the /r/, that is, they are changed so that they don’t really match any of the ordinary vowels. Some speakers have as few as 5 of these r-colored vowels in stressed syllables, others have 6 or 7, and this variation is found in both North America and Great Britain:

 

îr

âr

är

ôr

ȯr

ûr

ŏŏr

(yŏŏr)

fear

jeer

beard

fair

mare

there

far

heart

for

lord

four

board

port

fur, her, fir

bird, heard

poor

tour

lure

(cure)

(pure)

(demure)

(Adj. 11-Aug.-2014)

 

For r-droppers the /r/ itself is usually dropped, but the vowel still remains unique, in most cases different from the ordinary vowels.

What about words like “hire” or “sour”? Aren’t these additional vowels that can come before /r/? At first glance it might seem so, but in fact, in most if not all English dialects, these words actually rhyme with words like “higher” and “power”, meaning that they are actually two-syllable words pronounced /ər/ [ˈhaɪɚ] and  /souər/ [ˈsaʊɚ], so no new vowel before /r/ occurs.

Originally these r’s were not colored, but were just like all the other vowels, and at least one dialect retains this old system, Scottish English, which does not color these vowels at all, pronouncing them instead very much the way they are spelled:

Scottish pronunciation of vowels before /r/, representing the original pronunciation

ēr

ār

ăr

ôr

ōr

ŭr

ĕr

ĭr

ŏŏr

(yŏŏr)

[iɾ]

[eɾ]

[aɾ]

[ɔɾ]

[oɾ]

[ʌɾ]

[ɛɾ]

[ɪɾ]

[ʉɾ]

[jʉɾ]

fear

jeer

beard

fair

mare

there

far

heart

for

lord

four

board

port

fur

her

heard

fir

bird

poor

tour

lure

(cure)

(pure)

(demure)

(Adj. 11-Aug.-2014)

 

Thus in Scotland “bird” has a vowel close to that of “beard” for many Americans, whereas “beard” has the same vowel as “beet”! (I have shown all of the /r/s in the preceding chart as [ɾ], an alveolar flap, though the [ɹ] used in North America is also common in Scotland.)

 

R’s Between Vowels: To Color or Not to Color
(8-July-2013)

Okay, but what about r’s in the middle of words, with a vowel on both sides? Are the vowels before the /r/ still limited to these few r-colored vowels in the dialects that color their r’s? Well, no, certainly not, we can have words like “rerun”, “payroll”, and “prorate”. In other words, vowels that commonly occur at the end of a word, especially the historically long vowels, can freely occur before an /r/ in the middle of a word. But what about the historically short vowels like /ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, ŭ/? Surprisingly, these do occur in many dialects, especially in Britain but also in parts of eastern North America, but most Americans replace them with the r-colored vowels. Thus, the word “marry” is pronounced /mărē/ [ˈmæɹi] by Britishers and by many speakers in the Eastern U.S., From Maine to the South (and apparently also in Montreal), and most of these speakers would pronounce the words “marry”, “merry”, and “Mary” with three different vowels, but most Americans pronounce all three of these exactly the same, as /mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]. This feature of allowing /ă, ĕ, ĭ, ŏ, ŭ/ to occur before /r/ in the middle of a word (but not at the end) is one of the features that makes speakers from the east coast sound different from other Americans, even in the case of radio and television personalities who have otherwise modified their speech to General American. So how many vowels can come before an r followed by another vowel? It varies hugely from one dialect to the next!

The following chart shows a lot of these variations, though there are certainly others. Those items in black are not r-colored in any dialect. Those items in dark red have a one-syllable r-colored vowel. Those items in orange have a two-syllable r-colored vowel sequence (these do not actually add any new distinct vowels to the system). Those items in blue are not r-colored in the indicated dialect, but are r-colored by many Americans. In each column the number and nature of the one-syllable r-colored vowels is given at the top of the column. This does not count “tiring”, in which the r-coloring is two syllables, not one. As always on this page, if you know for sure that I have the pronunciation of one of these words wrong, please let me know. 21-Aug.-2013

 

 

Standard British:

6 r-colored vowels:

/îr,âr,är,ôr,ûr,ŏŏr/

Greater New York City:

6 r-colored vowels:

/îr,âr,är,ôr,ûr,ŏŏr/

Eastern

New England:

7 r-colored vowels:

/îr,âr,är,ŏr,ȯr,ûr,ŏŏr/[20]

Scottish:

No r‑colored

vowels

Older Southern:[21]

No distinct one‑ syllable

r‑colored vowels

except sometimes /ûr/

My pattern,

General American:

6 r-colored vowels:

/îr,âr,är,ôr,ûr,ŏŏr/

My wife,

West Midland:

5 r-colored vowels:

/îr,âr,är,ôr,ûr/

Rerun

/rŭn/ [ˈɹiːˌɹʌn]

/rŭn/ [ˈɹiˌɹʌn]

/rŭn/ [ˈɹiˌɹʌn]

/rŭn/ [ˈɾiˌɾʌn]

/rŭn/ [ˈɹɪiˌɹʌn]

/rŭn/ [ˈɹiˌɹʌn]

/rŭn/ [ˈɹiˌɹʌn]

hero, zero, Nero

/hîrō/ [ˈhɪəɹəʊ]

/hîrō/ [ˈhɪəɹoʊ]

/hîrō/ [ˈhɪəɹoʊ]

// [ˈhiˌɾo]

// [ˈhɪiˌɹəʊ]

/hîrō/ [ˈhɪɹoʊ]

/hērō/ [ˈhiɹoʊ]

hearer, weary, nearing

/hîrə/ [ˈhɪəɹə]

/hîrə/ [ˈhɪəɹə]

/hîrə/ [ˈhɪəɹə]

/hērər/ [ˈhiɾəɾ]

/hērə(r)/ [ˈhɪiɹə(ɹ)]

/hîrər/ [ˈhɪɹɚ]

/hîrər/ [ˈhɪɹɚ]

mirror, miracle, pirouette

/mĭrə/ [ˈmɪɹə]

/mĭrə/ [ˈmɪɹə]

/mĭrə/ [ˈmɪɹə]

/mĭrər/ [ˈmɪɾəɾ]

/mĭrə/ [ˈmiəɹə]

/mîrər/ [ˈmɪɹɚ]

/mîrər/ [ˈmɪɹɚ]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

payroll

/rōl/ [ˈpʰeɪˌɹəʊl]

/rōl/ [ˈpʰeɪˌɹoʊl]

/rōl/ [ˈpʰeɪˌɹoʊl]

/rōl/ [ˈpʰeˌɾol]

/rōl/ [ˈpʰɛɪˌɹəʊl]

/rōl/ [ˈpʰeɪˌɹoʊl]

/rōl/ [ˈpʰeɪˌɹoʊl]

Mary, vary, Sarah, pharaoh

/mârĭ/ [ˈmɛəɹɪ]

/mârē/ [ˈmeəɹi]

/mârē/ [ˈmeəɹi]

/rĭ/ [ˈmeɾɪ]

/rĭ/ [ˈmɛɪɹɪ]

/mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]

/mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]

scary, hairy, parent, caring

/skârĭ/ [ˈskɛəɹɪ]

/skârē/ [ˈskeəɹi]

/skârē/ [ˈskeəɹi]

/skārĭ/ [ˈskeɾɪ]

/skărĭ/ [ˈskæɹɪ]

/skârē/ [ˈskeɹi]

/skârē/ [ˈskeɹi]

merry, very, heritage

/mĕrĭ/ [ˈmeɹɪ]

/mĕrē/ [ˈmɛɹi]

/mĕrē/ [ˈmɛɹi]

/mĕrĭ/ [ˈmɛɾɪ]

/mĕrĭ/ [ˈmeɹɪ]

/mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]

/mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]

marry, Harry, narrow, parish

/mărĭ/ [ˈmæɹɪ]

/mărē/ [ˈmæɹi]

/mărē/ [ˈmæɹi]

/mărĭ/ [ˈmaɾɪ]

/mărĭ/ [ˈmæɹɪ]

/mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]

/mârē/ [ˈmeɹi]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

starry, sparring

/stärĭ/ [ˈstɑːɹɪ]

/stärē/ [ˈstɑəɹi]

/stärē/ [ˈstaɹi]

/stărĭ/ [ˈstaɾɪ]

/stärĭ/ [ˈstɑɹɪ][22]

/stärē/ [ˈstɑɹi]

/stärē/ [ˈstɑɹi]

sorry, borrow

/sŏrĭ/ [ˈsɔɹɪ]

/sŏrē/ [ˈsaɹi]

/sŏrē/ [ˈsɒəɹi]

/sŏrĭ/ [ˈsɔɾɪ]

/särĭ/ [ˈsɑɹɪ]

/särē/ [ˈsɑɹi]

/särē/ [ˈsɑɹi]

foreign, coral, horrible, Florida

/fŏrĭn/ [ˈfɔɹɪn]

/fŏrən/ [ˈfaɹən]

/fŏrən/ [ˈfɒəɹən]

/fŏrən/ [ˈfɔɾən]

/färən/ [ˈfɑɹən]

/fȯrən/ [ˈfoɹən]

/fȯrən/ [ˈfoɹən]

drawing, sawing[23]

/drôrĭng/ [ˈdɹoːɹɪŋ]

/drôrĭng/ [ˈdɹoəɹɪŋ]

/drŏrĭng/ [ˈdɹɒəɹɪŋ]

 

 

 

 

boring, choral, story, glory

/bôrĭng/ [ˈboːɹɪŋ]

/bôrĭng/ [ˈboəɹɪŋ]

/bȯrĭng/ [ˈboəɹɪŋ]

/bōrĭng/ [ˈboɾɪŋ]

/bôrēng/ [ˈbɒʊɹiŋ]

/bȯrĭng/ [ˈboɹɪŋ]

/bȯrĭng/ [ˈboɹɪŋ]

prorate

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɹəʊˌɹeɪt]

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɹoʊˌɹeɪt]

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɹoʊˌɹeɪt]

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɾoˌɾet]

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɹəʊˌɹɛɪt]

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɹoʊˌɹeɪt]

/prōrāt/ [ˈpʰɹoʊˌɹeɪt]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

hurry, worry, courage, nourish

/hŭrĭ/ [ˈhʌɹɪ]

/hŭrē/ [ˈhʌɹi]

/hŭrē/ [ˈhʌɹi]

/hŭrĭ/ [ˈhʌɾɪ]

/hŭrĭ/ [ˈhʌɹɪ] or /hûrĭ/ [ˈhɝɪ]

/hûrē/ [ˈhɝi]

/hûrē/ [ˈhɝi]

furry, blurry, whirring

/fûrĭ/ [ˈfɜːɹɪ]

/fûrē/ [ˈfɝi]

/fûrē/ [ˈfɝi]

/fŭrĭ/ [ˈfʌɾɪ]

/fŭrĭ/ [ˈfʌɹɪ] or /fûrĭ/ [ˈfɝɪ]

/fûrē/ [ˈfɝi]

/fûrē/ [ˈfɝi]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

touring, curing

/tŏŏrĭng/ [ˈtʰʊəɹɪŋ]

/tŏŏrĭng/ [ˈtʰʊəɹɪŋ]

/tŏŏrĭng/ [ˈtʰʊəɹɪŋ]

/tōōrĭng/ [ˈtʰʉɾɪŋ]

/tōōrēng/ [ˈtʰᵿuɹɪŋ]

/tŏŏrĭng/ [ˈtʰʊɹɪŋ]

/tōōərĭng/ [ˈtʰuəɹɪŋ]

Blu-ray

/blōō/ [ˈbluːˌɹeɪ]

/blōō/ [ˈbluˌɹeɪ]

/blōō/ [ˈbluˌɹeɪ]

/blōō/ [ˈblʉˌɾe]

/blōō/ [ˈblᵿuˌɹɛɪ]

/blōō/ [ˈbluˌɹeɪ]

/blōō/ [ˈbluˌɹeɪ]

eurhythmics

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjuːˈɹɪðmɪks]

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjuˈɹɪðmɪks]

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjuˈɹɪðmɪks]

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjʉˈɾɪðmɪks]

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjᵿuˈɹiəðmɪks]

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjuˈɹɪðmɪks]

/yōōrĭŧħmĭks/ [ˌjuˈɹɪðmɪks]

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

tiring

/ərĭng/ [ˈtʰaɪɚɪŋ]

/ərĭng/ [ˈtʰɑɪɚɪŋ]

/ərĭng/ [ˈtʰaɪɚɪŋ]

/rĭng/ [ˈtʰʌɪrɪŋ]??

/rēng/ [ˈtʰaɹiŋ]

/ərĭng/ [ˈtʰaɪɚɪŋ]

/ərĭng/ [ˈtʰaɪɚɪŋ]

pirate, gyrate, siren

/ərĭt/ [ˈpʰaɪɚɪt][24]

/rət/ [ˈpʰɑɪɹət]

/rət/ [ˈpʰaɪɹət]

/rĭt/ [ˈpʰʌɪrɪt]

/rĭt/ [ˈpʰaɹɪt]

/rət/ [ˈpʰaɪɹət]

/rət/ [ˈpʰaɪɹət]

tie-rack

/răk/ [ˈtʰaɪˌɹæk]

/răk/ [ˈtʰɑɪˌɹæk]

/răk/ [ˈtʰaɪˌɹæk]

/răk/ [ˈtʰʌɪˌɾæk]

/răk/ [ˈtʰaˌɹæɪk]

/răk/ [ˈtʰaɪˌɹæk]

/răk/ [ˈtʰaɪˌɹæk]

cowrie

/kourĭ/ [ˈkʰaʊɹɪ]

/kourē/ [ˈkʰaʊɹi]

/kourē/ [ˈkʰɑʊɹi]

/kourĭ/ [ˈkʰaʊɾɪ]

/kourĭ/ [ˈkʰæʊɹɪ]

/kourē/ [ˈkʰaʊɹi]

/kourē/ [ˈkʰaʊɹi]

Moira

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɪɹə]

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɪɹə]

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɪɹə]

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɪɾə]

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɛɹə]

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɪɹə]

/moirə/ [ˈmɔɪɹə]

(Adj. 1-Sep.-2014)

 

As you can, the first three columns have an almost identical system, differing only in a few minor details. The same is true of the last two columns. Southern and Scottish stand entirely on their own, and in fact have more similarities with each other than they have with any of the others.

In the phonemic texts in the next section, the dialect provided is my own, without any of the blue vowels in the table above. In the phonemic texts below, any vowels that would be one of these blue vowels for one of the first two columns above (British or GNYC) is marked in dark red.

 

Sō kŏŏd wē rīt ŧħə wā wē spēk, yōōzĭng dĭkshənârē sĭmbəlz?
(1-July-2013)

Wē sûrtənlē kŏŏd, ăz ī ăm dōōĭng nou! Ĭn kənĕktəd tĕkst ŧħâr ĭz nō nēd tōō ĭndəkāt hwĭch sĭləbəl ĭz strĕst, sĭns ŧħĭs wĭl yōōzhəlē bē ŏbvēəs. Ăz yōō kən sē, Ĭngglĭsh hăz ə lŏt əv soundz, bət ĕvrē wŭn əv ŧħəm ĭz nēdəd!

Ĭt wŏŏd shûr bē ēzēər tə rīt līk ŧħĭs ĭf ŧħâr wûrnt sō mĕnē spĕshəl kârəktərz! Fȯrchənətlē ŧħâr ĭz ə wĕbsīt ŧħət prəvīdz ə kēbȯrd fər är pûrpəsəz, ăz yōō wĭl sē ĭf yōō klĭk ĭn ŧħə bŏks bəlō ănd trī tīpĭng.

Ăz ŧħə kēbȯrd chärt shōz, shȯrt voulz är prəsēdəd bī ə *, ănd lông voulz bī ə -. Tə gĕt “ə” yōō tīp “=e”, ănd tə gĕt “ŧħ” yōō tīp “-t-h”. Tə pŏŏt ə ˆ ōvər ə voul, sĭmplē tīp “^” bəfȯr ĭt, ănd tə pŏŏt ə ¨ ōvər ə voul, tīp “:” bəfȯr ĭt.

Ĭf ĭt jŭst sēmz tōō kŭmbərsəm tōō ăd ĕvrē sĭnggəl wŭn əv ŧħēz märks, yōō kŏŏd ăkshəlē lēv ôf ŧħə brĕv märks ( ˘ ) ŏn ŧħə shȯrt voulz, ăz sŭm dĭkshənârēz dōō!

 

Sŭm əv yōō mā thĭngk “Ī sûrtənlē dōnt sā sŭm əv ŧħōz wûrdz ŧħə wā hē dŭz!” Əv kȯrs yōō dōnt: ŧħâr wĭl bē lŏts əv vârēāshən, ăz ŧħĭs wĕb pāj ănd măp shō! Nō prŏbləm, yōō spĕl thĭngz ŧħə wā yōō sā ŧħəm, ănd īl spēl ŧħəm ŧħə wā ī sā ŧħəm!

Ŧħē ōnlē bĭg prŏbləm mĕnē əv yōō wĭl ĭkspîrēəns wĭl bē ŧħē ĭntərfîrəns əv ŧħə stăndərd spĕlĭng, ŧħō sĭmplē lûrnĭng ôl əv ŧħə spĕlĭngz wĭl ôlsō tāk səm tīm.

 

Nou plēz ŭndərstănd mē, īm nŏt səjĕstĭng ŧħət wē chānj ŧħĕ spĕlĭng əv Ĭngglĭsh. Mĕnē hăv prəpŏĕzd ŧħĭs thrōō ŧħə yîrz, bŭt ĭn ĕnē kāss ĭt ānt gənə hăpən, ănd wē rĭlē wŏŏdənt wŏnt ĭt tōō, sĭnss ĭt wŏŏd māk ôl ŧħē Ĭngglĭsh bŏŏks ĭn ŧħə wûrld ŏbsəlēt. Bŭt ĭts fŭn tə mĕs əround wĭŧħ!

Ănd ĭf Ĭngglĭsh wûr ən ŭnrĭtən lănggwĭj, līk sō mĕnē thouzəndz əv lănggwĭjəz spōkən əround ŧħə wûrld tədā, ŧħĕn ŧħĭs ĭz ŧħə kīnd əv spĕlĭng sĭstəm ŧħət wŏŏd bē nēdəd tə rīt ĭt, wŭn ĭn whĭch ēch sound ĭz ôlwāz spĕld ŧħə sām wā. Ŧħə rēzən Ĭngglĭsh ĭz nŏt spĕld ĭn ə kənsĭstənt wā ĭz bəkŭz ĭt hăz ə lông hĭstərē, ănd hăz bärōd ə lŏt əv wûrdz frəm ŭŧħər lănggwĭjəz, wĭŧħout əjŭstĭng ŧħâr spĕlĭngz!

 

Soh kuud wee riyt thə way wee speek, yoozing just playn letərz?
(1-July-2013)

Wee surrtənlee kuud, az iy am dooing now! In kənektəd tekst thair iz noh need too indəkayt hwich siləbəl iz strest, sins this wil yoozhəlee bee obveeəs. Az yoo kən see, Ingglish haz ə lot əv sowndz, bət evree wun əv thəm iz needəd!

(Akshəlee, thair iz wun letər thət iy am yoozing thət izənt ə playn letər, thə letər  “ə”, hwich iz ə speshəl kairəktər, bət thats not too haard tə kopee intə yər tekst. Thee ohnlee thhing not in theez chaarts thət iy səjest yoo doo iz tə riyt thə fiynəl “s” sownd az “ss” in sum kaysəz tə keep peepəl frəm thhingking its a “z” sownd. Thair aar too igzampəlz əv this ə fyoo pairəgrafs down.)

 

Sum əv yoo may thhingk “Iy surrtənlee dohnt say sum əv thohz wurrdz thə way hee duz!” Əv koars yoo dohnt: thair wil bee lots əv vaireeayshən, az this web payj and map shoh! Noh probləm, yoo spel thhingz thə way yoo say thəm, and iyl speel thəm thə way iy say thəm!

Thee ohnlee big probləm menee əv yoo wil ikspihreeəns wil bee thee intərfihrəns əv thə standərd speling, thoh simplee lurrning awl əv thə spelingz wil awlsoh tayk səm tiym.

 

Now pleez undərstand mee, iym not səjesting thət wee chaynj the speling əv Ingglish. Menee hav prəpoezd this thhroo thə yihrz, but in enee kayss it aynt gənə hapən, and wee rilee wuudənt wont it too, sinss it wuud mayk awl thee Ingglish buuks in thə wurrld obsəleet. But its fun tə mes ərownd with!

And if Ingglish wurr ən unritən langgwij, liyk soh menee thhowzəndz əv langgwijəz spohkən ərownd thə wurrld təday, then this iz thə kiynd əv speling sistəm thət wuud bee needəd tə riyt it, wun in which eech sownd iz awlwayz speld thə saym way. Thə reezən Ingglish iz not speld in ə kənsistənt way iz bəkuz it haz ə lawng histəree, and haz baarohd ə lot əv wurrdz frəm uthər langgwijəz, withowt əjusting thair spelingz!

Iym surrtənlee not thə furrst tə triy it. It turrnz owt thət menee ətempts tə reespel Ingglish fəneemiklee yoozing just thə twunteesiks letərz uv thə standərd alfəbet (withh ə vairee fyoo ədishənz liyk “ə”) hav bin triyd and yoozd, biy dikshənaireez, nooz ayjənseez, and uthər oargənəzayshənz. Ə laarj numbər əv theez aar listəd on this web siyt. Miy sistəm izənt igzaktlee liyk enee əv thəm, but iz kwiyt simələr too ə lot əv thəm, ispeshəlee tə thə koləmz laybəld Wikipedia²”, “MECD”, “WPRK”, “BBC”, and “POD”.

Iy yooz a few spelingz thət aarnt fownd eneehwair in thə kəmpairətiv chaart, in pərtikyələr “iy”, “oar”, “urr”, “uur”, “th”, and “thh”[25], bəkuz iy thhingk thay aar simplee eezeeər tə reed thən thee awlturrnətivz səjestəd. (Iy akshəlee kiynd əv liykt “igh” for /ī/, but in akshooəl yoosəj it looks klunkee.)

 

Click in the box below and try typing, using either of the spelling systems explained above: 1-July-2013

(Move the pop-up keyboard around if it gets in your way. You can also resize the box.) 11-Jan.-2013

$[Pop-up box]$

This text entry tool (KeymanWeb) is provided by Tavultesoft (www.tavultesoft.com). You can type any of these characters or any of over 1,000 languages in any Windows application with Keyman Desktop and any web page with KeymanWeb. Visit www.tavultesoft.com/eurolatin/ for more details.

 

Key to the Spelling Systems
21-Aug.-2013

The following chart compares the two spelling systems. As explained in How Many Vowels are there in American English?, the black vowels are ones all speakers have, many other have the red ones, and a few also have the green ones. (For more details see How Many Vowels are there in American English?.) 8-July-2013

 

Vowels:

Dictionary symbols:

ē

ĭ

ā

ĕ

ă

â

ä

ŏ

ô

ō

ŭ

ŏŏ

ōō

(yōō)

ī

ou

oi

 

ə

 

îr

âr

är

ôr

ȯr

ûr

ŏŏr

(yŏŏr)

ər

Plain letters:

ee

i

ay