American English Dialects

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American English reflects the diverse cultural and regional landscapes of the United States. Within the US, there is a vast array of English dialects. From the drawl of the Deep South to the clipped consonants of the Northeast, each dialect serves as a testament to the rich history and evolving identity of its respective region.

These linguistic variations not only shape the way Americans communicate but also offer insight into the social, historical, and geographical influences that have molded the nation over centuries.

What is a Dialect?

A dialect is a variety of a language spoken by a particular group of people. While accents center around pronunciation, dialects encompass pronunciation, vocabulary, grammar, and even sentence structure.

Dialects develop over time when people live together within set geographical or social boundaries. As they use language with limited outside influence, they develop characterizing words, expressions, grammar, and syntax.

A dialect can evolve so much that it becomes a new language. For example, when Germans invaded England in the fifth century, they brought their Germanic Anglo-Saxon dialect. As they settled in and were cut off from Germany, their way of speaking mixed with the local language until it no longer resembled German. Eventually, it evolved into what we recognize today as the English language.

How American English Dialects Got Their Start

American dialects started with the four major groups who colonized North America during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. These groups brought over different English dialects along with other languages. Over time, these different dialects and languages interbred, spread, and changed, ultimately resulting in the dialects that we see in the US today.

Before we delve into the four groups of colonizers, let’s develop a basic understanding of the two main British English dialects at the time. 1600s British English did not sound like Modern British English (think more along the lines of Shakespearean English). Back in the 1600s, British English was rhotic, which essentially means the Brits pronounced all of their R’s.

Modern British English was formed in Southeast England, specifically London and its surrounding area, around the 1640s-1740s. People stopped saying their R’s, thus resulting in non-rhotic English.

The Puritans

The Puritans settled in New England. They came from Southeast England and spoke non-rhotic English, which persists in that region to this day.

People tend to associate Boston, Massachusetts and Rhode Island with modern day New England English. This dialect is known for its dropped R (ex. ‘smart’ is pronounced ‘smaht’).

The Quakers

The Midlands were settled by the Quakers, who hailed from North England and spoke rhotic English. Modern day Midlands English is also rhotic.

Philadelphia is most commonly associated with Midlands English. Those who speak this dialect drop their H’s (ex. ‘huge’ is pronounced ‘yoo-ge’). They pronounce ‘water’ as ‘woo-der’, and say ‘jimmies’ instead of ‘sprinkles’.

The Cavaliers

The Cavaliers, aristocrats who settled in the South Coast, were from Southern England. While many of them came from areas in England where rhotic English was spoken, these wealthy aristocrats spent a lot of time in London and sent their children to study there, which explains the non-rhotic dialect that formed in the South Coast region.

This is one of the more recognizable American dialects. It’s known for the long, drawn-out vowels and dropped G in words that end in ‘ing’ (ex. ‘singing’ is pronounced ‘singin’).

The Borderlanders

These settlers were from the borders of England, which mostly consisted of the Scots-Irish (a group of lowland Scots who relocated to Northern Ireland in the 17th century), but also included settlers from Scotland, the North of England, and Germany. All spoke rhotic English dialects and settled in Appalachia.

Appalachian English was mostly influenced by the Scots-Irish. This dialect has a few differentiating features. ‘Ow’ word endings are pronounced as ‘er’ (ex. ‘potato’ is pronounced ‘potater’). People who speak this dialect also add ‘iz’ to the end of plural words, so ‘ghosts’ becomes ‘ghostes’. Critter, wrassle (instead of ‘wrestle’), fixin’ to, and “she done grew up” are all examples of words and phrases that were direct contributions of the Scots-Irish.

Western Migration

As the early colonists and their descendants migrated across America, they tended to move directly west. Their settlement patterns are reflected in the current dialect regions of the United States.

The North

Covering the northeastern states and the upper Midwest, this area was settled by New Englanders. They congregated in the Great Lakes area, mostly in Michigan and Wisconsin.

North Central

This area was settled by people from the Northern dialect region and colonists from Germany and Scandinavia. German and Scandinavian influence is what differentiates the North Central dialect from the Northern and New England dialects.

The South

Encompassing the southeastern states and the inland South as far west as Texas, this area was settled by people from the South Coast.

The Midland

Midlanders went directly west to the strip of states between the North and the South, from Pennsylvania to the Rocky Mountains. They merged in some areas with people from the South Coast.

The West

The Western dialect region runs approximately from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean. This area was settled by European immigrants and US settlers from different dialect regions.

The Rocky Mountains physically cut off the Western region, which aided in the development of the regional dialect, though the American West is less distinct in its dialect than the South and the North.

Current American English Dialects

American dialects are categorized into seven distinct regions. Interestingly, the major regions that make up the present-day dialect map of the United States are basically the same ones that were in place by the time of the American Revolution. These major regions often contain smaller regional dialects within them. Linguists generally recognize 24-30 American dialects, which can often be subdivided into even more localized variations.

Regional Dialects

1. Northern New England

Settled by the Puritans, and the source of many Northern US dialects.

  • Eastern New England: One of the most distinctive American dialects. Sometimes called the Yankee dialect. Known mostly for dropped R’s and non-merged cot-caught, which means that words such as ‘cot’ and ‘caught’ are pronounced differently (ex. ‘cot’ is pronounced ‘caht’, ‘caught’ sounds more like ‘cawt’).
    • Boston Urban: Influenced by Italian and Irish immigrants. ‘Wicked’ is often used in place of ‘very’ (ex. instead of ‘very smart’, you’d be ‘wicked smaht’).
  • Western New England: Not as distinct as Eastern, but more influential on the other Northern dialects. In contrast to Eastern New England, the Western dialect is rhotic and has merged cot-caught (both words are pronounced the same way).

2. New York City

The most widely detested and parodied American English dialect. Mostly known for dropping R’s when an R is followed by a consonant. For example, ‘forget’ is pronounced ‘fuhget’ and ‘girl’ becomes ‘goil’. Also recognized for its high-gliding vowels (ex. ‘off’ becomes ‘awf’, ‘talk’ becomes ‘tawk’).

  • Bonac: Named after Accabonac Harbor. Considered a dying dialect. Has many unique terms (ex. ‘pie’ is pronounced ‘poy’, ‘heft’ is used in place of ‘weight’, “it’ll drink” or “it’ll eat” means “it’s drinkable” or “It’s edible”).

3. North Central

Settled by people from New England and New York, as well as German and Scandinavian immigrants. Also Influenced by Canadian English dialects.

  • Upper Midwestern: Mostly associated with Minnesota and Wisconsin. Common words and phrases include jeez, ope, you betcha, and doncha know. ‘Bubbler’ is often used instead of ‘water fountain’. Often recognized by vowel pronunciation (ex. ‘late’ is pronounced ‘let’, ‘boat’ sounds more like ‘but’, and ‘bag’ becomes ‘beg’).

4. Northern

Located directly in between the North Central and Midland regions, this area was settled mostly by New Englanders.

  • Upper Midwestern: This dialect region is located both in the North Central region and the Northern region.
    • Chicago Urban: Influenced by the Southern and Midland dialects. ‘Th’ becomes a ‘d’ when it’s at the start of a word (ex.’ this’, ‘that’, ‘there’ are pronounced ‘dis’, ‘dat, ‘dare’). South Side Chicagoans sometimes pronounce ‘th’ as a ‘t’. For instance, ‘three’ sounds like ‘tree’.
  • Hudson Valley: Shaped by Dutch colonizers. The words ‘stoop’ and ‘teeter-totter’ originated from this dialect.
  • Inland Northern: Contains elements of Upper Midwestern and Western New England. T-glottalization is a distinct feature: T is pronounced as a glottal stop at the end of a word or before a consonant (ex. ‘cot’ ends with a glottal stop instead of enunciating the T).

5. Midland

Shaped heavily by Scots-Irish, English Quaker, and German settlers.

  • North Midland: This dialect is known for its vowel shifts, often referred to as the cot-caught merger. ‘Or’ is pronounced as ‘ar’, specifically in the St. Louis area (ex. ‘forty four’ becomes ‘farty far’).
    • Pennsylvania German-English: Also known as Pennsylvania Dutch (from the German “Deutsch”). A blend of English, High German, and other German dialects. Spoken mostly in South Central Pennsylvania. Includes phrases that translate directly from German. For instance, “it’s gonna make wet” means “it’s going to rain”, and “outen the lights” means “turn off the lights”. The word ‘dunk’ originated from this dialect.

6. Southern

Greatly influenced by Richmond, Charleston, and Savannah, as well French and African languages. Generally, people tend to speak slower in the South, resulting in the famous Southern drawl. Distinct features include dropping R’s and pronouncing ‘i’ as ‘ah’ and ‘oo’ as ‘yoo’ (ex. ‘five’ is pronounced ‘fahv’ and ‘due’ becomes ‘dyoo’).

  • South Midland: This area stretches across the Appalachian Mountains and Ozark Mountains. Settled by Pennsylvania Dutch and Scots-Irish settlers. Known for its Southern twang (faster and more nasal speech). Mostly recognized for adding an ‘a’ and dropping the ‘g’ in words that end in ‘ing’. For example, ‘going’ is pronounced ‘a-goin’. ‘Th’ is sometimes pronounced as ‘f’ (ex. ‘birthday’ becomes ‘birfday’).
    • Ozark: Settled by people from southern Appalachia. In the Ozarks, ‘dinner’ is the midday meal and ‘supper’ is the evening meal. A few unique words include ‘wretch’ (the past tense of ‘reach’), ‘goozel’ (throat), and ‘ferner’ (‘foreigner’, or anyone from outside the Ozarks).
    • Southern Appalachian: Really similar to South Midland. Differentiated by the use of many archaic words (ex. ‘britches’ instead of ‘pants’, ‘commode’ in place of ‘toilet’, ‘buggy’ instead of ‘shopping cart’).
      • Smoky Mountain English: Localized to a small area on the border between North Carolina and Tennessee. Particularly known for its archaic pronunciation, grammar, and vocabulary. Some unique features: ‘they’ is used in place of ‘there’ and ‘most’ is replaced by ‘-est’ at the end of words (ex. ‘completest’ instead of ‘most complete’). Unique local words include withouten (unless) and whenevern (as soon as).
  • Virginia Piedmont: Known for pronouncing ‘r’ when it comes after a vowel as ‘ah-aw’ (ex. ‘four dogs’ becomes ‘fo-uh dah-awgs’). A few other unique pronunciations include ‘thair’ instead of ‘there’, ‘pin’ instead of ‘pen’, and ‘pet’ pronounced as ‘pay-et’.
  • Coastal Southern: Resembles Virginia Piedmont but has more elements from the colonial era dialect. One distinction is stressing the first syllable of certain words (ex. ‘cement’ sounds like ‘CEE-ment’).
    • Ocracoke: Also known as Outer Banks English and Hoi Toide (High Tide) – long ‘i’ sounds are pronounced as ‘oi’. In contrast to other southern dialects, Hoi Toiders tend to emphasize their R’s rather than dropping them. 
    • Gullah: Also called Geechee. Spoken by some African-Americans in coastal areas of Georgia and South Carolina. Combines English with many different West African languages. Words such as juju, peruse, yam, and bad mouth originated from this dialect.
  • Gulf Southern: Settled by people from Virginia, Georgia, and the Carolinas, as well as French speaking settlers.
    • Louisiana: Heavily influenced by the French language but also shaped by Haitian refugees and Irish settlers. The two main versions of English in this area are Cajun English and Yat. Cajun English borrows from French grammar and vocabulary; it’s known for pronunciations like ‘un-YON’ instead of ‘onion’ and ‘ga-RON-tee’ instead of ‘guarantee’. The name ‘Yat’ comes from the phrase “where y’at”; it’s similar to the New York City dialect. For example, ‘curl’ is pronounced ‘coil’.

7. Western

The most recently settled region of the US. Dialects in this region aren’t quite as distinct as those in the East or South.

  • Rocky Mountain: Influenced by North Midland and Northern dialects, as well as Mormon settlers in Utah and English coal miners in Wyoming. Some words that originated from this dialect include bushed (tired), grub (food), and howdy (hello).
  • Pacific Northwest: Shaped mostly by Midwest and New England settlers, as well as European and Canadian immigrants. Influenced by Chinook Jargon, which was a pidgin language used by the natives to communicate with European traders. Jojos, cougar, spendy, sasquatch, black ice, and potato bug are words that emerged in this region. While there are no major distinctions in this dialect, there are some slight variations in vowel pronunciation. Pacific Northwesterners observe the cot-caught merger (both words are pronounced the same). They also tend to place emphasis on the long A sound as a result of cross-pollination with Canada (ex. ‘wagon’ becomes ‘way-gon’, ‘bag’ becomes ‘bayg’).
  • Pacific Southwest: Early English settlers came from the Northeast and Midwest, bringing the Northern and North Midland dialects. Settlers who arrived later came mostly from the South and other parts of the West. This dialect is famous for creating new slang and expressions (ex. ‘hella’, “I’m going to bail”, “that’s the bomb”, “coming in clutch”). An exaggeration of this dialect is known as Valley Girl and is often parodied in the media. It’s recognized by the ‘California vowel shift’ (ex. ‘kit’ is pronounced ‘ket’, ‘dress’ becomes ‘drass’, and ‘trap’ is closer to ‘trop’).
    • San Francisco Urban: This area was mostly settled by people from the Northeast and Northern Midwest, resulting in a mix of Inland Northern, Upper Midwestern, and North Midland dialects. Irish settlers in the city shaped a subdialect called Mission Brogue, which is similar to the New York City dialect (ex. ‘coffee’ is pronounced ‘caw-fee’).
  • Southwestern: A melting pot of US dialects. Heavily influenced by the Mexican dialect of Spanish. Borrowed Spanish words include plaza, tortilla, cantina, patio, mesa, ramada, and caballero.
  • Hawaii: There are two main English dialects on the island. Nonstandard Hawaiian English developed from Hawaiian Creole, which came about from a pidgin English spoken by workers on sugar plantations. Standard Hawaiian English borrows many words from Hawaiian as well as Chinese, Portuguese, Japanese, Korean, and Spanish. Borrowed words include aloha, lei, luau, hula, muumuu, and ukulele.
  • Alaska: Similar to the Pacific Northwest dialect. Developed from the Northern, Midland, and Western dialects as well as the native languages of the Inuit, Alutes, and Chinook Jargon.

Ethnic Dialects

In addition to the many regional dialects spoken in the US, there are also two major ethnic dialects. Ethnic dialects, or ethnolects, are dialects spoken by members of a particular ethnic group.

African American Vernacular English (AAVE)

The black community’s blending of West African languages with English led to unique linguistic characteristics. When former slaves and their descendants migrated to the North during both Reconstruction and the civil rights era, they carried their regional speech patterns with them. 

Key features of this linguistic variety include using “ain’t” instead of “haven’t” and emphasizing the first syllable in words such as ‘HOtel’ and ‘JUly’. 

Today, AAVE is prevalent across the United States, especially in urban areas.

Chicano English

This Mexican-American dialect developed as a result of immigration into the US in the 20th century. Hispanic immigrants in California lived in segregated communities and only partly assimilated to the European-American community.

Unlike Spanglish, which is a mix of Spanish and English, Chicano English is a fully formed English dialect and is often spoken by those who know little to no Spanish.

A key characteristic of this dialect is a higher vowel; words such as ‘walking’ and ‘going” sound like ‘walkeen’ and ‘goween’. Double negatives, similar to AAVE, are common in Chicano English (ex. ‘you’re not going nowhere”). Some Chicano English consonant pronunciations are also similar to AAVE. For example, ‘these’ and ‘them’ is pronounced ‘dese’ and ‘dem’

This dialect is spoken primarily by Mexican-Americans and is mostly present in the Southwestern United States (from California to Texas), as well as Chicago. 

Influence of Other Languages

Although American English dialects were impacted by other languages, their overall influence remains minor. 

Words from other languages were usually adopted when there was no existing English term for a particular concept or object. This included place names, plants and animals, geological features, and weather patterns.

In fact, 28 state names come from languages other than English.

American Indian Languages

There are over 300 American Indian languages. Words such as caribou, pecan, hickory, mackinaw, hominy, sockeye salmon, and toboggan are just a few examples of words taken directly from American Indian languages.


Spanish influence mostly occurred in the American Southwest and Florida and included words like alligator, quesadilla, and lasso.


Contributions from the French language mostly arose in the Louisiana Territory. For instance, ‘bayou’ comes from French, but, interestingly, the French actually borrowed this word from the Choctaw language.


About six million Germans immigrated to the US in the 19th century and settled all over the country. Words borrowed from German include noodle, kindergarten, sauerkraut, poltergeist, and loafer.

Black Languages

Black languages were varied; the black population spoke African languages, Caribbean creoles, French, foreign Englishes, as well as regional Englishes. All of these languages and varieties of English influenced Southern English. Common English terms originating from Black languages include banana, yam, okra, and gumbo.

Appreciating the Diversity of American English

The diverse tapestry of American English reflects the rich history, regional identities, and cultural nuances embedded within the United States. Each dialect brings something special, enriching our cultural landscape. Exploring the diverse array of American English dialects not only enriches our understanding of language but also fosters a deeper appreciation for the many voices that shape English in the United States.


Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change

The Dialects of North American English

Dialect Map of American English

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