Western American English

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Western American English
Region Western United States
Language codes
ISO 639-3
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 half of the 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.

American English Set of dialects of the English language spoken in the United States

American English, sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. It is considered one of the most influential dialects of English globally, including on other varieties of English.

Western United States Region in the United States

The Western United States is the region comprising the westernmost states of the United States. As European settlement in the U.S. expanded westward through the centuries, the meaning of the term the West changed. Before about 1800, the crest of the Appalachian Mountains was seen as the western frontier. The frontier moved westward and eventually the lands west of the Mississippi River were considered the West.

California State of the United States of America

California is a state in the Pacific Region of the United States. With 39.6 million residents, California is the most populous U.S. state and the third-largest by area. The state capital is Sacramento. The Greater Los Angeles Area and the San Francisco Bay Area are the nation's second- and fifth-most populous urban regions, with 18.7 million and 9.7 million residents respectively. Los Angeles is California's most populous city, and the country's second-most populous, after New York City. California also has the nation's most populous county, Los Angeles County, and its largest county by area, San Bernardino County. The City and County of San Francisco is both the country's second-most densely populated major city after New York City and the fifth-most densely populated county, behind only four of the five New York City boroughs.


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]

United States Federal republic in North America

The United States of America (USA), commonly known as the United States or America, is a country comprising 50 states, a federal district, five major self-governing territories, and various possessions. At 3.8 million square miles, the United States is the world's third or fourth largest country by total area and is slightly smaller than the entire continent of Europe's 3.9 million square miles. With a population of over 327 million people, the U.S. is the third most populous country. The capital is Washington, D.C., and the largest city by population is New York City. Forty-eight states and the capital's federal district are contiguous in North America between Canada and Mexico. The State of Alaska is in the northwest corner of North America, bordered by Canada to the east and across the Bering Strait from Russia to the west. The State of Hawaii is an archipelago in the mid-Pacific Ocean. The U.S. territories are scattered about the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea, stretching across nine official time zones. The extremely diverse geography, climate, and wildlife of the United States make it one of the world's 17 megadiverse countries.

Dialect levelling or dialect leveling is a process of assimilation, mixture and merging of certain dialects, often by language standardization. It has been observed in most languages with large numbers of speakers after industrialisation and modernisation of the areas in which they are spoken.

A diphthong, also known as a gliding vowel, is a combination of two adjacent vowel sounds within the same syllable. Technically, a diphthong is a vowel with two different targets: that is, the tongue moves during the pronunciation of the vowel. In most dialects of English, the phrase no highway cowboys has five distinct diphthongs, one in every syllable.

Phonology and phonetics

Western American English vowel formant plot West IPA.PNG
Western American English vowel formant plot

The Western dialect of American English is somewhat variable and not necessarily distinct from "General American." Western American English is characterized primarily by two phonological features: the cot-caught merger (as distinct from most 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]

General American is the umbrella variety of American English—the continuum of accents—spoken by a majority of Americans and popularly perceived, among Americans, as lacking any distinctly regional, ethnic, or socioeconomic characteristics. Americans with high education, or from the North Midland, Western New England, and Western regions of the country, are the most likely to be perceived as having "General American" accents. The precise definition and usefulness of the term continues to be debated, and the scholars who use it today admittedly do so as a convenient basis for comparison rather than for exactness. Some scholars, despite controversy, prefer the term Standard American English.

Northern American English or Northern U.S. English is a class of distinct American English dialects, spoken by predominantly white Americans, best documented in the greater metropolitan areas of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, Western and Central New York, Northern Illinois, Northern Ohio, Eastern South Dakota, and the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, plus some northern areas of New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even the Canadian region of Southern Ontario. The North as a super-dialect region is considered, by the 2006 Atlas of North American English, at its core, to consist of the dialects of the Inland North and Southern New England.

Southern American English or Southern U.S. English is a regional dialect or collection of dialects of American English spoken throughout the Southern United States, though increasingly in more rural areas and primarily by White Southerners. The dialect is commonly known in the United States simply as Southern, while formal, much more recent terms within American linguistics include Southern White Vernacular English and Rural White Southern English.

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 in younger General American, respectively, so that words like cot and caught, or pod and pawed, are perfect homophones (except in San Francisco). [3] Unlike in Canada, however, the occurrence of Canadian raising of the /aʊ/ and /aɪ/ diphthongs 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] The West is entirely rhotic and the Mary–marry–merry merger is complete (as in most of North America), 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 ]).

Allophone Sounds considered the same in a language

In phonology, an allophone is one of a set of multiple possible spoken sounds, or phones, or signs used to pronounce a single phoneme in a particular language. For example, in English, and the aspirated form are allophones for the phoneme, while these two are considered to be different phonemes in some languages such as Thai and Hindi. On the other hand, in Spanish, and are allophones for the phoneme, while these two are considered to be different phonemes in English.

Homophone word that has identical pronunciation as another word, but differs in meaning

A homophone is a word that is pronounced the same as another word but differs in meaning. A homophone may also differ in spelling. The two words may be spelled the same, such as rose (flower) and rose, or differently, such as carat, and carrot, or to, two, and too. The term "homophone" may also apply to units longer or shorter than words, such as phrases, letters, or groups of letters which are pronounced the same as another phrase, letter, or group of letters. Any unit with this property is said to be "homophonous".

Canadian raising Allophonic rule of vowels prominent in Canada, also found throughout N. American English dialects

Canadian raising is an allophonic rule of phonology in many dialects of North American English that changes the pronunciation of diphthongs with open-vowel starting points. Most commonly, the shift affects or, or both, when they are pronounced before voiceless consonants. In North American English, and usually begin in an open vowel [~], but through raising they shift to (listen), (listen) or (listen). Canadian English often has raising in words with both and, while a number of U.S. English dialects have this feature in but not.


Mississippi River largest river system in North America

The Mississippi River is the second-longest river and chief river of the second-largest drainage system on the North American continent, second only to the Hudson Bay drainage system. Its source is Lake Itasca in northern Minnesota and it flows generally south for 2,320 miles (3,730 km) to the Mississippi River Delta in the Gulf of Mexico. With its many tributaries, the Mississippi's watershed drains all or parts of 32 U.S. states and two Canadian provinces between the Rocky and Appalachian mountains. The main stem is entirely within the United States; the total drainage basin is 1,151,000 sq mi (2,980,000 km2), of which only about one percent is in Canada. The Mississippi ranks as the fourth-longest and fifteenth-largest river by discharge in the world. The river either borders or passes through the states of Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois, Missouri, Kentucky, Tennessee, Arkansas, Mississippi, and Louisiana.

Appalachian Mountains mountain range in the eastern United States and Canada

The Appalachian Mountains, often called the Appalachians, are a system of mountains in eastern North America. The Appalachians first formed roughly 480 million years ago during the Ordovician Period. They once reached elevations similar to those of the Alps and the Rocky Mountains before experiencing natural erosion. The Appalachian chain is a barrier to east–west travel, as it forms a series of alternating ridgelines and valleys oriented in opposition to most highways and railroads running east–west.

Bear claw (pastry) sweet, yeast-raised pastry filled with almond paste, originating in the US during the 1920s, shaped in a semicircle or rectangle with slices along along one side; as the dough rises, the sections separate, evoking a bears toes

A bear claw is a sweet, yeast-raised pastry, similar to a Danish, originating in the United States during the mid-1920s. A bear claw is usually filled with almond paste, and sometimes raisins, and often shaped in a semicircle with slices along the curved edge, or rectangular with partial slices along one side. As the dough rises, the sections separate, evoking the shape of a bear's toes, hence the name.


Several sub-types of the Western dialect exist or appear to be currently in formation. A noticeable California Vowel Shift has been observed in the English of some California speakers scattered throughout the state, [10] 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. [11] 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]


Utah is the only U.S. state with a majority population belonging to a single religious denomination, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS Church), the cause of certain cultural influences on the state, [13] including some dialect distinctions; however, even these characteristics exist only among a minority of Utahns. [14] Members of the LDS Church may use the propredicate "do" or "done", as in the sentence "I would have done", [15] unlike other Americans. Some Utahns tense front vowels before /l/, which results in pronouncing "milk" as [mɛlk]. [16] 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). [17] [18]


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/. [19] 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. [19] Unlike most Americans, Hawaii residents may not demonstrate any form of /æ/ tensing (even before nasal consonants, as with most Western Americans). [20]


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". [21] 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. [22] Not far from Anchorage, in Alaska's Matanuska-Susitna Valley, is an entirely separate accent: a Minnesota-like one in a dialect enclave of North-Central American English, due to immigration of Minnesotans to the valley in the 1930s. [23]

See also

Related Research Articles

The phonology of the open back vowels of the English language has undergone changes both overall and with regional variations, through Old and Middle English to the present. The sounds heard in modern English were significantly influenced by the Great Vowel Shift, as well as more recent developments such as the cot–caught merger.

Eastern New England English, historically known as the Yankee dialect since at least the nineteenth century, is the traditional regional dialect of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts. Features of this variety once spanned an even larger dialect area of New England, for example, including the eastern half of Vermont as recently as the mid-twentieth century. Studies vary as to whether the unique dialect of Rhode Island falls within the Eastern New England dialect region.

In English, many vowel shifts only affect vowels followed by in rhotic dialects, or vowels that were historically followed by an that has since been elided in non-rhotic dialects. Most of them involve merging of vowel distinctions, so that fewer vowel phonemes occur before than in other positions in a word.

North American English regional phonology is the study of variations in the pronunciation of spoken North American English —what are commonly known simply as "regional accents". Though studies of regional dialects can be based on multiple characteristics, often including characteristics that are phonemic, phonetic, lexical (vocabulary-based), and syntactic (grammar-based), this article focuses only on the former two items. North American English includes American English, which has several highly developed and distinct regional varieties, along with the closely related Canadian English, which is more homogeneous geographically. American English and Canadian English have more in common with each other than with varieties of English outside North America.

The cotcaught merger is a phonemic merger, occurring in some dialects of the English language, between the phonemes that are conventionally represented in the International Phonetic Alphabet with ⟨ɔː⟩ or ⟨ɔ⟩ and ⟨ɒ⟩. In varieties in which the merger has taken place, including a few in the British Isles and many in North America, what were historically two separate phonemes have fallen together into a single sound, so that caught and cot, as well as several other pairs of words, are pronounced identically.

Pacific Northwest English is a variety of North American English spoken in the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon, sometimes also including Idaho and the Canadian province of British Columbia. Current studies remain inconclusive about whether Pacific Northwest English is a dialect of its own, separate from Western American English or even California English or Standard Canadian English, with which it shares its major phonological features. The dialect region contains a highly diverse and mobile population, which is reflected in the historical and continuing development of the variety.

New England English Variety of American English

New England English collectively refers to the various distinct dialects and varieties of American English originating in the New England area. Most of eastern and central New England once spoke the "Yankee dialect", and many of those accent features still remain in eastern New England, such as "R-dropping". The 2006 Atlas of North American English (ANAE) argues that there is a division between Northern New England English and Southern New England English, especially on the basis of the cot–caught merger and fronting. The ANAE also categorizes the strongest differentiated New England accents into four combinations of the above dichotomies, simply defined as follows:

The Canadian Shift is a chain shift of vowel sounds found primarily in Canadian English, but also possibly in some other dialects. It was first described by Clarke, Elms and Youssef in 1995, based on impressionistic analysis. The shift is structurally identical to the movement of front vowels in the California Shift of California English; whether this a coincidence or not is not yet clear.

Inland Northern American English English as spoken in the US Great Lakes region

Inland Northern (American) English, also known in American linguistics as the Inland North or Great Lakes dialect, is an American English dialect spoken primarily by White Americans in a geographic band reaching from Central New York westward along the Erie Canal, through much of the U.S. Great Lakes region, to eastern Iowa. The most innovative Inland Northern accents are spoken in Chicago, Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse. A geographic corridor reaching from Chicago southwest along historic Route 66 into St. Louis, Missouri, has also been infiltrated by features of the Inland Northern accent, with the corridor today showing a mixture of both Inland Northern and Midland accents.

Midland American English Variety of English spoken in the United States

Midland American English is a regional dialect or super-dialect of American English, geographically lying between the traditionally-defined Northern and Southern United States. The boundaries of Midland American English are not entirely clear, being revised and reduced by linguists due to definitional changes and several Midland sub-regions undergoing rapid and diverging pronunciation shifts since the early-middle twentieth century onwards.

Despite popular stereotypes in the media that there is a singular New Jersey accent, there are in fact several distinct accents native to the U.S. state of New Jersey, none being confined only to New Jersey. Therefore, the term New Jersey English is diverse and may refer to any of these dialects of American English, or even intermediate varieties that blend features of these multiple dialects.

The sound system of New York City English is popularly known as a New York accent. The New York metropolitan accent is one of the most recognizable accents of the United States, largely due to its popular stereotypes and portrayal in radio, film, and television. The accent is strongest among white members of the middle and lower class in New York City proper, western Long Island, and northeastern New Jersey, though it may be spoken to various extents by all classes in the New York City metropolitan area, and some of its features have diffused to many other areas; for example, the accent spoken by natives of New Orleans, Louisiana, locally known as Yat, is strikingly similar to the New York accent. The New York accent is not spoken in the rest of New York State beyond the metropolitan area; Upstate New York speakers instead generally fall under the Hudson Valley and Inland North dialects. The traditional New York accent is predominantly characterized by the following sounds and speech patterns:

Mid-Atlantic American English, Middle Atlantic American English, or Delaware Valley English is a class of American English, considered by The Atlas of North American English to be a single dialect, spoken in the southern Mid-Atlantic states of the United States.

The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change is an overview of the pronunciation patterns (accents) in all the major urbanized regional dialects of the English language spoken in the United States and Canada. It is the result of a large-scale survey by linguists William Labov, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg. Speech data was collected, mainly during the 1990s, by means of telephone interviews with individuals in metropolitan areas in all regions of the U.S. and Canada. Using acoustic analysis of speech from these interviews, ANAE traces sound changes in progress in North American English, and defines boundaries between dialect regions based on the different sound changes taking place in them.

Standard Canadian English dialect of English

Standard Canadian English is the greatly homogeneous variety of Canadian English spoken particularly all across central and western Canada, as well as throughout Canada among urban middle-class speakers from English-speaking families, excluding the regional dialects of Atlantic Canadian English. English mostly has a uniform phonology and very little diversity of dialects in Canada compared with the neighbouring English of the United States. The Standard Canadian English dialect region is defined by the cot–caught merger to [ɒ](listen) and an accompanying chain shift of vowel sounds, called the Canadian Shift. A subset of this dialect geographically at its central core, excluding British Columbia to the west and everything east of Montreal, has been called Inland Canadian English, and is further defined by both of the phenomena known as "Canadian raising", the production of and with back starting points in the mouth, and the production of with a front starting point and very little glide.

Western New England English refers to the varieties of New England English native to Vermont, Connecticut, and the western half of Massachusetts; New York State's Hudson Valley also aligns to this classification. Sound patterns historically associated with Western New England English include the features of rhoticity, the horse–hoarse merger, and the father–bother merger, none of which are features traditionally shared in neighboring Eastern New England English. The status of the cot–caught merger in Western New England is inconsistent, being complete in the north of this dialect region (Vermont), but incomplete or absent in the south, with a "cot–caught approximation" in the middle area.


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  19. 1 2 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.
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  23. Sheidlower, Jesse (2008). "What Kind of Accent Does Sarah Palin Have?" Slate. The Slate Group, LLC.