Instructor: Dr. Sara Trechter

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English 475 History of English (HEL)

Instructor: Dr. Sara Trechter


Three things are needed for a new dialect to develop: a group of people living in close proximity to each other; this group living in isolation (either geographically or socially) from other groups; and the passage of time.

Further on I will try to come up with the specific prominent features of the Midland/Pennsylvania -Philadelphia dialect.

For a long time, the North Midland and South Midland dialects were considered to be part of the Northern and Southern dialect regions respectively and served as a transition zone between them. In recent decades, mainstream thought has begun to consider them to be a distinct dialect region.

Pennsylvania German-English (12) 
This was strongly influenced by Pennsylvania Dutch, a dialect of German spoken by people in this area (in this context, "Dutch" is actually a mispronunciation of the German word, "Deutsch," which means "German"). Its grammar allows sentences like "Smear your sister with jam on a slice of bread" and "Throw your father out the window his hat." They call doughnuts fasnacht, and they also invented dunking - from the German "dunken" (to dip).

The Philadelphia dialect, which is spread throughout the Delaware Valley and South Jersey, is part of Mid-Atlantic American English, and as such it is identical in many ways to the Baltimore dialect. Unlike the Baltimore dialect, however, the Philadelphia accent also shares many similarities with the New York accent and to a lesser extent other regions of the United States, although it is its own unique dialect region.

The accent is commonly heard amongst the Irish American and Italian American working-class neighborhoods and its surrounding cities and suburbs.

Philadelphians say "I hate our winners," and know all Philadelphians will understand it means, not "I hate the Flyers" (team), but "I hate the weather in January"? 

The Philadelphia O

Most Americans say "o" with a round mouth. Philadelphians start with their mouths shaped as if they were going to say "eh?" and end up as if they're trying to say "oo."

"Yeowuh Jeowuh, threowuh the ball."

The Philadelphia Iggles

Philadelphians say "Iggle" for Eagle. Linguists have discovered a Philadelphia Dialect Rule: Shorten both long -e and long -a sounds before -g. Eagle rhymes with Iggle. League rhymes with big. For most of Americans vague and plague rhyme with Peg. For some Philadelphians, colleague and fatigue also rhyme with big. But these are words learned later, so many of them use the standard American "coleeg" and "fateeg."

The Philadelphia Ou

Before -r and -l, "ou" and "ow" both sound like a simple flat "a." “Our" sounds like "are." "Owl" is "Al." "Towel" and "Powel" become "tal" and "pal." Double sounds get simplified: "mayor" and "prayer" become "mare" and "prare."

The Philadelphia T

One of the famous features of "Brooklynese" (actually New York City Working Class Dialect) was "bah-ul" for bottle. Linguists call that odd sound a glottal stop. Philadelphians use the same sound, but only before consonants like -m and -n and-l: Women for Whitman, Dennis for dentist, Clin'in for Clinton, par'ly for partly, foun'in and moun'in and accoun'in' (for accountant). Local politicians used to say "commi'men'" for commitment, but the word's gone out of fashion.

I Shore Do

In Philadelphia they say "shore" for "sure." For them, "tour" is "tore," rather than "tooer.""You're" and "your" sound exactly like "yore"; "pour" and "poor" the same as "pore."

Standard British Dialect does not pronounce its -r's. Most of the East Coast of the United States still follows British practice: "worker" is r-. The Midwest and West, where British influence got lost long ago, pronounces all its -r's.

Philadelphia has its own Britishisms. They say "pavement" as they do in London, not "sidewalk" as in New York.

The Philadelphia Au

In Philadelphia they use sounds made like 'au,' in the middle of the mouth. This is one of the richest sounds in the Philadelphia repertoire.

"Come AUWN!" or "Oh no, I cauweaught a cold." Nowhere is there an "au" to compare with Philadelphia. The further west you go, the more this sound gets smoothed out and toned down. By the time it gets to California, people say, "Come ahn," and "I cot a cold."

The Philadelphia A

A man named Ian and a woman named Ann go through life hearing their names pronounced exactly the same way. A is the most complicated Philadelphians’ sound of all. Most Philadelphians pronounce both as "Ian," something like "Ee-yan" squeezed into one syllable. In the Midwest, all -a's are pronounced like that; it's called a tense -a. In Boston, all -a's have a sound closer to upper-class British: "ah," or a lax -a. Boston: "I rahn from the bahd mahn holding a fahn, a hahm and a hahmmer." Midwest (ran here rhymes with Ian):"I ran from a bad man holding a fan, a ham and a hammer." Philladelphian: "I rahn from a bad man holding a fan, a ham and a hahmmer." Philadelphia mixes the two -a's.

There's a rule for this. This is a real life rule, one that simply describes what they do without thinking.

You use tense -a:

— Before -m and -n: e.g., ham, man, fan, pecan

— Before -f, -th, -s: laugh, staff, bath, glass.

— In three words ending in -d: mad, bad, glad (but lahd, pahd, brahd, gahd about).


— -ng gets lax -a: fan is tense, fang is fahng.

— Irregular verbs get lax a: can (a can of peas) is tense; can (I cahn do it) is lax. So are ran, swam, began, am. And the sub-literate dialect word wan, as in "We wahn the war."

— Exception to the exception: can the verb is lax, can't is tense.

— The article "an" is lax.

— If a vowel comes after -m or -n in the word, the "a" turns lax: ham is tense, hammer is lax. Fan tense, fanny lax.

It's probably the complicated Philly A that makes them pronounce radiator to rhyme with gladiator.


There are a number of slang terms and other lexical items associated with the City of Philadelphia, its surrounding counties, and South Jersey.

For example, a sandwich consisting of a long bread filled with lunch meat, cheese, and lettuce, onion and tomato, variously called a "sub" or "submarine sandwich" in other parts of the United States, is called a hoagie. Olive oil, rather than mayonnaise, is used as a topping, and "hot" or "sweet" peppers are used for spice. The term 'hoagie' originated in Philadelphia

The interjection yo originated in the Philadelphia dialect among Italian American and African American youths. The word is commonly used as a greeting or a way to get someone's attention. The term is now widely used amongst all ethnicities in the Philadelphia metro.

Many Philadelphians are known to use the expression "youse" both as second person plural and (rarely) second person singular pronoun, much like the mostly Southern / Western expression "y'all" or the Pittsburgh term, "yinz". "Youse" (often "youse guys" when addressing multiple people) is common in many working class northeastern areas, but is often associated with Philadelphia especially. The pronunciation reflects vowel reduction more often than not, yielding /jəz/ and /jɨz/ ("yiz") just as often as the stereotypical/juːz/. (ex: "Yiz want anything at the store?" "Yiz guys alright over there?"). Second person singular forms commonly are heard as /jə/ and /jɨ/. Although enthusiasts celebrating the accent's distinctiveness like to point out that instances of terminal /z/ in singular use occur, it is inaccurate to say they are common.

Anymore is used as a positive, e.g. "Jimmy's hoagies taste different anymore."


Jim Quinn's guide to Philadelphia English — spoken here like nowhere else in the world.

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