Northeast Pennsylvania English

Northeast Pennsylvania English

Northeast Pennsylvania English is the local dialect of American English spoken in northeastern Pennsylvania, specifically in the Coal Region, which includes the cities of Hazleton, Pottsville, Wilkes-Barre and Scranton.

The Wyoming Valley falls right on the border between two major dialect groups of American English: the North and the Midland.[1][2] As such, it can be considered transitional between those two dialect groups, showing some features in common with one and other features in common with the other.


Phonological characteristics

Fieldwork conducted in the 1930s shows the region split evenly on the horse–hoarse merger: some speakers maintained the contrast (as did speakers in Upstate New York at the time), while others had lost the contrast (as in the Philadelphia accent).[3] Today, however, the merger is complete in the region (and indeed in most of North American English).[4]

The Mary–marry–merry merger is complete, although the accents of nearby New Jersey and southeastern Pennsylvania still maintain a two- or three-way distinction here.[5][6]

The cot–caught merger is in transition in Northeast Pennsylvania English.[7] The merger is found to the west, in Pittsburgh English and the Central Pennsylvania accent, but not to the north, east and south of the Wyoming Valley.

Northeast Pennsylvania English undergoes the Northern cities vowel shift, but not to the same extent as, say, Buffalo English. The vowel /æ/ shows considerable raising and diphthongization before nasal consonants, so that ban is pronounced approximately [beən], but before oral consonants, there is only moderate raising, and the vowel remains more open than /ɛ/, so that bad is pronounced approximately [bæ̝d]. Northeast Pennsylvania English has non-phonemic æ-tensing of the continuous variety, which means that /æ/ is raised more before /n/ than before /d/ and more before /d/ than before /ɡ/.[8] The vowel /ɑ/ is considerably fronted, so a word like hot is pronounced [hät].[9] Finally, the vowels /ɛ/ as in bet and /ʌ/ as in but are retracted (articulated further back in the mouth) in comparison to the pronunciation in more conservative accents like General American.

The transitional nature of Northeast Pennsylvania English between the North and the Midland is shown clearly by the pronunciation of the diphthongs /aɪ/ (as in pine) and /aʊ/ (as in town). In the North, the nucleus of /aʊ/ is considerably further back than that of /aɪ/, so that town is pronounced [tɑʊn]. In the Midland (and indeed most of the rest of the United States), it is the nucleus of /aɪ/ that is further back, so that pine is [pɑɪn]. But in northeastern Pennsylvania, the nuclei of the two diphthongs are pronounced in nearly the same position, as an open central vowel, so that pine is [päɪn] and town is [täʊn].[10]

Lexical characteristics

To the extent that northeastern Pennsylvanian speakers do pronounce pairs like Don and dawn differently, they pronounce the word on to rhyme with Don, not with dawn (i.e., they use the /ɑ/ vowel rather than /ɔ/). In this regard, the accent patterns with the northern accents, not with the rest of Pennsylvania.[11][12]

With respect to the phenomenon of "positive anymore", Northeast Pennsylvania English patterns with the Midland rather than the North: sentences like "Cars are sure expensive anymore" and "It's hard to find a job anymore" are grammatical here, but not in the North.[13] A similar result is found with sentences like "The car needs washed" or "The floor needs swept": these are grammatical in Northeast Pennsylvania as in the Midland, but not in the North.[14]

See also


  1. ^ Kurath, Hans; Raven I. McDavid (1961). The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States. Ann Arbor, Michigan: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 0-8173-0129-1.  Map 2.
  2. ^ Labov, William; Sharon Ash; Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. p. 142. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  3. ^ Kurath and McDavid (1961), map 44.
  4. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 52.
  5. ^ Kurath and McDavid (1961), maps 50–51.
  6. ^ Labov et al. (2006), pp. 54, 56.
  7. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 122.
  8. ^ Labov et al. (2006), pp. 176, 193, 194, 200.
  9. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 196.
  10. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 188.
  11. ^ Kurath and McDavid (1961), map 138.
  12. ^ Labov et al. (2006), pp. 187, 189.
  13. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 294.
  14. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 295.

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