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The Baltimore dialect, also known as Baltimorese (sometimes pseudophonetically written Baldimorese, Bawlmerese, or Ballimerese), is an accent of American English in the Mid-Atlantic United States that originated among the White blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore. It has a few similarities with the Philadelphia accent, although they can sound very different. The most notable characteristics of Baltimore English are the fronted "oh" sound (occasionally written out as "eh-ew" or "ao") and the usage of the endearment "hon".
It is spoken mostly in Baltimore City and the surrounding areas (the accent is thickest in East Baltimore:Essex, Dundalk, Middle River). It is also heard in other parts of the nearby counties – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard. While the dialect is localized in these areas, it is not limited to them and can be heard as far west as Frederick and Hagerstown, as far north as Elkton, as far east as Ocean City and as far south as Calvert County. Due to Maryland's small size and its proximity to a variety of strong cultures, the farther one gets from Baltimore, the more the local speech is influenced by these other cultures. For example, the speech of Western Maryland is influenced by Appalachia, Northeast Maryland by Delaware Valley and the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the Tidewater accent. Families who migrated out of the city along the Maryland Route 140 and Maryland Route 26 corridors brought the dialect and in some cases pronunciations melded with local colloquialisms such as the word "bixicated" referring to someone who is silly or simple.
Baltimore English closely resembles blue-collar Philadelphia-area English pronunciation in many ways. These two cities are the only major ports on the Eastern Seaboard never to have developed nonrhotic speech among European American speakers; they were greatly influenced in their early development by Hiberno-English, Scottish English, and West Country English. Due to the significant similarity between the speeches of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Delaware and southern New Jersey, some sociolinguists refer to them collectively as the Mid-Atlantic dialect.
The Bawlmerese or Ballimerese dialect that originated among the White blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore is not the only accent found in Baltimore. There is also an accent found among African American Baltimoreans. Notable characteristics include vowel centralization before /r/ (words such as "carry" are often pronounced like "curry") and the centralization of /ɑ/ to schwa, particularly in the word "dog" (often pronounced as "dug").
- [oʊ] shifts to [eʊ].
- prerhotic monopthongizations: [eɪ] becomes [i]; so bared can rhyme with leered and *[aɪ], [ɔɪ], and [aʊ] become [ɔ]; choir and hire rhyme with war, aisle and boil with ball
- [aɪ] becomes [a] before [r]; fire is pronounced as [fɑr], sometimes rendered pseudophonetically as far
- As in Philadelphia, the word "water" is often pronounced as "wooder" [ˈwʊɾər] or, more uniquely, [ˈwɔrɾər].
- Resistance to the "cot–caught" merger is common in Baltimorese. The words 'cot' /ɑ/ and 'caught' /ɔ/ do not rhyme. Similar word pairings are 'don' and 'dawn', 'stock' and 'stalk', 'tock' and 'talk'. The word 'on' rhymes with 'dawn', but not 'don'.
- As in most Mid-Atlantic cities, short-'a' is pronounced two different ways: for example, the word 'sad' /æ/ will not rhyme with the word 'mad' /eə/. Pronunciation is dependent upon a complex system of rules that differ from city to city. For more details on the Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore systems see phonemic /æ/ tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region or click "show" below.
- epenthetic [r]; notably, "wash" is pronounced as [wɑrʃ], popularly written as "warsh," and Washington is pronounced as "Warshington."
- elision is common
- There is a consistent distinction between the pronunciation of "can" (to be able to) [kɛn] and "can" (aluminum/tin) [ˈkæːn].
- [f] is often substituted for [θ]
- [ʒ] is often substituted for [z] and, sometimes, [s]
- As is common in many US dialects /t/ is frequently elided after /n/, thus hunter is pronounced [ˈhʌnɚ] sometimes written pseudophonetically as hunner
- The [ɪŋ] (-ing) ending of participle forms is pronounced [iːn] as in "They're go-een to the store."
- [ə] is often eliminated entirely from a word; (e.g. Annapolis = Naplis, cigarette = cigrette, company = compny)
- L-vocalization is common. The sound /l/ is often replaced by the semivowel or glide /w/ and/or /o/ or /ʊ/. Pronunciation of words like "middle" and "college" become [ˈmɪdo] and [ˈkɑwɪdʒ] respectively. The word 'hulk' become the same as 'hawk' /hɔk/. L-vocalization almost never occurs if the /l/ is at the beginning of the word.
The following is a list of words and phrases used in the Baltimore area that are used much less or differently in other American English dialects.
- oil - commonly pronounced "awl" or "ool" (rhymes with pool)
- iron/Irish - commonly pronounced "arn" and "Arsh"
- mirror - commonly pronounced "mere" or "mere-roe"
- pavement (commonly pronounced "payment") – means "sidewalk" (which is used rarely).
- hon – a popular term of endearment, often used at the end of a sentence (short for "honey").
- natty boh – local slang for the beer originally brewed in Baltimore, National Bohemian.
- words with ow - (pronounced quickly) dayown (down), hayow (how).
- words ending in ow" - on the contrary, some words ending in ow are pronounced with an A; e.g., pilla for pillow, winda for window.
- d(ay)own the ocean – acceptable in place of "down to/on/at the ocean", whereas ocean most likely refers to Ocean City, Maryland. More commonly shortened to "d(ay)owny ocean.
- O's – refers to the MLB team the Baltimore Orioles - frequently used: "dem O's".
- ok – Commonly used involuntarily to begin sentences. With the O often dropped and pronounced "Kay."
- fire - commonly pronounced "far" - popular Baltimore Christmas joke: "Why were the three Wise men covered with soot?" "Because they came from afar."
- went up (shortened from "went up to heaven") - commonly used when an appliance dies; e.g., our refrigerator went up
In popular culture
The films of John Waters, many of which have been filmed in and around Baltimore, often attempt to capture the Baltimore accent, particularly the early films. For example, John Waters uses his own Baltimore accent in the commentary during his film Pink Flamingos. John Travolta's character in the 2007 version of John Waters' Hairspray spoke with a thick East Baltimore accent which may sound exaggerated to non-Baltimoreans. Likewise, several of the films of Barry Levinson are set in and around Baltimore during the 1940s-1960s, and employ the Baltimore accent. Actor Danny DeVito, though not a native of the area, speaks with a thick East Baltimore accent in Levinson's film Tin Men. In that same film, actor, Michael Tucker who was born and raised in Baltimore, speaks with a West Baltimore accent.
Television drama series Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire were both set in Baltimore. In an early episode of the former ("Three Men and Adena"), a suspect, Risley Tucker, describes how he can tell whereabouts in or around the city a person comes from simply by whether they pronounce the city's name as "Balti-maw", "Balti-moh", or "Bawl-mer".
In Season 4, Episode 7 of The Tracey Ullman Show, Baltimore actor, Michael Tucker, portrayed father to Ullman's JoJo. The skit was set in a Baltimore row house. Tucker advised Ullman to "take a Liverpool accent and Americanize it." Ullman nailed the accent.
When Welcome Back, Kotter first aired in 1975, some Baltimoreans were shocked to hear the word "sweathog" which means "whore" in many Baltimore neighborhoods.
Singer-songwriter Mary Prankster uses several examples of Baltimore slang in her song, "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," from the album of the same name, including, "There'll be O's fans going down the ocean, hon."
- Carmelo Anthony
- H. L. Mencken, author
- Nancy Pelosi, Minority Leader of the United States House of Representatives; grew up in Baltimore
- Barbara Mikulski
- Ben Cardin
- Mickey Cucchiella
- William Donald Schaefer, former Baltimore mayor, former Governor of Maryland
- Daniel Stern
- Ann Taylor (NPR newscaster)
- Robert M. Parker, Jr., U.S. wine critic
- Jay Landsman, Dennis Mello on The Wire.
- Tootsie Duvall, Marcia Donnelly on The Wire
- Greg Puciato, Singer of The Dillinger Escape Plan. The accent is noticeable in several songs from the band.
- Michael Phelps
- Several members of the Death Metal/Grindcore bands Dying Fetus and Misery Index have Baltimore accents.
- Mike Smith, former guitarist for Limp Bizkit.
- Brandon Novak
- Hilary Hahn
- Sam Cassell
- Robert Weinblatt
- Marty Bass, weatherman
- Wyatt Everhart, weatherman
- Stu Kerr, weatherman & television personality
- Mel Kiper, Jr., ESPN Football Analyst
- Bob Parsons, CEO & Founder of Go Daddy
- Tom Clancy, author
- Laura Lippman, author
- John Astin, actor
- Michael Tucker, actor
- Josh Charles, actor (Charles and actor, Edward Norton (who was raised in Columbia, MD but does not have an accent, wear Orioles caps in some of their films)
- Frank Zappa, musician
- Tori Amos, singer
- Ric Ocasek, singer (The Cars)
- Barry Levinson, filmmaker
- John Waters, filmmaker
- Mike Rowe, host of Dirty Jobs, voiceover artist (accent noticed in his earlier works)
- Culture of Baltimore
- North American English regional phonology#Mid-Atlantic English
- Regional vocabularies of American English
- Britton, Holly and, Heidi Faust. "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon: Exploring Hon as a Linguistic and Identity Marker in Baltimore". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Phonological Atlas of North America
- DeShields, Inte'a. "Baldamor, Curry, and Dug’: Language Variation, Culture, and Identity among African American Baltimoreans". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- New York City and the Mid-Atlantic States
- "The Mid-Atlantic Dialects", Evolution Publishing
- Baltimore Hon
- Baltimorese (with some audio)
- In March 2011, the VOA Special English service of the Voice of America broadcast a 15-minute feature on Bawlmerese, written and voiced by longtime VOA Special English announcer, photographer, voice-over artist, and Baltimore native Steve Ember. A transcript and MP3 of the program – intended for those want to learn American English – can be found at An Extended Lesson in Bawlmerese