Inland Northern American English
The Inland North is an English dialect region of the United States that includes most of the cities along the Erie Canal and on the U.S. side of the Great Lakes region, reaching approximately from Herkimer, New York to Green Bay, Wisconsin, and also including a geographic corridor that extends across a section of Illinois, ending around St. Louis, Missouri. Most famously, Inland North (or Great Lakes) English is spoken in the cities of Detroit, Michigan; Chicago, Illinois; Cleveland, Ohio; and Buffalo, Rochester, and Syracuse, New York.
The Inland North geographic region was once the home of a standard American pronunciation in the early 20th century, largely thanks to the popular influence of local Ohioan phonetician John Kenyon, though the local dialect has since altered away from General American speech, due to an innovative, mid-20th century "Northern cities" vowel shift.
The Inland North consists of western and central New York State (Utica, Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton, Jamestown, Olean); northern Ohio (Akron, Cleveland, Toledo); Michigan's Lower Peninsula (Detroit, Flint, Grand Rapids, Lansing); northern Indiana (Gary, South Bend); northern Illinois (Chicago, Rockford); and southeastern Wisconsin (Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee). This is the dialect spoken in America's chief industrial region, an area sometimes known as the Rust Belt.
Erie, Pennsylvania was regarded as an Inland North city by researchers in the first half of the 20th century, but it never underwent the Northern Cities Shift and now shares many features with the rest of Western Pennsylvania.
In suburban areas, the dialect may be less pronounced, for example, native-born speakers in Kane, McHenry, Lake, DuPage, and Will Counties in Illinois may sound slightly different from speakers from Cook County and particularly those who grew up in Chicago.
Phonology and phonetics
A Midwestern accent (which may refer to other dialectal accents as well), Chicago accent, or Great Lakes accent are all common names in the United States for the sound quality produced by speakers of this dialect. Many of the characteristics listed here are not necessarily unique to the region and are oftentimes found elsewhere in the Midwest.
- Rhoticity: as in General American, Inland North speech is rhotic, and the "r" sound is typically the retroflex (or perhaps, more accurately, the bunched or molar) [ɻ].
- Mary–marry–merry merger: words containing /æ/, /ɛ/, or /eɪ/ before an r and a vowel are all pronounced "[ɛ~eɪ]-r-vowel", so that Mary, marry, and merry all sound the same, and have the same first vowel as Sharon, Sarah, and bearing. This merger is widespread throughout the Midwest, West, and Canada.
- Northern Cities Vowel Shift: this chain shift is found primarily in the Inland North—in fact, it is the feature that largely defines the Inland North, for modern dialectological purposes. Note that this shift is in progress across the region, but that each subsequent stage is a result of the previous one(s), so that an individual speaker may not display all of these shifts, but no speaker will display the last without also showing the ones before it. This vowel shift has been occurring in six stages:
- The first stage of the shift is the general raising, fronting, and "breaking" of /æ/ (in words like trap, bath and staff), which thus comes to be realized as a centering diphthong of the type [eə] or [ɪə]; e.g. "naturally" as [ˈneətʃɻəɫi].
- The second stage is the fronting of //—which in most American accents is [ɑ~ä], in words like not, wasp, blah, and coupon ( [ˈkʰupan])—towards [a] ( listen), which occupies a place close to (but opener than) the former /æ/.
- In the third stage, // (in words like law, thought and all) usually lowers towards [ɑ]; however, with the Inland Northern speakers, this lowers more precisely towards the General American [ɒ(ː)], since they front the Middle English /ɒ/ phoneme (e.g., in "rod") to [a], thus maintaining a distinction between cot [a] and caught [ɒ(ː)] ( listen).
- The fourth stage is the backing and lowering of //, almost towards [ɐ] ( listen).
- During the fifth stage, // (in words like cut, mud and luck) is backed towards [ɔ] ( listen).
- In the sixth stage, // (in words like if, bib and pin) is lowered and backed, although it is kept distinct from /ɛ/ in all phonetic environments, so the pin–pen merger does not occur.
- So-called "Canadian raising" of // is found in this region, just like in General American, thus distinguishing between writer and rider ( listen). However, unlike General American, the raising occurs even before certain voiced consonants, including in the words fire, tiger, iron, and spider.
- When it is not subject to raising, the nucleus of /aɪ/ is pronounced with the tongue further to the front of the mouth (towards [a̟ɪ] or [æɪ]), more fronted than that of /aʊ/, whose nucleus may be more backed than in some other North American accents (towards [ɐʊ] or [äʊ]).
- Cot–caught merger is absent; therefore, for example, many speakers in the region rhyme the word on with don but not with dawn.
- The nucleus of // (as in go and boat), like /aʊ/, remains a back vowel [oʊ], not undergoing the fronting that is common in other regions and General American. Similarly, the traditionally high back vowel /uː/ tends to be conservative and less fronted in the North than in other regions, though it still undergoes some fronting after coronal consonants.
- // (as in bar, sorry, or start) is fronted for many speakers in this region, resulting in variants like [äɻ] or even [aɻ].
Note that not all of these are specific to the region.
- Faucet vs. Southern spigot.
- (Peach) Pit vs. Southern stone or seed.
- Pop for soft drink, vs. East-Coastal and Californian soda and Southern coke. The "soda/pop line" has been found to run between Western and Central New York State (Buffalo residents say "pop" while Syracuse residents who used to say "pop" until sometime in the 1970s now say "soda." Lollipops are also known as "suckers" in this region.) as well as in parts of eastern Wisconsin.
- Shopping cart vs. Southern buggy.
- Teeter totter vs. Southern seesaw.
- Tennis shoes or gym shoes vs. New England sneakers.
- Bubbler vs. Drinking fountain vs. Water fountain.
Individual cities and regions also have their own vocabularies. For example:
- in a large portion of southern and eastern Wisconsin, drinking fountains are known as bubblers
- in the Chicago area, sneakers are often known as gym shoes and the ATM is known as the "Cash Station".
- in Michigan, convenience stores are called party stores
- in Detroit, sliding glass doors may be called doorwalls
- Buffalo, Rochester, Syracuse, Utica, and Binghamton residents say "sneakers" rather than "tennis shoes"
- in Cleveland the road verge (grass between the sidewalk and the street) is called a tree lawn, whereas in nearby Akron the same space is called a devilstrip.
Notable lifelong native speakers
- Joan Cusack — "a great distinctive voice" she says is due to "my Chicago accent... my A's are all flat"
- Richard M. Daley — "makes no effort to tame a thick Chicago accent"
- Siobhan Fallon Hogan
- Dennis Farina — "rich Chicago accent"
- Dennis Franz — "tough-guy Chicago accent"
- Gerald Ford — "Ford's unremarkable and r-ful accent is from Michigan"
- Susan Hawk — "a Midwestern truck driver whose accent and etiquette epitomized the stereotype of the tacky, abrasive, working-class character"
- Jim "Mr. Skin" McBride — "a clipped Chicago accent"
- Michael Moore — "a Flintoid, with a nasal, uncosmopolitan accent" and "a recognisable blue-collar Michigan accent"
- Suze Orman — "broad, Midwestern accent"
- Nancy Skinner
- List of dialects of the English language
- American English regional differences
- North Central American English
- Northern cities vowel shift
- "Talking the Tawk", The New Yorker
- Labov et al., p. 188.
- Labov et al. (2006), pp. 203-204.
- Labov et al., Chapter 14, p. 189.
- Hillenbrand, James M. (2003). "American English: Southern Michigan". Journal of the International Phonetic Association 33 (1): 122. doi:10.1017/S0025100303001221.
- Labov et al. (2006), p. 187
- Gostin, Nick (2011). "Joan Cusack on 'Mars Needs Moms,' Raising Kids and Her Famous Brother". AOL Inc.
- Stein, Anne (2003). "The über-mayor: what's behind Daley's longevity". Christian Science Monitor.
- Dennis Farina, ‘Law & Order’ actor, dies at 69. NBC News. 2013.
- "Dennis Franz". Encyclopædia Brittanica. 2014.
- Metcalf, Allan (2004). Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 156.
- Media Literacy: A Reader. Peter Lang. 2007. p. 55.
- Brooks, Jake (2004). "Mr. Skin Invades Sundance". The New York Observer. Observer Media.
- McClelland, Edward (2013). Nothin' but Blue Skies. Bloomsbury Publishing USA. p. 85.
- "Bush fears Moore because he speaks to the heart of America". The Independent (UK). 2004.
- Dominus, Susan (2009). "Suze Orman Is Having a Moment". The New York Times.
- Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8
- Chicago Dialect Samples
- The Guide to Buffalo English
- The Northern Cities Vowel Shift
- NPR interview with Professor William Labov about the shift
- PBS resource from the show "Do you Speak American?"
- Select Annotated Bibliography On the Speech of Buffalo, NY
- Telsur Project Maps