Many of the sounds and words found in the speech of Pittsburghers are popularly thought to be unique to the city. This is reflected in the term "Pittsburghese," the putative sum of these features in the form of a dialect. However, few of these features are restricted solely to Pittsburgh or the Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Instead, many of them are found throughout southwestern Pennsylvania, the Midland dialect region, or even large parts of the United States (Wisnosky 2003). Perhaps the only feature whose distribution is restricted almost exclusively to the Pittsburgh metropolitan area is /aʊ/monophthongization. This means that words such as house, down, found, or sauerkraut are sometimes pronounced with an "ah" sound instead of the more standard pronunciation of "ow", rendering pronunciations such as `hahs' `dahn' `fahnd', and `sahrkraht'.
The language of the early Scots-Irish settlers had the greatest influence on the speech of southwestern and western Pennsylvania. This influence is reflected mainly in the retention of certain lexical items (cruds or cruddled milk (cottage cheese), hap (comforter), jag (to tease or annoy), jag around (to fool around or act foolishly), jagger (a thorn or burr), jagoff (an annoying or irritating person), neb/nebby/neb-nose (nosy), redd up (to clean), slippy (slippery), yinz/yunz/you'uns (second-person plural), "punctual" whenever and possibly "positive" anymore and reversed usage of leave and let, but also in the like, need, or want + past participle grammatical constructions i.e. 'the yard needs mowed' and the discourse marker n'at," literally meaning "and that" (e.g. "The yard n'at needs mowed," meaning "the yard and surrounding areas need to be mowed.") According to a study based only on pronunciation, the dialect region of western Pennsylvania ranges north to Erie, Pennsylvania, west to Youngstown, Ohio, south to Clarksburg, West Virginia, and east to Johnstown, Pennsylvania (Labov, Ash and Boberg 2005), but different features may be differently distributed.
Documented contributions from other languages are pierogi and kolbassi from Polish; babushka from Russian, Slovak, and Polish;[better source needed] and, from German, falling intonation at the end of questions with a definite yes or no answer. Possible contributions from other languages are reversed leave~let from German and monophthongal /aw/ from contact between English and one or more Slavic languages (Johnstone 2002; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005), though these influences are openly posited as speculative.
Speakers of Pittsburgh English are sometimes called "Yinzers", in reference to their use of the 2nd-person plural pronoun "Yinz" The word "yinzer" is sometimes heard as pejorative, indicating a lack of sophistication, although the term is now used in a variety of ways. (For more on the pronoun yinz, see the entry below.) Older, long-time residents of Pittsburgh are more likely to use Pittsburghese. Additionally men are more likely to use the accent than women, "...possibly because of a stronger interest in displaying local identity..."
/ɑ/~/ɔ/ → [ɔ~ɒ] merger (Kurath 1961; Layton 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Examples: cot and caught are pronounced [kʰɔt~kʰɒt]; Don and dawn are pronounced [dɔn~dɒn].
Further explanation: Speakers who use the [ɔ~ɒ] instead of the [ɑ] sound round their lips and/or produce the vowel further towards the back of their mouths.
Geographic distribution: While the merger of these low back vowels is widespread in the United States, the phoneme that results from this merger is typically the more fronted and unrounded [ɑ]. In southwestern Pennsylvania, speakers display the less common realization of [ɔ~ɒ]. Rounded realizations of the merged vowel around [ɒ] are also common in Canada and Northern New England (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006, Evanini 2008).
fronting of /oʊ/ (Kurath and McDavid 1961; Labov, Ash and Boberg 2005)
Examples: go is pronounced [ɡɜʊ]
Further explanation: The diphthong /oʊ/ is produced fronter in the mouth, just back of a central vowel position.
Geographic distribution: The fronting of /oʊ/ can be found throughout the South and the Midland, however, in Pittsburgh, it is less extreme than other midland cities, such as Columbus and Wichita (Labov, Ash and Boberg 2005).
fronting of /uː/ (Kurath and McDavid 1961; Labov, Ash and Boberg 2005)
Further explanation: The vowel /uː/ is produced further to the front of the mouth, and often diphthongized.
Geographic distribution: The fronting of /uː/ can now be found throughout much of the country including the South, the Midland, and the West (Labov, Ash and Boberg 2005).
/aʊ/ monophthongization (Kurath 1961; Layton 1999; McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006).
Examples: house is pronounced [haːs]; out is pronounced [aːt]; found is pronounced [faːnd]; downtown is pronounced [daːntʰaːn].
Further explanation: The diphthong /aʊ/ becomes the monophthong /a/ in some environments including before nasals (e.g., downtown), liquids (e.g., fowl, hour) and obstruents (e.g., house, out, cloudy). Monophthongization does not occur, however, in the word finally (e.g., how, now), where the diphthong remains [aʊ]. The /a/ sound is often depicted orthographically as "ah." The colon after the /a/ indicates that the vowel is lengthened.
Geographic distribution: One of the few features, if not the only one, restricted near-exclusively to southwestern Pennsylvania in North America, although it can be found in other accents of the world such as Cockney and South African English (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006).
Origins: May be the result of contact from Slavic languages during the early twentieth century (Labov, Ash and Boberg 2005).
/ɑɪ/ monophthongization (Kurath 1961; Layton 1999; McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Examples: tile is pronounced [tʰɑːl]; pile is pronounced [pʰɑːl]; tire is pronounced [tʰɑːɹ]; iron is pronounced [ɑːɹn].
Further explanation: Before /l/ and /ɹ/, the diphthong /ɑɪ/ (also transcribed as /aɪ/) is monophthongized to /ɑː/. The /ɑː/ is often depicted orthographically as "ah." The colon after the /ɑ/ indicates that the vowel is lengthened.
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere, including the southern states (see above citations).
Further explanation: Occurs after vowels in a small number of words, such as in "water," pronounced [ˈwɔɹtɚ~ˈwɒɹtɚ].
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere (see above citations).
/i/~/ɪ/ and /u/~/ʊ/ tense-lax mergers (Layton 1999; McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006).
Examples: steel and still are pronounced [ˈstɪl]; pool, pole, and pull are pronounced [ˈpʰʊɫ].
Further explanation: Before the liquids /l/ and /r/, the tense vowels /i/ and /u/ are laxed to /ɪ/ and /ʊ/, respectively. In standard American English, /i/ is the sound in beet, /ɪ/ the sound in bit, /u/ the sound in food, and /ʊ/ the sound in good. Finally, in contrast to the /i/~/ɪ/ merger, the /u/~/ʊ/ merger appears to be more advanced. On the /i/~/ɪ/ merger, Labov, Ash and Boberg (2005) note, "the stereotype of this merger is based only on a close approximation of some forms, and does not represent the underlying norms of the dialect."
Geographic distribution: The /i/~/ɪ/ merger is found in southwestern Pennsylvania (Layton 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006) as well as parts of the southern United States, including Alabama, Texas and the west (McElhinny 1999; Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005). On the other hand, the /u/~/ʊ/ is consistently found only in southwestern Pennsylvania (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005).
/i/~/ɪ/ merger (e.g. in eagle) towards [ɪ] (Wisnosky 2003).
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania (see above citations).
Examples: well is pronounced something like [ˈwɛw]; milk something like [ˈmɪwk] or [ˈmɛwk]; role something like [ˈɹow]; and color something like [ˈkʰʌwəɹ].
Further explanation: When it occurs after vowels, /l/ is vocalized, or "labialized", sometimes sounding like a /w/, or a cross between a vowel and a velarized (or "dark") /l/.
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania (Layton 1999; McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006) and elsewhere, including many African American varieties (McElhinny 1999).
/o/~/u/ and /ʊ/ merger towards [ʊ] (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005).
Examples: Polish is pronounced [ˈpʰʊliʃ] or [ˈpʰʊwiʃ]; cold is pronounced [ˈkʰʊld] or [ˈkʰʊwd].
Further explanation: As the examples suggest, this merger only occurs when /o/ precedes /l/ (and possibly /r/) (McElhinney 1999).
/ʌ/ lowering into /ɑ/~/ɔ/ → [ɔ] (Thomas 2001).
Example: The words mall and maul are both pronounced /ˈmɔːl/ due to the /ɑ/~/ɔ/ → /ɔ/ merger, and the word mull is almost homophonous with these two, rather than sounding like the usual /mʌl/.
Further explanation: While the /ʌ/ sound may sometimes sound approximately like an /ɑ/ or /ɔ/, a listener could easily distinguish between the two words by noting the length of the vowel. Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2005) explain that the longest lowered /ʌ/ they encountered was shorter than the shortest /ɑ/~/ɔ/ they encountered. So, to speakers and listeners, the sounds are distinct. Actually, they explained that the longest lowered /ʌ/ they encountered was shorter than the shortest monophthongal /aʊ/ they encountered, but that's okay.[clarification needed]
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2005).
Further explanation: In Russian, Slovak, and many other Slavic languages, the word babushka (a familial/cute extension of the word baba) means "grandmother" or (endearingly) "old woman." In Pittsburgh English, the word also denotes a type of headscarf that might be worn by an old woman.
Geographic distribution: Predominantly used in the northeast United States, most heavily in Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, and Michigan (see above citation).
Origins: Russian (see above citation) and other Slavic roots.
Note: It is sometimes used as a derogatory term for an elderly woman, similar to calling someone an "old hag."
(baby) buggyn. baby carriage, or shopping cart(Kurath 1949).
Geographic distribution: Kurath (1949) mentions that speakers in a large portion of Pennsylvania use the term, but that it is "very common in the Pittsburgh area[,]...[in] the adjoining counties of Ohio and on the lower Kanawha."
the 'Burghn. Pittsburgh (Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Geographic distribution: Pittsburgh and surrounding areas (see above citations).
bermn. Edge of the road, curb. While this is more often referred to as the shoulder of the road, berm is an accepted alternative.
carbon oiln. kerosene (Kurath 1949).
Geographic distribution: From the western edge of the Alleghenies to beyond the Ohio line (see above citation).
chipped hamn. very thinly sliced chopped ham loaf for use on sandwiches (Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006) (see Chipped chopped ham).
Example: "Jim Miller would like to have a chipped-ham sandwich."
Geographic distribution: A trade-name specific to Pittsburgh and surrounding areas (see above citations).
Example: "Jim Miller is having city chicken for dinner."
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania and Northern West Virginia (see above citations).
Origins: Not entirely known, but rumored to have begun during the Depression Era, when people took meat scraps and fashioned a makeshift drumstick out of them.
cruds, crudded milk, or cruddled milkn. cottage cheese (Kurath 1949).
Geographic distribution: Kurath(1949) claims these forms are used from the western edge of the Alleghenies to beyond the Ohio line; and Crozier claims that they are restricted to southwestern Pennsylvania.
Examples: to mean "comfort," “He’s been in poor hap since his wife died” (Maxfield 1931); to mean "comforter, quilt," “It was cold last night but that hap kept me warm.”
Geographic distribution: hap is used for "comfort" in western Pennsylvania (Maxfield 1931); and a "quilt" is known as a hap only in western Pennsylvania.
hoagien. a submarine sandwich. The term is used throughout Pennsylvania, and is thought to have originated in Philadelphia.
Geographic distribution: Used "chiefly in PA and NJ" but is "becoming more widely recognized" (see above citation or hoagie article).
jagv. prick, stab, jab; tease (Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Further explanation: The form is often followed by off to mean (as a verb) "to annoy, irritate, play tricks on; to disparage; to reject", or (as a noun) "an annoying or irritating person;" as well as around to mean "annoy, tease, or engage in a frivolous endeavor." These phrases are probably influenced by jack off and jack around, respectively. "Jus' jaggin" is a common expression, the same as Standard "just kidding".
Geographic distribution: Chiefly Pennsylvania, especially southwestern Pennsylvania, but also portions of Appalachia (see above citations).
Origins: Scots-Irish (see above citations).
jaggern. any small, sharp-pointed object or implement.
Further explanation: The word applies mainly to thorns and briars, and is used as an adjective to describe bushes with thorns or briars, as in a jagger bush (see above citation), or "I got a jagger in my finger".
Geographic distribution: Chiefly Pennsylvania (see above citation).
redd up (also ret, rid(d)) v. "also with out; to tidy up, clean up, or out (a room, house, cupboard, etc.); to clean house, tidy up; hence v bl. redding up housecleaning; tidying up". Also see McElhinny (1999); Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson (2006).
Example: "Yinz better redd up this room."
Geographic distribution: Dressman notes that it is common to the Pittsburgh area and throughout Pennsylvania, but less so in Philadelphia. It is also scattered about New England States and in New Brunswick, though its occurrence is heaviest in Pennsylvania. Hall states that its distribution is "scattered, but chiefly N. Midland, esp PA."
Origins: Scots-Irish (Montgomery 2002). Dressman suggested that it was brought to the USA by Scots. It's almost certainly of Scandinavian/Viking origin; the Danish "rydde op" means to clean up. "Redd up" and its associated variants probably entered the English language during the Danish occupation of Britain, roughly a thousand years ago.
slippyadj. slippery (McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Example: "Be careful going down them steps because they're real slippy."
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania (see above citations).
Origins: Scots-Irish (Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
spicketn. alternate pronunciation of spigot, specifically an outdoor faucet used to connect to a garden hose.
Example: "Go redd up at the spicket before dinner."
the "punctual" wheneversub. conj. "at the time that" (Montgomery 2001).
Example: "My mother, whenever she passed away, she had pneumonia."
Further explanation: punctual descriptor refers to the use of the word for "a onetime momentary event rather than in its two common uses for a recurrent event or a conditional one" (see above citation).
Geographic distribution: In the Midlands and the South (see above citation).
Example: "It seems I always wear these shoes anymore."
Further explanation: While in Standard English anymore must be used as a negative polarity item (NPI), some speakers in Pittsburgh and throughout the Midland area do not have this restriction. When not used as an NPI, anymore means something like "these days."
Geographic Distribution: the Midland (Montgomery 1989).
Origins: Likely Scots-Irish (Montgomery 1999).
Reversed leave~let usage (Maxfield 1931; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Examples: "Leave him go outside"; "Let the book on the table."
Further explanation: Leave is used in some contexts in which, in standard English, let would be used; and vice versa.
Geographical distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere (see above citations).
Origins: Either Pennsylvania German or Scots-Irish.
need, want, or like+ past participle (Murray, Frazer and Simon 1996; Tenny 1998; McElhinny 1999; Murray and Simon 1999; Montgomery 2001; Murray and Simon 2002; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Examples: "The car needs washed"; "The cat wants petted"; "Babies like cuddled".
Further explanation: More common constructions are "The grass needs cutting" or "The grass needs to be cut" or "Babies like cuddling" or "Babies like to be cuddled"; "The car needs washing" or "The car needs to be washed"; and "The cat wants petting" or "The cat wants to be petted."
Geographic distribution: Found predominantly in the North Midland region, but especially in southwestern Pennsylvania (Murray, Frazer and Simon 1996; Murray and Simon 1999; Murray and Simon 2002). Need + past participle is the most common construction, followed by want + past participle, and then like + past participle. The forms are "implicationally related" to one another (Murray and Simon 2002). This means the existence of a less common construction from the list in a given location entails the existence of the more common ones there, but not vice versa.
Origins: like + past participle is Scots-Irish (Murray and Simon 2002). need + past participle is Scots-Irish (Murray, Frazer, and Simon 1996; Murray and Simon 1999; Montgomery 2001; Murray and Simon 2002). While Adams argues that want + past participle could be from Scots-Irish or German, it seems likely that this construction is Scots-Irish, as Murray and Simon (1999 and 2002) claim. like and need + past participle are Scots-Irish, the distributions of all three constructions are implicationally related, the area where they are predominantly found is most heavily influenced by Scots-Irish, and a related construction, want + directional adverb, as in "The cat wants out," is Scots-Irish.
yins, yinz, yunz, you'uns, or younspr. Second person plural personal pronoun. (McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere in Appalachia (see above citations).
n'at a "general extender" (McElhinny 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006). (Note: Pronounced )
Example: "We bought a notebook and some pencils n'at."
Further explanation: Reduction of and that, which can mean "along with some other stuff," "the previous was just an example of more general case," or (at least in Glasgow, Scotland) something like "I know this isn't stated as clearly as it might be, but you know what I mean."
Geographic distribution: Southwestern Pennsylvania (see above citations).
Origins: Possibly Scots-Irish. Macaulay (1995) finds it in the regular speech and narratives of Scottish coal miners in Glasgow, a principal area from which Scottish settlers emigrated to Northern Ireland, and from there, to the American colonies.
Falling intonation at the end of questions (Maxfield 1931; Layton 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus, and Danielson 2006).
Example: "Are you painting your garage?" (with pitch rising in intonation up to just before the last syllable and then falling precipitously).
Further explanation: Speakers who use this intonation pattern do not do so categorically, but instead also end many questions with a rising pitch. Such speakers typically use falling pitch for yes/no questions for which they already are quite sure of the answer. So, a speaker uttering the above example is simply confirming what they think they already know, that yes, the person they're talking to is painting his/her garage.
Geographical distribution: Most common in areas of heavy German settlement, especially southeastern Pennsylvania —hence its nickname, the "Pennsylvania Dutch question"—but also found elsewhere in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh (Maxfield 1931; Layton 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006).
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