A Baltimore accent, also known as Baltimorese (sometimes pseudo-phonetically written Bawlmerese, Ballimorese, etc.), commonly refers to an accent that originates among blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore, Maryland. It is a sub-variety of Mid-Atlantic American English, as is nearby Philadelphia English.
At the same time, there is considerable linguistic diversity within Baltimore, which complicates the notion of a singular "Baltimore accent". According to linguists, the accent and dialect of African American Baltimoreans are different from the "hon" variety that is popularized in the media as being spoken by white blue-collar Baltimoreans. White working-class families who migrated out of Baltimore city along the Maryland Route 140 and Maryland Route 26 corridors brought local pronunciations with them, creating colloquialisms that make up the Baltimore accent.
The Baltimore accent that originated among white blue-collar residents 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, sociolinguists refer to them collectively as the Mid-Atlantic regional dialect. In Baltimore accents, sounds around /r/ are often "smoothed" or elided. For example, a word like bureau is commonly pronounced // (e.g., Federal Beer-o of Investigation) and mirror is commonly pronounced "mere"; the related mare–mayor merger also exists.
- // shifts to [ɘʊ] or even [eʊ]. When word-final and spelled as -ow, it is pronounced like /ə/, resulting in spellings like pilla for pillow and winda for window.
- // fronts to [ɛɔ] or [æɔ].
- u-fronting occurs, where the vowel // can be fronted to [ʉu].
- No cot–caught merger: The words cot /ɑ/ and caught /ɔ/ do not rhyme, with the latter vowel maintaining a raised position. Likewise, the word on rhymes with dawn and not don.
- As in Philadelphia, the word water is often pronounced as wooder [ˈwʊɾɚ] or, more uniquely, [ˈwɔɻɾɚ].
- As in most Mid-Atlantic cities, short a is pronounced with a phonemic split: for example, the word sad /æ/ does not rhyme with the word mad /eə/. Pronunciation is dependent upon a complex system of rules that differ from city to city. /æ/ Tensing is also common in the Mid-Atlantic Region, with speakers in Baltimore adapting the Philadelphia pattern on intervocalic vowels. For more details on the Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore systems see /æ/ raising.
|fan, lamb, stand||[ɛə][A][B]||[ɛə]||[ɛə]||[ɛə~ɛjə]||[ɛə]||[ɛə]|
|Prevocalic /ɡ/||dragon, magazine||[æ]|
/b, d, ʃ/
|grab, flash, sad||[ɛə][A]||[æ]||[ɛə]|
/f, θ, s/
|ask, bath, half,
|Otherwise||as, back, happy,
- The /ɑr/ vowel in words like start is often raised and backed, resulting in a vowel close to /ɔ/. Likewise, /ɔr/ as in bore can shift as high as /ʊər/ as in boor. This pattern has also been noted to occur in Philadelphia and New York.
- Canadian raising occurs for // before voiceless consonants, as in Philadelphia; for instance, the word like [lʌik] begins with a higher nucleus than live [laɪv].
- On the other hand, // may undergo smoothing before liquids, becoming [ɑ] before /r/ and /l/; e.g., fire is pronounced as [fɑɻ], in which a popular Baltimore Christmas joke: "Why were the three Wise men covered with soot?" "Because they came from afar."
- [ə] is often eliminated entirely from a word when before a consonant; e.g. Annapolis = Naplis, cigarette = cigrette, company = compny.
- Th–stopping occurs, where the dental fricatives /θ, ð/ may be realized as stops (/t, d/ respectively); for instance, this may sound more like dis.
- 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.
- Epenthetic /r/ often occurs; notably, wash is pronounced as [wɑɻʃ], popularly written as warsh, and Washington is pronounced as Warshington.
- As is common in many US dialects, /t/ is frequently elided after /n/, thus hunter is pronounced [ˈhʌnɚ].
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.
- bixicated – (of a person) silly or simple.
- down the ocean – (eye-dialect spellings include dayown the ocean or downy ocean) "down to/on/at the ocean", most likely referring to Ocean City, Maryland.
- hon – a popular term of endearment, short for honey, often used at the end of a sentence. This word has been a popular marker of Baltimore culture, as represented in the annual Honfest summer festival and in landmarks such as the Hontown store and the Café Hon restaurant.
- natty boh – local slang for the beer originally brewed in Baltimore, National Bohemian.
- pavement (commonly pronounced "payment") – means "sidewalk" (which is used rarely).
- went up (shortened from "went up to heaven") - commonly used when an appliance dies; e.g., our refrigerator went up
- yo – as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun
According to linguists, the "hon" dialect that is popularized in the media and that derives historically from the speech of by White blue-collar residents of South, and Southeast Baltimore is not the only accent spoken in the region. There is also a particular Baltimore accent found among Black Baltimoreans. For example, among Black speakers, Baltimore is pronounced more like "Baldamore," as compared to "Bawlmer." Other notable phonological characteristics include vowel centralization before /r/ (such that words such as "carry" and "parents" are often pronounced as "curry" or "purrents") and the mid-centralization of /ɑ/, particularly in the word "dog," often pronounced like "dug," and "frog," as "frug." The accent and dialect of African-American Baltimoreans also share features of African American English.
Notable examples of native speakers
- Ben Cardin - Maryland U.S. Senator (2007–present)
- Mary Pat Clarke - Baltimore City Councilwoman (1975–present)
- Divine - Actor/Performer
- Charley Eckman - NBA coach and referee, sportscaster
- Mel Kiper Jr. - Football analyst for ESPN
- Barbara Mikulski - Maryland U.S. Senator (1987-2017)
- Ryan Sickler - Stand-up Comedian/Honeydew
- John Waters - Actor/Filmmaker
- Felicia Pearson - Actress on The Wire
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's Hairspray spoke with an exaggerated Baltimore accent. Likewise, several of the films of Barry Levinson are set in and around Baltimore during the 1940s-1960s, and employ the Baltimore accent. 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 are both set in Baltimore and include actors who are native White and Black Baltimoreans. In the early Homicide: Life on the Streets episode "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 portrays the father of Ullman's character JoJo. The skit is set in a Baltimore row house. Tucker advises Ullman to "take a Liverpool accent and Americanize it." The episode called "The Stoops" begins with Tracey washing her marble stoops, which are the most common small porches attached to most Baltimore town homes (called row houses in Baltimore).
Whether it was on his ESPN Radio show or SportsCenter at Night, Scott Van Pelt always ended his segments with Tim Kurkjian by mentioning names in a Baltimore accent featuring at least one fronted 'o'.
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 downy ocean, hon."
Jason La Canfora, host of the B-More Opinionated podcast with Jerry Coleman and resident of Dundalk, regularly discussed events of the National Football League for The Tony Kornheiser Show and will end the segment plugging his own podcast in a heavy Baltimore accent. The accent is so distinct that his dog, Copper, will react to it, barking constantly because he knows it is time for a walk.
Comedians Stavros Halkias and Nick Mullen of the Cum Town podcast both hail from the Baltimore/DMV area and use the accent to discuss topics and stories related to Baltimore and the Mid-Atlantic region. Halkias's recurring Dundalk Ralph character is frequently used to mock the white working class culture of the Dundalk suburb.
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- Bates, Kathy [@MsKathyBates] (9 October 2014). "@gliattoT People online. Just to clear up the mystery, my accent is Baltimore not "broad Canadian." :-)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
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- "Scott Van Pelt uses his Baltimore accent to turn Tim Kurkjian into a giggling child". For The Win. 2015-09-15. Retrieved 2017-11-30.
- "B-More Opinionated! – B-More Opinionated Podcast". web.archive.org. 2019-02-03. Retrieved 2020-08-11.
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- Baltimore Hon (A through dictionary of Baltimorese)
- Baltimorese (with some audio)
- "The Mid-Atlantic Dialects", Evolution Publishing
- 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