The Baltimore accent, also known as Baltimorese (sometimes pseudophonetically written Baldimorese, Bawlmerese, or Ballimerese), commonly refers to the accent and dialect of Mid-Atlantic American English that originated among the white blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore, Maryland. The accent and the Philadelphia accent resemble each other in several regards.
At the same time, there is considerable linguistic diversity within Baltimore, which complicates the notion of a singular “Baltimore accent.” There are numerous accents within the urban landscape of Baltimore City with Appalachian, African American, Chesapeake, and Eastern Shore influences including many others. According to linguists, the accent and dialect of African American Baltimoreans is different than the "hon" variety that is popularized in the media as being spoken by white blue-collar Baltimoreans.
The farther one gets from Baltimore, the more the local speech is influenced by other geographic and cultural factors. 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. 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, some sociolinguists refer to them collectively as the Mid-Atlantic dialect.
- /o/ fronting, where an 'o' becomes elongated and pronounced closer to the front of the mouth
- // shifts to [ɘʊ] or even [eʊ].
- // becomes [ɑ] before /r/; fire is pronounced as [fɑɻ]
- As in Philadelphia, the word "water" is often pronounced as "wooder" [ˈwʊɾəɻ] or, more uniquely, [ˈwɔɻɾəɻ].
- No "cot–caught" merger: The words "cot" /ɑ/ and "caught" /ɔ/ do not rhyme. Other dissimilar 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, the 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 phonemic /æ/ tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region or click "show" below.
|New York City|
|/m/, /n/||closed||tense [eə]||tense [eə]|
|open||lax [æ]||lax [æ]|
|/b/, /d/, /dʒ/, /g/,
/ʃ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/
|closed||lax [æ]||tense [eə]|
|/f/, /s/, /θ/||closed||tense [eə]|
|all other instances of /æ/||lax [æ]||lax [æ]|
- Epenthetic /r/; notably, "wash" is pronounced as [wɑɻʃ], 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].
- As is common in many US dialects /t/ is frequently elided after /n/, thus hunter is pronounced [ˈhʌnɚ].
- [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 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.
- bureau - commonly pronounced beer-o (example: Federal Beer-o of Investigation)
- 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).
- bixicated – referring to someone who is silly or simple.
- hon – a popular term of endearment, often used at the end of a sentence (short for "honey"). This phrase 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.
- 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."
- liar, wire & fire - commonly pronounced "larr", "warr" & "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
- yo - as a gender-neutral third-person singular pronoun
- preference of “nuffin” over “nuttin” for “nothing” is common in Baltimore and DC
- “rey” for “ready” is associated with Baltimore users of Black Twitter.
- "lor" for "little" is also a feature of Black Baltimore speech
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 centralization of /ɑ/ to /ə/, particularly in the word "dog," often pronounced as "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 - Senator of Maryland (2007-present)
- Mary Pat Clarke - Baltimore City Councilwoman (1975-present)
- Divine - Actor/Performer
- Barbara Mikulski - Senator of Maryland (1987-2017)
- John Waters - Actor/Filmmaker
- Scott Van Pelt - Anchor on 'Sportscenter'
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 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. 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, with both series including actors who are native White and Black Baltimoreans. 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." 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): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NHOOYntGgxA&t=28s
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."
- "The Relevatory Power of Language". Maryland Humanities Council. April 14, 2017.
- "Hold up, 'Hon': Baltimore's black vernacular youthful, dynamic if less recognized than 'Bawlmerese'".
- Phonological Atlas of North America
- "Dew as you dew: Baltimore Accent and The Wire". Word. The Online Journal on African American English. 2012-08-15. Retrieved 2017-12-02.
- New York City and the Mid-Atlantic States
- Ash, Sharon. 2002. “The Distribution of a Phonemic Split in the Mid-Atlantic Region: Yet More on Short a.” In “Selected Papers from NWAV 30,” edited by Sudha Arunachalam, Elsi Kaiser, Daniel Ezra Johnson, Tara Sanchez, and Alexander Williams. University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics 8.3: 1–15. http:// repository.upenn.edu/pwpl/vol8/iss3/2.
- Rizzo, M. (2010). Hon-ouring the past: play-publics and gender at Baltimore's HonFest. International Journal Of Heritage Studies, 16(4-5), 337-351.
- Stotko, E. M., & Troyer, M. (2007). A new gender-neutral pronoun in Baltimore, Maryland: A preliminary study. American Speech: A Quarterly of Linguistic Usage, 82(3), 262.
- Jones, T. (2015) Toward a description of African American Vernacular English dialect regions using “Black Twitter.” American Speech, 90(4): 403-440. doi:10.1215/00031283-3442117
- "How Baltimore talks". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 2017-12-02.
- DeShields, Inte'a. "Baldamor, Curry, and Dug': Language Variation, Culture, and Identity among African American Baltimoreans". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Kaltenbach, Chris. "21 actors who appeared on both 'Homicide' and 'The Wire'". baltimoresun.com. Retrieved 2017-12-02.
- Manas Burna (2016-02-27), Homicide S01E05 Three Men and Adena, retrieved 2017-12-02
- The actual 30 Rock scene involving Elizabeth Banks' parody of the Baltimore accent.
- Bartel, Jordan (October 15, 2014). "'American Horror Story': The curious case of Kathy Bates' Baltimore-ish accent". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
- Schremph, Kelly (October 8, 2014). "Kathy Bates' Accent on 'AHS: Freak Show' Is an Enigma That Needs to Be Unraveled". Bustle. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
- Kathy Bates [@MsKathyBates] (9 October 2014). "@gliattoT People online. Just to clear up the mystery, my accent is Baltimore not "broad Canadian." :-)" (Tweet) – via Twitter.
- "Kathy Bates's accent is the strangest on TV. So we asked a linguist to place it". Vox. Retrieved 2017-12-02.
- "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.
- 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