Mid-Atlantic American English

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Mid-Atlantic American English, Middle Atlantic American English, or Delaware Valley English is a class of American English, considered by The Atlas of North American English to be a single dialect,[1] spoken in the southernmost Mid-Atlantic area of the United States (i.e. the Delaware Valley, southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, some southern parts of Central Jersey, Delaware, and Northeast Maryland).

The dialect consists mainly of the widely studied subsets known as Philadelphia English and Baltimore English.

This dialect of English centers most strongly around Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore, Maryland; and Atlantic City and Trenton, New Jersey.[2]

Phonological characteristics[edit]

A chart of all vowels of Mid-Atlantic American English
Pure vowels (Monophthongs)
English diaphoneme Mid-Atlantic realization Example words
/æ/ [æ] act, pal, trap
[æə~ɛə~eə] ham, pass, yeah
/ɑː/ [ɑː] blah, father
/ɒ/ bother,
lot, top, wasp
[oə]~[o̝ə] dog, loss, cloth
/ɔː/ all, bought, taught, saw
/ɛ/ [ɛ] dress, met, bread
/ə/ [ə~ɜ] about, syrup, arena
/ɪ/ [ɪ~ɪ̈] hit, skim, tip
/iː/ [iː] beam, chic, fleet
/ʌ/ [ʌ] bus, flood, what
/ʊ/ [ʊ] book, put, should
/uː/ [ʉu] food, glue, new
/aɪ/ [äɪ] ride, shine, try
[ɐɪ] bright, dice, pike
/aʊ/ [æʊ~ɛɔ] now, ouch, scout
/eɪ/ [eɪ] lake, paid, rein
/ɔɪ/ [ɔɪ~oɪ] boy, choice, moist
/oʊ/ [ɘʊ~ɜʊ] goat, oh, show
R-colored vowels
/ɑːr/ [ɑɹ] barn, car, park
/ɪər/ [iɹ] fear, peer, tier
/ɛər/ [er] bare, bear, there
/ɜːr/ [əɹ~ɜɹ] burn, first, herd
/ər/ [əɹ] doctor, martyr, pervade
/ɔːr/ [ɔɹ~oɹ] hoarse, horse, poor
score, tour, war
/jʊər/ [jɔɹ~joɹ~jəɹ] cure, Europe, pure

The Mid-Atlantic dialectal region is characterized by several unique phonological features:

  • No cot-caught merger: There is a huge difference in the pronunciation between the cot class of words (e.g. pot, glob, and rock) and the caught class (e.g. thought, awe, and call), as in New York City.[3] The caught class is raised and diphthongized towards [oə]~[o̝ə].[4]
  • Lot-cloth split: Similarly, the single word "on" has the vowel of "dawn", and not the same vowel as "don" etc. Labov et al. regard this phenomenon as occurring not just in the Mid-Atlantic region, but in all regions south of a geographic boundary that they identify as the "ON line", which is significant because it distinguishes most varieties of Northern American English (in which on and Don are closer rhymes) from most varieties of Midland and Southern American English (in which on and dawn are closer rhymes).[5]
  • Short-a split system: The Mid-Atlantic region uses a short-a split system similar to, but more limited than, the New York City short-a split system. (In the Trenton area, an intermediate system is used, falling between the typical Mid-Atlantic and the New York City system.)[6] Generally, in the Mid-Atlantic system, the vowel /æ/ is tensed (towards [eə]) before the consonants /m/, /n/, /f/, /s/, and /θ/ in a closed syllable (so, for example, bats and baths do not have the same vowel sound, being pronounced [bæts] and [beəθs], respectively), and in any words directly inflectionally derived from root words with this split. Therefore, pass and passing use the tense [eə], but passage and passive use the lax [æ].[7] The lax and the tense reflexes of /æ/ are separate phonemes in these dialects, though largely predictable using the aforementioned rules. There are exceptions, however; the three words bad, mad, and glad become tense, and irregular verbs ending in "-an" or "-am" remain lax.[8] See /æ/-tensing#Philadelphia and Baltimore or click "show" below for more details.
A chart of the Mid-Atlantic short-a split compared to General
American /æ/ tensing and the New York City short-a split
Environment Example
New York City General American Mid-Atlantic
following /æ/
Syllable type
/r/ open
arable, arid, barrel, barren, carry, carrot, charity, clarity, Gary, Harry, Larry, marionette, maritime, marry, marriage, paragon, parent, parish, parody, parrot, etc.; this feature is determined by the presence or absence of the Mary-marry-merry merger
lax [æ] tense
lax [æ]
/m/, /n/ closed
Alexander, answer, ant, band, can (the metal object), can't, clam, dance, family, ham, hamburger, hand, handy, man, manly, pants, plan, planning, ranch, sand, slant, tan, understand, etc.; in Philadelphia, began, ran, and swam alone remain lax
tense [eə] tense [eə]
amity, animal, can (the verb), Canada, ceramic, gamut, hammer, janitor, manager, manner, Montana, panel, planet, profanity, salmon, Spanish, etc.
lax [æ] lax [æ]
/b/, /d/, /dʒ/, /g/,
/ʃ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/
add, agriculture, ash, badge, bag, bash, cab, cash, clad, crag, dad, drab, fad, flag, glad, grab, mad, magnet, plaid, rag, sad, sag, smash, tab, tadpole, tag, etc.; in NYC, this environment has a lot of variance and many exceptions to the rule; in Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone become tense
tense [eə] lax [æ]
/f/, /s/, /θ/ closed
ask, basket, bath, brass, casket, cast, class, craft, daft, glass, grass, half, laugh, laughter, mask, mast, math, pass, past, path, plastic, wrath etc.
tense [eə]
all other consonants
act, agony, allergy, apple, aspirin, athlete, avid, back, bat, brat, café, cafeteria, cap, cashew, cat, Catholic, chap, clap, classy, dragon, fashion, fat, flap, gap, gnat, latch, magazine, mallet, map, mastiff, match, maverick, pack, pal, pallet, passive, rabid, racket, rally, rat, sack, sat, Saturn, savvy, slack, slap, tackle, talent, trap, travel, etc.
lax [æ] lax [æ]
The NYC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore dialects' rule of tensing /æ/ in certain closed-syllable environments also applies to words inflectionally derived from those closed-syllable /æ/ environments that now have an open-syllable /æ/. For example, in addition to pass being tense (according to the general rule), so are its open-syllable derivatives passing and passer-by, but not passive.

Lexical characteristics[edit]

  • To refer to a sweetened, flavored, carbonated soft drink, the term soda is preferred (rather than pop or the generic coke which common to the west and to the south, respectively).
  • Positive anymore may be used without its negative polarity to mean "nowadays," as in "Her hoagies taste different anymore."
  • The term jimmies is sometimes used in this and the Boston dialect to refer to small confectionaries used to top ice cream and icing, generally called "sprinkles" in New York and the rest of the United States.
  • The term rail drink may be used in parts of the Mid-Atlantic region, in particular in much of the Washington, DC/Baltimore metro area, for what is known as a "well drink" in bars and pubs in much or most of the rest of the US.

Notable speakers[edit]


  1. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 236
  2. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 233
  3. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 125
  4. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 130
  5. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 189
  6. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 239
  7. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 173
  8. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), chpt. 17
  9. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 237
  10. ^ "The Best Show with Tom Scharpling". thebestshow.libsyn.com. Retrieved 2017-03-12.
  11. ^ a b "Philadelphians have a unique accent, with pronunciation evolving over the decades". Retrieved 2018-08-24.
  12. ^ "Senator Barbara Mikulski Delivers Farewell Speech". c-span.org. Retrieved 2017-04-02.
  13. ^ "Simply Laura".


  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.