Philadelphia English is the variety or dialect of American English spoken in Philadelphia and extending into Philadelphia's suburbs in the Delaware Valley, including northern Delaware as well as South Jersey and many parts of Central Jersey. It is one of the best-studied accents of American English, as Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania is the home institution of William Labov, one of the most productive American sociolinguists. Philadelphia English is very similar to Baltimore English; however, Philadelphia English differs in that it shares some distinct features with New York City English and to a lesser extent other regions of the United States, although it is its own unique dialect region.
The Philadelphia Dialect includes the dialects of nearby Reading, Pennsylvania and the Wilmington, Delaware / northern Delaware area, areas which are generally considered within the Delaware Valley or Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. The Philadelphia Dialect also includes the dialect spoken in South Jersey and South Jersey cities such as Atlantic City and the Atlantic City-Hammonton Metropolitan Statistical Area (an area also generally included in the Philadelphia or Delaware Valley Metro Area.) Philadelphia Dialect is related to the dialect spoken in Baltimore, Maryland, together with which it constitutes what Labov describes as the "Mid-Atlantic dialect".
The Philadelphia accent is commonly heard amongst the Philadelphia area Irish American and Italian American working-class neighborhoods and its surrounding cities and suburbs. Conversely, Philadelphia speakers further up the SES scale show a somewhat stronger tendency to lose distinctive dialect features (or attenuate them in the direction of General American) than is true in the neighboring dialect areas of Baltimore and New York.
According to Barbara Johnstone, a professor of English and linguistics at Carnegie Mellon University, migration patterns and geography create the origin of the dialect. The Philadelphia area dialect was influenced by immigrants from Northern England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.
Due to the fact that the accent is often considered to be the toughest to emulate, actual Philadelphia dialects are seldom heard nationally. Movies and television depictions often substitute a New York or a General American accent. Natives who work in media and entertainment often assimilate to the General American broadcast standard. Speakers with a noticeable local accent include Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money, singer Joe Bonsall, political commentator Chris Matthews, Bam Margera, and several others in the MTV Jackass crew. In addition, the Philadelphia accent can be heard prominently in many of the songs of the Philadelphia area bands The Dead Milkmen, Bloodhound Gang, and G. Love & Special Sauce. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spent much of his youth in the Philadelphia area, and his English is influenced by a Philadelphia accent. Venezuelan American actress Sonya Smith, who was born in Philadelphia, speaks with a Philadelphia accent in both English and Venezuelan Spanish.
Movies and television shows set in the Philadelphia region generally make the mistake of giving the characters a working class New York dialect (specifically heard in films set in Philadelphia such as the Rocky series, Invincible, and A History of Violence). A contrary example is the character of Lynn Sear (played by Toni Collette) in The Sixth Sense, who speaks with an accurate Philadelphia dialect. In the film Sleepers, Kevin Bacon, a Philadelphia native, uses an exaggerated Philadelphia accent for the character of Sean Nokes.
The use of geographically inaccurate dialects is also true in movies and television programs set in Atlantic City or any other region of South Jersey; the characters often use a supposed "Joisey" dialect, when in reality that New York-influenced dialect for New Jersey natives is almost always exclusive to the extreme northeastern region of the state nearest New York City. An important factor here is that in the real world, "local" TV, political, and sports personalities in South Jersey and part of Central Jersey are culturally associated with Philadelphia, not New York City.
The accent is generally spoken in Southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, and Northern Delaware, but it is not uncommon to hear the accent being spoken as far north as Pottsville, PA and as far south as Lewes, DE.
The vowels in Philadelphia speech show a remarkable degree of volatility. Labov's extensive research has identified changes affecting over half of the vowel phonemes. In regional terms, Philadelphia shows an interesting mixture of Northeastern and Midland patterns.
- A feature shared by Philadelphians, New Yorkers, and southern New Englanders is the raising and diphthongizing of // to [oə] or even higher [o̝ə]. The raised variants often appear as diphthongs with a centering glide. As a result, Philadelphia is resistant to the cot–caught merger. Labov's research suggests that this pattern of raising is essentially complete in Philadelphia and seems no longer to be an active change.
- One of the features that Philadelphia shares with Midland dialects (and one absent from New York speech) is the fronting of /oʊ/ and /uː/; the resulting allophones are around [ɜʊ] and [ʉu], respectively. Generally, greater degrees of fronting are heard when the vowels appear in "free" positions (i.e., without a following consonant) than in "checked" positions (i.e., with a following consonant). Fronting does not occur in the context of following liquids leading to a significant difference between, e.g., goat and goal. The fronting of /oʊ/ and /uː/ is well established in Philadelphia, though cross-generational data show that it remains an active change. Fronted nuclei in /aʊ/ are well established in Philadelphia speech as in New York. More recent research has noted a tendency among the middle-aged and younger generation of Philadelphians to raise the vowel, resulting in [ɛɔ].
- /ʊ/, the vowel in foot, is sometimes fronted though not to the degree seen with /oʊ/ and /uː/.
- As in New York City English and Baltimore English, historical short-a has split into two phonemes: lax /æ/ (as in bat) and tense /eə/ (as in bath). Their distribution in Philadelphia along with Baltimore, however, is different from that of New York City: for instance, the words mad (tense) and sad (lax) do not rhyme in Philadelphia or Baltimore, but do for New York. For more details on the Philadelphia, Baltimore, and New York systems see: phonemic /æ/ tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region or click "show" below.
- As in New York, Boston, and most native dialects of English outside North America, there is a three-way distinction between Mary [ˈmeɹi]~[ˈmeəɹi], marry [ˈmæɹi], and merry [ˈmɛɹi]~[ˈmɜɹi]. However, in Philadelphia some older speakers have a merger (or close approximation) of /ɛ/ and /ʌ/ before /ɹ/ (the furry–ferry merger), so that merry is merged instead with Murray (with both pronounced as something like [mʌɹi]). Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006: 54) report that about one third of Philadelphia speakers have this merger, one third have a near-merger, and one third keep the two distinct. Relatedly, as in New York, many words like orange, Florida, and horrible have /ɑ/ before /ɹ/ rather than the /ɔɹ/ used in many other American dialects (See: Historic "short o" before intervocalic r).
- Canadian raising, as in General American, occurs for /aɪ/ (as in price) but not for /aʊ/ (as in mouth) (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 114–15, 237–38). Consequently, the diphthong in like may begin with a nucleus of mid or even higher position [lʌik], which distinguishes it from the diphthong in live [laɪv]. Canadian raising in Philadelphia occurs before voiceless consonants, and it is extended to occur before some voiced consonants as well, including intervocalic voiced stops as in tiger and spider. Fruehwald argues that /aɪ/ has actually undergone a phonemic split in Philadelphia as a result of Canadian raising. The raising of /aɪ/ is unusual as the innovators of this change are primarily male speakers while the other changes in progress are led primarily by females. The sociolinguistic evidence suggests this raising is a fairly recent addition to Philadelphia speech.
- Early descriptions of Philadelphia speech indicate lowered and/or laxed variants of /iː/ were common. The recent sociolinguistic evidence indicates a reversal of this trend such that the vowel is now commonly raised and fronted. This raising is heard primarily before consonants (e.g., eat).
- The Linguistic Atlas researchers recorded lax variants of /eɪ/ near [ɛɪ]. As with /iː/, recent research suggests this trend is being reversed by raising and fronting of the vowel often to a position well beyond [e]. This raising occurs before consonants (e.g., paid); in word-final position (pay), /eɪ/ remains lowered and lax.
- Many Philadelphians use a rather high and back vowel for /ɑr/ as in start; something near [ɔ]. The so-called horse–hoarse merger takes place, and the merged vowel is typically mid to high back; it can be as high as [ʊ]. As noted in New York, these tendencies toward backing and raising of /ɑr/ and /ɔr/ may constitute a chain shift. The evidence suggests the movement of /ɑr/ began this shift, and this vowel is relatively stable today, while generational differences are heard in the shifting of /ɔr/.
- /ɔɪ/, as in choice, may be more raised than in other dialects; sometimes it is as high as [ʊɪ].
- /ʌ/, as in strut, may show raised and back variants. In some cases, the vowel is in the high, back corner of the vowel space near /u/. This is reportedly a recent development and is one more common among male speakers.
- Labov's research has indicated a tendency toward lowering of the lax vowels /ɪ/ and /ɛ/. This pattern is not yet well established and is labeled by Labov as an "incipient" change.
- Philadelphia is situated in the middle of the only traditionally rhotic area of the Atlantic states. This area runs from Pennsylvania and New Jersey down to Delaware and Northern Maryland, and remains fully r-pronouncing today.
- Consonant changes, especially reductions and lenitions, are very common in informal conversational speech, so that:
- The sibilant /s/ is palatalized to [ʃ] (as in she) before /tr/. Thus, the word streets might be pronounced "shtreets" [ˈʃtɹits].
- L-vocalization is quite pervasive in Philadelphia speech. Phonetically it may be realized as something like [o] or a velar or labio-velar glide, [ɰ] or [w], or the consonant may be deleted altogether. Among Philadelphians, as in other dialects, vocalization occurs quite frequently in word-final and pre-consonantal contexts (e.g., mill, milk). In a more unusual development, vocalization may also occur inter-vocalically in Philadelphia. This tendency is more common when /l/ appears following low vowels bearing primary word stress (e.g., hollow). This variable also shows some lexical conditioning, appearing, for example, with exceptionally high frequency in the pronunciation of the name of the city (Ash 1997). This, in part, leads to the stereotype of Philadelphia being pronounced as "Fluffya" or "Filelfia."
- As in other areas, the interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ are often realized as stops, [t] and [d] or affricates [tθ] and [dð] in Philadelphia speech. This variation appears to be a stable class-stratified feature with the non-fricative forms appearing more commonly in working class speech.
- The yew–hew merger can be found, as in New York City, in which words like human and huge, which begin with an /hj/ cluster, the /h/ is commonly deleted giving [ˈjumən] and [judʒ].
- Consonant cluster reductions, such as removing the "t" sound from consonant clusters, so that "mustard" sounds more like "mussard," or "soft" like "sawff."
- In some areas, such as the Main Line, non-rhoticity can be found. This may be a result of wealthy families sending their children to expensive boarding schools in the United Kingdom up until the 1960s.
- On may be pronounced [ɔən], so that, as in the South and Midland varieties of American English (and unlike New York) it rhymes with dawn rather than don. However, Philadelphia has been noted as featuring, at least among some speakers, the Northern /ɑ/ in on (Kurath and McDavid 1961).
- The word water is commonly pronounced [ˈwʊɾəɹ] (with the first syllable rhyming with the word put, so that it sounds like wooter.) This is considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Philadelphia dialect.
- The word towel is commonly pronounced the same as tal in the word tally.
- Both long-e and long-a sounds are shortened before /ɡ/. Eagle rhymes with giggle [ˈɪɡəɫ] (as in "the Iggles"); league [ɫɪɡ] rhymes with big ; vague and plague rhyme with peg (pronounced [vɛɡ] and [pʰɫɛɡ], respectively). For some Philadelphians, colleague and fatigue also have /ɪ/ (pronounced [ˈkʰɑɫɪɡ] and [fəˈtʰɪɡ], respectively). However, these are words learned later, so many use the more standard American [ˈkʰɑɫiɡ] and [fəˈtʰiɡ].
- In words like gratitude, beautiful, attitude, Baltimore, and prostitute, the i may be pronounced with a long ee sound [i], as in bee.
- Many words ending in -ow or -o, such as window, widow, tomato, or casino, are pronounced with a schwa ending (like the indistinct vowel sound at the end of the word coda). Thus, windows would be pronounced [ˈwɪndəz] and tomorrow would be pronounced [tʰəˈmɑɹə].
For example, a sandwich consisting of a long bread filled with lunch meat, cheese, and lettuce, onion and tomato, variously called a "sub" or "submarine sandwich" in other parts of the United States, is called a hoagie. Olive oil, rather than mayonnaise, is used as a topping, and "hot" or "sweet" peppers are used for spice. The term 'hoagie' originated in Philadelphia. A similar sandwich toasted in an oven or broiler is called a grinder.
Small chocolate or multi-colored confections sprinkled on ice cream and cake icing, elsewhere called sprinkles are known as jimmies in the Philadelphia area, as well as in the Boston (although only chocolate ones are Jimmies in Boston) and Pittsburgh areas.
Many Philadelphians are known to use the expression "youse" both as second person plural and (rarely) second person singular pronoun, much like the mostly Southern / Western expression "y'all" or the Pittsburgh term, "yinz". "Youse" (often "youse guys" when addressing multiple people) is common in many working class northeastern areas, but is often associated with Philadelphia especially. The pronunciation reflects vowel reduction more often than not, yielding // and // ("yiz") just as often as the stereotypical //. (ex: "Yiz want anything at the store?" "Yiz guys alright over there?"). Second person singular forms commonly are heard as // and //. Although enthusiasts celebrating the accent's distinctiveness like to point out that instances of terminal /z/ in singular use occur, it is inaccurate to say they are common.
Notable examples of native speakers
- Gloria Allred — "slightly nasal, Philadelphia-accented voice that can drip with sarcasm"
- Chuck Barris — "Barris' Philly accent"
- Joey Bishop — "an accent as thick as a porterhouse steak"
- Bob Brady — "a thick Philly accent."
- David Brenner — "he never tried to dump his Philadelphia accent"
- Jim Cramer — "his pronounced Philly accent"
- Tim Donaghy — "Philly accent remains as thick"
- Johnny Dougherty — "thick Philadelphia accent"
- Larry Fine — "mimic Fine’s Philadelphia accent"
- Edward "Babe" Heffron — "nail the old South Philly accent"
- Dom Irrera — "distinctive Philadelphia accent"
- Joan Jett — "her distinct Philadelphia accent & swagger"
- Joe Kerrigan — "with his curt Philadelphia accent"
- Jim Lynam — "speaks in a fast, choppy tone with a distinct Philadelphia accent."
- Herb Magee — "Philadelphia University coach, whose accent, Irish mug, and hoops pedigree epitomize the hometown he's never left"
- Mike Mayock — "With his thick Philly accent"
- Kathleen McGinty — "McGinty intones in a Philadelphia accent."
- Patrick Joseph Murphy — "Murphy hasn't lost his thick Philly accent"
- Kevin Bacon and Bruce Willis — "Bruce Willis (Salem County, N.J.) and Kevin Bacon (Center City Philadelphia) [...] before [Philadelphia] accent reduction training kicked in, let their diphthong freak flags fly."
- Jill Biden — "She exaggerates her Philadelphia suburbs accent, which is already pretty strong."
- Noam Chomsky — “I speak with the accent from a certain area in northeastern Philadelphia where I grew up."
- "G. Love" Dutton — "a watered-down Philadelphian accent"
- Chris Matthews — “I don’t think I ever realized I had a Philadelphia accent"
- Benjamin Netanyahu — "his Philly-flecked American English a vestige of his childhood years in suburban Cheltenham."
- Etymologies of place names in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
- Central Pennsylvania accent
- Northeast Pennsylvania English
- Pennsylvania Dutch English
- North American English regional phonology#Northeastern dialects
- Regional vocabularies of American English
- Labov, William (2007) "Transmission and Diffusion", Language June 2007 p. 64
- Malady, Matthew J.X. (2014-04-29). "Where Yinz At; Why Pennsylvania is the most linguistically rich state in the country.". The Slate Group. Retrieved 2015-06-12.
- Loviglio, Joann. "RESEARCHERS TRACK EVOLUTION OF PHILLY'S ODD ACCENT". AP. AP. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Trawick-Smith, Ben. "The Overlooked Philadelphia Accent". 15 July 2011. Retrieved 25 June 2013.
- Fruehwald, Josef (2007). "The Spread of Raising". College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania
- Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3-11-017532-0 p. 290
- Quinn, Jim (1997). "Phillyspeak". Philadelphia City Paper. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
- Labov (2001), p. 123
- New York Times Sunday Review, Loose Ends "The Sound of Philadelphia Fades Out" Daniel Nester March 1, 2014
- Rocco Dal Vera Rhoticity Study, Rocco Dal Vera on Rhotic and Non-Rhotic English Accents
- Barrist, Adam (2009), "The Concrete Lawyer" ISBN 978-1-4401-6573-3
- Wolfram and Ward, p. 90.
- Kenneth Finkel, ed., Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual, (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1995) page 86.
- "Philly Via Italy", thirtyfourthstreetmagazine, April 17, 2007, page 9.
- "The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context," Eames & Robboy, American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Dec., 1967), pp. 279–288
- Eames, Edwin and Howard Robboy. American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4. "The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context"
- "A Hoagie By Any Other Name" (PDF). Retrieved 18 December 2012.
- "Sorry, New York, 'Yo' Was Born in Philadelphia". The New York Times. August 19, 1993. Retrieved May 22, 2010.
- How they Talk in Philadelphia
- Dalzell, Tom (1996). Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster. ISBN 0-87779-612-2.
- My sweet | Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/03/2008 Archived April 22, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Push and Pull of Immigration: Letters from Home – Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center
- PhillyTalk.com – Philly Slang Archived March 23, 2008, at the Wayback Machine.
- Tony Luke’s: The New Yorker
- Labov, Ash, & Boberg (2006), p.293
- Rogers, John (October 25, 2010). "Gloria Allred: The attorney people love to hate". Ventura County Star. Journal Media Group.
- Smith, Lynn (December 30, 2002). "He's got game". Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times.
- Buckley, Tom (July 23, 1989). "HIS WIVES AND OTHER STRANGERS". The New York Times. The New York Times Company.
- Morrison, John (2014). "Comedian David Brenner, 78, was a uniquely Philly guy". Philly.com. Interstate General Media, LLC.
- ""Mad Money" Host Jim Cramer Will Film Show With Villanova Business Students". MetroMBA. MetroMBA. Apr 29, 2013.
- Smith, Ben (2008). "Labor Confronts Race Issue". Politico. Capitol News Company LLC.
- Thompson, Gary (April 13, 2012). "Stooges story". Philadelphia Daily News. Philadelphia Media Network, LLC.
- Johnson, Michelle (2003). "The Godfather of Stand-Up". The Age. Fairfax Media Limited.
- Rutledge, Stephen (September 22, 2015). "#BornThisDay: Musician, Joan Jett". The Wow Report. World of Wonder Productions, LLC.
- Martinez, Pedro; Silverman, Michael (2015). Pedro. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 154. Retrieved July 18, 2015.
- Craig Lyndall (January 14, 2015). "Mike Mayock talks about Cardale Jones’ NFL draft stock". waitingfornextyear.com. Retrieved March 5, 2015.
- http://mediatrackers.org/pennsylvania/2014/02/13/pennsylvania-gubernatorial-candidate-mcginty-muddles-minimum-wage-facts Pennsylvania Gubernatorial Candidate McGinty Muddles Minimum Wage Facts Media Trackers Staff February 13, 2014
- Stone, Andrea (2010). "Pennsylvania Grudge Match: Iraq Vet Patrick Murphy Battles Old GOP Foe". Huffington Post (Politics Daily). AOL, Inc.
- http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2008/10/22/AR2008102203657.html "Campaign Curriculum" Libby Copeland October 23, 2008
- Kark, Chris (2004). "Concert review: G-Love stirs the special sauce". ASU Web Devil.
- Hindle, Donald. (1980). The social and structural conditioning of phonetic variation. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania).
- Kroch, Anthony. (1996). Dialect and style in the speech of upper class Philadelphia. In G. R. Guy, C. Feagin, D. Schiffrin, & J. Baugh (Eds.), Towards a social science of language: Papers in honor of William Labov (pp. 23–45). Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science (Series 4). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
- Kurath, Hans; & McDavid, Raven I., Jr. (1961). The pronunciation of English in the Atlantic states. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
- Labov, William. (1980). The social origins of sound change. In W. Labov (Ed.), Locating language in time and space (pp. 251–265). Qualitative analyses of linguistic structure (No. 1). New York: Academic.
- Labov, William. (1989). Exact description of the speech community: Short a in Philadelphia. In R. W. Fasold & D. Schiffrin (Eds.), Language change and variation (pp. 1–57). Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science (Series 4), Current issues in linguistic theory (No. 52). Amsterdam: John Bengamins.
- Labov, William. (1994). Principles of linguistic change: Internal factors (Vol. 1). Language in society (no. 20). Oxford: Blackwell.
- Labov, William. (2001). Principles of linguistic change: Social factors (Vol. 2). Language in society (no. 29). Oxford: Blackwell.
- Labov, William; Karen, Mark; & Miller, Corey. (1991). Near-mergers and the suspension of phonemic contrast. Language Variation and Change, 3, 33–74.
- Labov, William; & Ash, Sharon. (1997). Understanding Birmingham. In C. Bernstein, T. Nunnally, & R. Sabino (Eds.), Language variety in the South revisited (pp. 508–573). Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
- Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
- Payne, Arvilla. (1980). Factors controlling the acquisition of the Philadelphia dialect by out-of-state children. In W. Labov (Ed.), Locating language in time and space (pp. 143–178). Orlando: Academic.
- Roberts, Julie. (1997). Hitting a moving target: Acquisition of sound change in progress by Philadelphia children. Language Variation and Change, 9, 249–266.
- Thomas, Erik R. (2001). An acoustic analysis of vowel variation in New World English. Publication of the American Dialect Society (No. 85). Duke University Press for the American Dialect Society.
- Tucker, Whitney R. (1944). Notes on the Philadelphia dialect. American Speech, 19, 39–42.
- Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, editors (2006). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.