Scots-Irish, Pennsylvania German, and Slavic-speaking (especially Polish) immigrants to the area all provided certain loanwords to the dialect (see "Vocabulary" below). Although many of the sounds and words found in this dialect are popularly thought to be unique to the city of Pittsburgh only, this is a misconception, since the dialect resides throughout the greater part of western Pennsylvania and surrounding areas. Central Pennsylvania, currently an intersection of several dialect regions, was identified in 1949 by Hans Kurath as a sub-region between western and eastern Pennsylvania, though some scholars have more recently identified it within the western Pennsylvania dialect region. Since the time of Kurath's study, one of western Pennsylvania's defining features, the cot–caught merger, has expanded into central Pennsylvania, moving eastward until being blocked at Harrisburg. Perhaps the only feature whose distribution is restricted almost exclusively to the immediate vicinity of Pittsburgh is /aʊ/monophthongization, in which words such as house, down, found, or sauerkraut are sometimes pronounced with an "ah" sound instead of the more standard pronunciation of "ow", rendering eye spellings such as hahs, dahn, fahnd, and sahrkraht.
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. Older men are more likely to use the accent than women, "...possibly because of a stronger interest in displaying local identity...."
A defining feature of Western Pennsylvania English is the cot–caught merger, in which /ɑː/ (as in ah) and /ɔː/ (as in aw) merges to a rounded vowel: [ɔ~ɒ]. Therefore, cot and caught are both pronounced [kʰɔt~kʰɒt]; Don and dawn are both [dɔn~dɒn]. While the merger of these low back vowels is also widespread elsewhere in the United States, the rounded realizations of the merged vowel around [ɒ] is less common, except in Canada and Northeastern New England.
The /oʊ/ sound as in oh begins more fronted in the mouth, as in the Southern U.S. or Southern England. Therefore, go is pronounced [ɡɜʊ]. Similarly, /uː/ as in food and rude is fronted, and often diphthongized, as in much of the American South, Midland, and West.
The diphthong/aʊ/, as in ow, is monophthongized in some environments (sounding instead like ah), including before nasal consonants (e.g., downtown['däːntʰäːn] and found[fäːnd]), liquid consonants (e.g., fowl, hour) and obstruents (e.g., house[häːs], out, cloudy). This monophthongization does not occur, however, in word-final positions (e.g., how, now), where the diphthong remains [aʊ]. This is one of the few features, if not the only one, restricted almost exclusively to western Pennsylvania in North America, although it can sometimes be found in other accents of the English-speaking world, such as Cockney and South African English. This sound may be the result of contact from Slavic languages during the early twentieth century. Monopthongization also occurs for the sound /aɪ/, as in eye, before liquid consonants, so that tile is pronounced [tʰɑːɫ]; pile is pronounced [pʰɑːɫ]; and iron is pronounced [ɑːɹn]. Due to this phenomenon, tire may merge with the sound of tar: [tʰɑːɹ].
An epenthetic (intruding) /r/ sound may occur after vowels in a small number of words, such as in water pronounced like warter[ˈwɔɹtɚ~ˈwɒɹtɚ], and wash like warsh[wɔɹʃ~wɒɹʃ].
A number of vowel mergers occur uniquely in Western Pennsylvania English before the vowel /l/. The pair of vowels /iː/ and /ɪ/ may each merge before the /l/ consonant, cause both steel and still to be pronounced as something like [stɪɫ]. Similarly,/u/, /oʊ/ and /ʊ/ may merge before /l/, so that pool, pull, and pole may merge to something like [pʰʊɫ]. On the /iː/~/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."[page needed] The /iː/~/ɪ/ merger is found in western Pennsylvania, as well as parts of the southern United States, including Alabama, Texas and the west (McElhinny 1999). On the other hand, the /u/~/ʊ/ merger is consistently found only in western Pennsylvania. The /iː/~/ɪ/ merger towards [ɪ] may also appear before /ɡ/ (so that eagle can sound to outsiders like iggle). The vowel /ʌ/ (as in uh) before /l/, may lower into the vowel of the cot–caught merger mentioned above, so that mull can sound identical to mall/maul: [ˈmɔːɫ].
L-vocalization is also common in the Western Pennsylvania dialect, in which an /l/ sounds like a /w/, or a cross between a vowel and a "dark" /l/, when at the end of a syllable. An example is that well is pronounced something like [wɛw]; milk something like [mɪwk] or [mɛwk]; role something like [ˈɹow]; and color something like [ˈkʰʌwəɹ]. Polish is pronounced [ˈpʰʊɫɪʃ] or [ˈpʰʊwɪʃ]; cold is pronounced [ˈkʰʊɫd] or [ˈkʰʊwd]. This phenomenon is also common in African American Vernacular English.
Further explanation: When referring to consumable products, the word all has a secondary meaning: all gone. For example, the phrase the butter's all would be understood as "the butter is all gone." This likely derives from German.
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).
Geographic distribution: A trade-name specific to Pittsburgh and surrounding areas (see above citations).
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 from old Norse.
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.
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).
^ abcdefGagnon, C. L. (1999). Language attitudes in Pittsburgh: 'Pittsburghese' vs. standard English. Master’s thesis. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.
^Kortmann, Bernd and Edgar W. Schneider, eds. (2004). A Handbook of Varieties of English, Volume 1: Phonology. De Gruyter. ISBN978-3-11-017532-5.
^Hankey, Clyde T.; s, E. A.; Hankey, C. T. (1965). "Miscellany: 'tiger,' 'tagger,' and [aɪ] in western Pennsylvania". American Speech40 (3): 226–229. JSTOR454074.
^ abBrown, C (1982). A search for sound change: A look at the lowering of tense vowels before liquids in the Pittsburgh area. Master’s thesis. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh.
^Hankey, Clyde T. (1972). Notes on west Penn-Ohio phonology. In: Studies in Linguistics in Honor of Raven I. McDavid, Jr., ed. by L.M. Davis. University of Alabama Press. pp. 49–61. ISBN978-0-8173-0010-4.
^ abcdeFasold, Ralph W. (1980). "The conversational function of Pennsylvania Dutch intonation". Paper presented at New Ways of Analyzing Variation (NWAVE IX) at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, MI.