North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns, created by Rick Aschmann, is, as Nick Heer says at MetaFilter (where there’s considerable discussion of it), “ugly but intriguing.” There’s an immense amount of information packed in there.


  1. I use this map and site all the time in my intro linguistic anthropology class – it’s a fantastic teaching tool for students who are new to the idea of linguistic variability and who are unaware of just how much variability exists among American dialects.

  2. Can we really believe that these isoglosses conform absolutely to the boundary between the US and Canada? I can verify through personal experience that there’s plenty of seepage of Canadian pronunciation into the farthest reaches north in New York State, for instance.

  3. The page is ugly because (looking at the source code) he’s made it using Word. The code is far more complex than it needs to be, and the final look is awful.
    I would suggest he should find some kind of software for creating web pages. I believe WordPress has web page creation software, although I can’t speak for its ease of use. A bit of knowledge of HTML would also help.

  4. @Geof: I’m Canadian, live in Windsor, ON and teach at Wayne State in Detroit, and can confirm that at that border, the isoglosses are very strong. There’s virtually no Northern Cities Vowel Shift on the Canadian side of the border, and virtually no Canadian raising on the US side. This is despite tens of thousands of transnational commuters such as myself. It’s always quite a surprise to my intro linguistic anthropology students to realize they live on such a border.
    Of course you are right that there is some Canadian raising, e.g., in northern New York, parts of the Upper Midwest, etc., but in general my experience has been that the national border is linguistically significant.

  5. Downtown New Orleans is a sub-region of New York City!

  6. Totally OT but American at least – can anyone here acount for the vowel shift in Кръпость Россъ / Fort Ross?

  7. You betcha, Modesto. I think I’ve told here before about my friend from New Orleans who now lives in Brooklyn, and sounds just like the natives, except that he has the Southern pin/pen merger, which stands out to my ear like a sore thumb. When I drew it to his attention, he blankly told me he didn’t know that anyone distinguished them. Even the evolution of the dialects have been in parallel: his grandfather had the NURSE-CHOICE merger, just as older people in NYC (sixty and up, say) have today, whereas younkers in both cities have abandoned it in favor of a rhotic NURSE even when they are mostly non-rhotic otherwise.
    In matters of lexis, Minneapolis-St. Paul is also part of NYC: it’s the only other place in Anglophonia where people stand on line and distinguish between getting in line ‘forming a queue’ and getting on line ‘adding yourself to an existing queue’. I’m told that teaching nuns from NYC transmitted the phrases.

  8. About two hours ago I heard Louis Armstrong’s version of La Vie en Rose and it occurred to me for the first time to wonder why he regularly pronounces “world”, “words”, and “turn” like my idea of a stereotypical New Yorker. At about that moment, on the other side of the world, John Cowan was answering my question.

  9. Downtown New Orleans is a sub-region of New York City!
    Yes. Kind of. Sort of. The Y’at accent that reminds people of NYC/NJ accents is also found in the surrounding parishes, esp Jefferson Parish and St Bernard. The stress patterns and slang differ, of course, and a number of Y’ats have the in/en merge, but they essentially sound similar. Used to love switching to my sister/father’s Y’at accent (mine is staunchly Uptowner; hurrah for different schools) for tourists from the NYC/northern NJ area back when I waited tables in NOLA.

  10. I dunno. I was born and raised in Cleveland–just returned from a visit for Christmas–and not only do I not have the Northern Cities Vowel Shift but it sounds utterly foreign and strange to me. Oh well. Maybe it’s cause I’m from the East Side. Lots of immigrants and African Americans there.

  11. JR: Actually, it has been well established that African-Americans in the Mid-West do not exhibit the Northern Cities Shift (NCS): this and several other factors have driven at least one sociolinguist to argue that the NCS is a form of “linguistic segregation”, whereby whites in the Mid-West seek to linguistically mark themselves as unlike blacks.

  12. Thanks, Etienne. As an East-Side Clevelander, I would agree with that sociolinguist. I hope that people don’t think that the NCS is typical of Cleveland, let alone as something “revolutionary,” as Labov calls it, for whatever strange reason. But this is not the first time I’ve been disappointed by linguists’ dialect studies…

  13. I grew up in a pin=pen area of Florida. I accept that some speakers make a distinction, but I can only hear the difference in carefully pronounced minimal pairs, not normal speech.
    I think that since my youth (mid 20th cen.), the pin>pen area in South Florida has expanded due to northern in-migration.
    (Note: For some reason, the form deletes one of the brackets between pin and pen)

  14. Trond Engen says

    If I owned these place I’d throw out people like me and keep the spammers.

  15. Trond Engen says

    these place
    That made me sound like one of them, didn’t it? I was grasping for a plural noun I thought I knew meaning “property, local area” or some such. I gave up on the noun but kept the plural agreement on the modifier.

  16. Premises?

  17. Trond Engen says

    Yes. If I were the owner of these premises is what I was aiming at before I backed down. But seeing it like that, I now think there’s another word that would be better.

  18. Premises would be a very good word here. It’s often used about a piece of commercial property: a bar, pub, restaurant or shop, for instance.

  19. Trond Engen says

    My other word is abodes. If I was the owner of these abodes. I think it’s about euphony. That may even be why I want were with premises and was with abodes.

  20. Premises is grammatically plural even when it refers to one bar, pub, website, or whatever. Abode does not have that feature.
    You could put up a sign on the wall: “No logical reasoning on these premises.”

  21. Not only is abode singular, it connotes a place where one lives (as opposed to hanging out).

  22. On observing two publicans leaning out their first [AmE second] story windows and quarreling fiercely, Sydney Smith said that they would never agree, for they were arguing from different premises.
    Etienne: For “African Americans” read “speakers of AAVE.” There are African Americans who don’t for whatever reason speak AAVE, and they have accents typical of whites in their locality.
    JR: The NCS is revolutionary in a historical sense because it affects the short vowels, which have been unchanged (except for the fronting of TRAP and the FOOT/STRUT split) since Proto-Germanic times. The long vowels have undergone a lot of change, but if you confine yourself to words with short vowels, you can create sentences that actually are mutually intelligible between rhotic Modern English and Old English. A well-known example is “Harold is swift; his hand is strong and his word grim.”

  23. A bod in Norwegian is a storage shed. It’s pronounced roughly “bowed” too.

  24. Again, “shed” has a separate plural form. Arthur Jackson knows all about it.

  25. @JohnCowan: Thanks so much for your explanation. I guess I was just frustrated that the revolution is supposedly happening in my backyard, but it is still news to me, and I’m still looking for any signs of it. 😉

  26. Having thought about it for several days, I now want to praise Arthur “Two Sheds” Jackson. It conjures a wonderful image of him and his suburban neighbours totally at odds with modernist bohemianism, but likely to be symbolic of just about anyone’s real life. That was a prescient, dare I say postmodern, view for the late 60s-early 70s.

  27. We all are Jackson now. “Two Sheds” c’est moi.

  28. mollymooly says

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