Wooder, Wooder Everywhere: That Philly Accent.

“Mo Rocca takes a look at the unique sounds of Philadelphia” in this five-minute video clip for CBS. Bonus: he talks with an actual linguist, Meredith Tamminga; I’m pleased to say that I guessed correctly that, as her website puts it, “Tamminga is a Frisian surname.” (Via the Log.)


  1. As I noted in the LL thread, I think the Philly accent has been criminally underrepresented in media. In the 70s our films took place in a New Hollywood wonderland where half the US population seemed to have an NYC accent; in the 80s we had the SNL/Second City cabal exposing the country to Chicago accents; and in the past 15 years or so we’ve had the deluge of Gritty Boston Movies with their prominent (though, sadly, mostly fake) ENE accents. But what has Philly got? Their one big chance to shine was Rocky, but that film was mostly populated by New Yorkers – who made, at best, a half-assed attempt at the accent. My go-to example for people who have no clue what Philadelphians sound like is Chris Matthews, though I’m sure that his accent has been adulterated by the years he’s spent in national media.

    I’d note as well, given the conservative features that Philly speech shares with New York (tenser values for THOUGHT, retention of most of the pre-/r/ distinctions) together with its rhoticity, its fronted GOAT and GOOSE, and its use of [ʌɪ] for much of PRICE, I like to entertain the romantic notion that it’s the closest thing we’ve got to the rural accents of southern England.

  2. I’m from southwestern CT, and have always pronounced ‘water’ as they do in Philly, alone in my family except for my sister, who lost that pronunciation when she lived in the city for several years. The way Philadelphians said ‘water’ in the video sounded totally normal to me, even though everything else was different from my own dialect. Except for ‘hoagie’. “Emphasize the O”?? How else should (could!) it be pronounced?

  3. J.W. Brewer says

    Lazar: Whereabouts in rural southern England? I’m enjoying the image of a visiting cricket team or morris side or something making their way to some quaint village in Somerset or wherever and having batteries thrown at them by the home-team fans in the best Philadelphia style …

  4. J.W. Brewer says

    Come to think of it, that Noam Chomsky fellow was born and raised in Philly, not moving away until he was already past college and partway through grad school. I’m not going to invest the time to listen to audio of him speaking to see if he has any noteworthy regional features in his pronunciation, but this seems like something that ought to have been observed (and/or the absence of such regionalisms commented on as noteworthy) by others over the years? I personally (grew up less than 20 miles from the Philadelphia city limits, but with parents who had grown up outside the region) don’t have too many of those features in my idiolect, but I definitely have the distinctive GOAT vowel and maybe to a lesser extent the fronted GOOSE vowel.

  5. @J.W. Brewer: Somewhere in the West Country, although accents of that type used to be common in the Southeast too before the expansion of Estuary. On reflection, Philly’s l-vocalization might place it more in line with the city of Bristol.

  6. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    Whereabouts in rural southern England?

    Maybe Pennsylvania (near Bath)?

  7. It’s interesting that you’d arrive at Somerset and Bristol via linguistic analysis. On my paternal grandfather’s side, I’m of old Philly stock going back to pre-revolutionary days, Quaker in the days when the family had an affiliation, with a surname that seems to derive from a lake and some place-names just outside Bristol in Somerset.

    It’s an anecdote with no context. I don’t know the history of Quaker migrations to Philadelphia. Just thought it interesting that you arrived at the same geography.

  8. J.W. Brewer says

    The David Hackett Fischer account FWIW is that West Country migrants were overrepresented (and thus had disproportionate cultural influence in ways that echoed down the centuries) in colonial Maryland/Virginia, whereas the Pennsylvania Quakers were more likely to come from the Midlands or Northern England. But of course Philadelphia stopped being a majority-Quaker place long before we had audio recordings of the local accent and the stereotypical bearer of an “extreme” Philadelphia accent in more recent times will more likely bear an Italian surname.

  9. Wooder is also very Baltimorean.

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