Northern American English or Northern U.S. English (also, Northern AmE) is a class of distinct American English dialects, spoken by predominantly white Americans, best documented in the greater metropolitan areas of Rhode Island, Connecticut, Western Massachusetts, Western and Central New York, Northern Ohio, Northern Illinois, Wisconsin, the Lower Peninsula of Michigan, and Eastern South Dakota, plus some minor areas within New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Iowa, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and even the Canadian region of Southern Ontario. The North as a super-dialect region is considered, by the 2006 Atlas of North American English, at its core, to consist of the dialects of the Inland North (the eastern Great Lakes region) and Southern New England.
Canadian English is believed to have originated from Northern American English, or to simply be a variety of it. Though arguably native to the geographical Northern United States, current-day Pacific Northwest English, New York City English, and Northern New England English only marginally fall under the Northern U.S. dialect spectrum, according to the ANAE, if at all.
Northern U.S. English is often distinguished from Southern U.S. English by retaining /aɪ/ as a diphthong (unlike the South, which commonly monophthongizes this sound) and from Western U.S. English by mostly preserving the distinction between the /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ sounds in words like cot versus caught (except in the transitional dialect region of the Upper Midwest and variably in other Northern areas, especially among younger Americans).
In the modern day, the Northern United States is a linguistic super-region of English dialects, defined by /oʊ/ (as in goat, toe, show, etc.) and traditionally /u/ (as in goose, too, shoe, etc.) pronounced conservatively far in the back of the mouth, "r-fulness" (or rhoticity), and a common lack of the cot–caught merger, meaning that words like pond and pawned, or bot and bought, are not pronounced identically (with the second of this class of words being pronounced usually farther back in the mouth and with more rounded lips).
A phenomenon known as "Canadian raising"—the lifting of the body of the tongue in both /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ before voiceless consonants (therefore, in words, like height, slight, advice, clout, ouch, lout, etc., but not in words like hide, slide, advise, cloud, gouge, loud, etc.)—is common in eastern New England, for example in Boston (and the traditional accent of Martha's Vineyard), as well as in the Upper Midwest. Raising of just /aɪ/ is found throughout the entire North, including in the Great Lakes area, and elsewhere in New England. This second, more focused type of raising also appears to spreading beyond the North, as well as to California English, Philadelphia English, and Western American English dialects overall.
Though the following pronunciation variants are not all the most common ones in the North, they are still documented as variants used more strongly in this region than anywhere else in the country:
- been as /bɛn/ (a homophone with the name Ben)
- crayon as the single-syllable /kræn/ (often [kʰɹɛən])
- pajamas as /pəˈdʒæməz/ (in addition to /pəˈdʒɑməz/ more widely common nationwide)
- handkerchief rhyming with beef
- poem as the single-syllable /poʊm/, rhyming with dome
- root and roof using the FOOT vowel [ʊ] (listen) as a somewhat common alternative to the typical GOOSE vowel [u] (listen)
The North has historically been one of the last U.S. regions to maintain the distinction between /ɔr/ and /oʊr/, in which words like horse and hoarse or war and wore, for example, are not homophones; however, the merger of the two has quickly spread throughout the North. The KIT vowel [ɪ] (listen) was once a common Northern U.S. sound in the word creek, but this has largely given way to the FLEECE vowel [i] (listen), as in the rest of the country.
The North is reported as uniquely or most strongly using certain words:
- babushka (a woman's headscarf, tied under the chin)
- bare-naked (synonym for naked)
- crayfish (a freshwater lobster-like crustacean)
- crust (the end of a bread loaf)
- diagonal or kitty-corner (situated slanted across a street or intersection)
- doing cookies (rare synonym, scattered throughout the North, for doing doughnuts)
- frosting (synonym for icing)
- futz or futz around (/fʌts/; to fool around or waste time)
- on the fritz (out of order, or into a state of disrepair)
- pit (the seed or stone of a fruit)
- garbage (synonym for trash)
- you guys (the usual plural form of you)
Northeastern American English
A Northeastern Corridor of the United States follows the Atlantic coast, comprising all of New England, Greater New York City, and Greater Philadelphia (including adjacent areas of New Jersey), sometimes even classified as extending to Greater Baltimore and Washington D.C. This region, despite being home to numerous different dialects and accents, constitutes a huge area unified in certain linguistic respects, including particular notable vocabulary and phonemic incidence (that is, basic units of sound that can distinguish certain words).
These phonemic variants in certain words are particularly correlated with the American Northeast (with the more common variants nationwide given in parentheses):
- aunt as /ɑnt/ (in addition to /ænt/)
- cauliflower with the "i" pronounced with the FLEECE vowel /i/ (in addition to the KIT vowel /ɪ/)
- centaur rhyming with four (in addition to the variant rhyming with far)
- miracle as /ˈmɛrəkəl/ or /ˈmirəkəl/ (in addition to /ˈmɪrəkəl/)
- route rhyming with shoot (in addition to shout)
- syrup as /ˈsirəp/ or /ˈsɪrəp/ (in addition to /ˈsɜrəp/)
The Northeast tends to retain a rounded /ɔ/ vowel (in words like all, caught, flaw, loss, thought, etc.): specifically, this is realized as [ɒ~ɔə].
Terms common or even usual to the whole Northeast include:
- brook (synonym for stream)
- cellar (synonym for basement)
- cruller (a stick-like doughnut)
- goose pimples (synonym for goose bumps),
- elastic, hair elastic, or hair thing (synonyms for hair tie)
- papering or TP'ing (synonym for toilet papering)
- rotary (synonym for traffic circle)
- sneakers (any athletic shoes)
- soda (any sweet, carbonated soft drink)
- stoop (small outdoor staircase to a building's front door)
- sunshower (a sunny rainshower)
- tractor trailer (a semi-trailer truck)
Inland Northern American English
The recent Northern cities vowel shift, beginning only in the twentieth century, now affects much of the North away from the Atlantic coast, occurring specifically at its geographic center: the Great Lakes region. It is therefore a defining feature of the Inland North dialect (most notably spoken in Chicago, Detroit, and western New York State). The vowel shift's generating conditions are also present in some Western New England English; otherwise, however, this vowel shift is not occurring in the Northeastern United States.