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A sign using "Dahntahn" to mean "Downtown" in <a href="/content/Downtown_Pittsburgh" style="color:blue">Downtown Pittsburgh</a>.
A sign using "Dahntahn" to mean "Downtown" in Downtown Pittsburgh.

Western Pennsylvania English, known more narrowly as Pittsburgh English or popularly as Pittsburghese, is a dialect of American English native primarily to the western half of Pennsylvania, centered on the city of Pittsburgh, but potentially appearing as far north as Erie County and Limestone, New York (north of Bradford), as far east as Sunbury, Pennsylvania, as far west as Youngstown, Ohio, and as far south as Clarksburg, West Virginia.[1][2] Commonly associated with the white working class of Pittsburgh, users of the dialect are colloquially known as "Yinzers".


Scots-Irish, Pennsylvania German, Polish,[3] Ukrainian[4] and Croatian[5] 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.[6][7] 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,[8][9] though some scholars have more recently identified it within the western Pennsylvania dialect region.[9][10] Since the time of Kurath's study, one of western Pennsylvania's defining features, the cot–caught merger, has expanded into central Pennsylvania,[11] moving eastward until being blocked at Harrisburg.[12] 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.[13] Older men are more likely to use the accent than women, "...possibly because of a stronger interest in displaying local identity...."[14]

Phonology and phonetics

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: [ɔː~ɒː]. As in most other American dialects, it occurs together with the father–bother merger.[6][7][15] Therefore, cot and caught are both pronounced [kɔːt~kɒːt]; Don and dawn are both [dɔːn~dɒːn]. While the merger of these low back vowels is also widespread elsewhere in the United States, the rounded realizations of the merged vowel around [ɒː] is less common, except in Canada, India and Northeastern New England.[6][7]

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 to [aː] in some environments (sounding instead like ah), including before nasal consonants (e.g., downtown ['daːntaːn] and found [faːnd]), liquid consonants (e.g., fowl, hour) and obstruents (e.g., house [haːs], out, cloudy).[6][7][15] This monophthongization does not occur, however, in word-final positions (e.g., how, now), where the diphthong remains [aʊ].[16] 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.[6][7] This sound may be the result of contact from Slavic languages during the early twentieth century.[7] Monopthongization also occurs for the sound /aɪ/, as in eye, before liquid consonants,[6][7][15][17] so that tile is pronounced [tɑːl]; pile is pronounced [pɑːl]; and iron is pronounced [ɑːɹn]. Due to this phenomenon, tire may merge with the sound of tar: [tɑːɹ].

An epenthetic (intruding) /r/ sound may occur after vowels in a small number of words, such as in water pronounced like warter [ˈwɔːɹtɚ], and wash like warsh [wɔːɹʃ].[6][7]

A number of vowel mergers occur uniquely in Western Pennsylvania English before the consonant /l/. The pair of vowels /iː/ and /ɪ/ may each merge before the /l/ consonant,[6][7][15][18] cause both steel and still to be pronounced as something like [stɪl]. Similarly, /uː/, /oʊ/, and /ʊ/ may merge before /l/, so that pool, pull, and pole may merge to something like [pʊl]. On the /iːl/~/ɪl/ merger, Labov, Ash and Boberg (2006) note "the stereotype of merger of /ɪl ~ iːl/ is based only on a close approximation of some forms, and does not represent the underlying norms of the dialect".[19] The /iː/~/ɪ/ merger is found in western Pennsylvania,[6][7][15][18] as well as parts of the southern United States, including Alabama, Texas and the west (McElhinny 1999). On the other hand, the /uː/~/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).[6][7][15] 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: [ˈmɔːl].

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.[6][7][20] An example is that well is pronounced as [wɛw]; milk as [mɪwk] or [mɛwk]; role as [ˈɹʊw]; and cold as [ˈkʊwd]. This phenomenon is also common in African-American English.

Western Pennsylvania English speakers may use falling intonation at the end of questions,[6][7][21] for example, in "Are you painting your garage?" (with pitch rising in intonation up to just before the last syllable and then falling precipitously).[21] 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. Most common in areas of heavy German settlement, especially southeastern Pennsylvania[21] —hence its nickname, the "Pennsylvania Dutch question"—but also found elsewhere in Pennsylvania, including Pittsburgh[6][7][21] (Maxfield 1931; Layton 1999; Wisnosky 2003; Johnstone, Andrus and Danielson 2006). The origin of this is German.[21]



  • All to mean all gone: 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.[53]
  • "Positive anymore": In addition to the normal negative use of anymore it can also, as in the greater Midland U.S. dialect, be used in a positive sense to mean "these days" or "nowadays".[54] An example is "I wear these shoes a lot anymore". 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.[51] This is somewhat common in both the Midland regions (Montgomery 1989) and in northern Maryland (Frederick, Hagerstown, and Westminster), likely of Scots-Irish origin (Montgomery 1999).
  • Reversed usage of leave and let:[6][7][55]: Examples of this include "Leave him go outside" and "Let the book on the table". Leave is used in some contexts in which, in standard English, let would be used; and vice versa. Used in Southwestern Pennsylvania and elsewhere, this is either Pennsylvania German or Scots-Irish.[55]
  • "Need, want, or like + past participle":[6][7][56] Examples of this include "The car needs washed", "The cat wants petted", and "Babies like cuddled". 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." Found predominantly in the North Midland region, this is especially common 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. The constructions "like + past participle" and "need + past participle" are Scots-Irish (Murray, Frazer, and Simon 1996; Murray and Simon 1999; Montgomery 2001; Murray and Simon 2002). While Adams[55] 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.[28][51]
  • "Punctual whenever": "Whenever" is often used to mean "at the time that" (Montgomery 2001). An example is "My mother, whenever she passed away, she had pneumonia." A 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". This Scots-Irish usage is found in the Midlands and the South.

See also

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