American English

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American English
Region United States
Native speakers
225 million, all varieties of English in the United States (2010 census)[1]
25 million L2 speakers of English in the United States (2003)
Latin script
American Braille
Deseret alphabet (limited), Shavian alphabet (no longer in use)
Language codes
ISO 639-3
Glottolog None
English language prevalence in the United States. Darker shades of blue indicate higher concentrations of native English speakers in the corresponding states

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American English, or United States (U.S.) English, is the set of dialects of the English language native to the United States.[2] English is the most widely spoken language in the United States and is the common language used by the federal government, considered the de facto language of the country because of its widespread use. English has been given official status by 30 of the 50 state governments.[3][4] As an example, while both Spanish and English have equivalent status in the local courts of the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, and also for example, in the State of Colorado, under federal law, English is the official language for any matters being referred to the United States District Court for the territory.[5]

The use of English in the United States is a result of British colonization. The first wave of English-speaking settlers arrived in North America during the 17th century, followed by further migrations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since then, American English has been influenced by the languages of West Africa, the Native American population, German, Dutch, Irish, Spanish, and other languages of successive waves of immigrants to the United States.

Any American English accent or sound system perceived as free from recognizably local, ethnic, or cultural characteristics is popularly called "General American." The term supposes a mainstream form of American English, though linguists do not actually identify any single dialect as uniform and widespread enough to be regarded as the "standard" for English in the United States. More precisely, American English comprises a spectrum of different dialects.

Regional variation

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While written American English is (in general) standardized across the country, there are several recognizable variations in the spoken language, both in pronunciation and in vernacular vocabulary. General American is the name given to any American accent that is often considered relatively free of noticeable regional influences. Some consider the accent of English speakers from Ohio to be the most relatable and neutral version of American English, and it is thus taught to many news broadcasters and other television personalities across the country.

Major dialects of American English
The map above shows the major regional dialects of American English (each designated in all capital letters) plus other local varieties, as demarcated primarily by Labov et al.'s Atlas of North American English,[6] as well as the related Telsur Project's regional maps. Any region may also contain speakers of "General American," a perceived mainstream accent widely spoken throughout the United States. Furthermore, this map does not account for speakers of ethnic, cultural, or other not-strictly-regional varieties (such as African-American Vernacular English, Chicano English, Cajun English, etc.). All regional American English dialects, unless specifically stated otherwise, are rhotic, with the father–bother merger, Mary–marry–merry merger, and pre-nasal "short a" tensing.[note 1]

  • Western <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The Western dialect, including Californian and New Mexican sub-types (with Pacific Northwest English also, arguably, a sub-type), is defined by:
    Cot–caught merger to [ɑ]
    // is [oʊ]
    // is [ü~ʉ]
  • North Central <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The North Central ("Upper Midwest") dialect, including an Upper Michigan sub-type, is defined by:
    Cot–caught merger to [ä][7]
    // is [oʊ] (and may even monophthongize to [o(ː)])[8]
    // is [u][9]
  • Inland Northern <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The Inland Northern ("Great Lakes") dialect, including its less advanced Western New England (WNE) sub-types, is defined by:
    • No cot–caught merger: the cot vowel is [ä~a] and caught vowel is [ɒ]
    /æ/ is universally [ɛə], the triggering event for the Northern Cities Vowel Shift in more advanced sub-types([ɛə]/æ//ɑː/~/ɒ//ɔː//ʌ//ɛ/)[10]
    // is [oʊ~ʌo]
  • Midland <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The Midland dialect is defined by:
    Cot–caught merger is in transition[11]
    // may be [aː], often only before /l/, /m/, /n/, or /ɹ/
    // is [æɵ~æo][12]
    // is [ɜʊ~ɵʊ]
  • WPA <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The Western Pennsylvania dialect, including its advanced Pittsburgh sub-type, is defined by:
    Cot–caught merger to [ɒ~ɔ], the triggering event for the Pittsburgh Chain Shift in the city itself ([ɒ~ɔ]/ɑː//ʌ/) but no trace of the Canadian Shift[13]
    // is [ɜʊ~ɞʊ][14]
    Full–fool–foal merger to [ʊɫ~ʊw]
    • Specifically in Greater Pittsburgh, // is [aʊ~aː], particularly before /l/ and /r/, and in unstressed function words[15]
  • Southern <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The Southern dialects, including several sub-types, are defined by:
    • No cot–caught merger: the cot vowel is [ɑ] and caught vowel is [ɑɒ]
    // is [aː] at least before /b/, /d/, /g/, /v/, or /z/, or word-finally, and potentially elsewhere, the triggering event for the Southern Shift ([aː]//////)
    • "Southern drawl" may break short front vowels into gliding vowels: /æ/ → [ɛ(j)ə]; /ɛ/ → [ɪ(j)ə]; /ɪ/ → [i(j)ə][16]
    // is [æo], the triggering event for the Back Upglide Shift in more advanced sub-types ([æo]///ɔː//ɔɪ/)[17]
    // is [ɜʉ~ɜʊ]
  • Mid-Atlantic <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The Mid-Atlantic ("Delaware Valley") dialect, including Philadelphia and Baltimore sub-types, is defined by:
    • No cot–caught merger: the cot vowel is [ä~ɑ] and caught vowel is [ɔə~ʊə]; this severe distinction is the triggering event for the Back Vowel Shift before /r/ (/ʊər//ɔːr/~/ɔər//ɑːr/)[18]
    • Unique Mid-Atlantic /æ/ split system: the bad vowel is [eə] and sad vowel is [æ]
    // is [ɜʊ~əʊ]
    // is [ɛɔ][19]
    • No Mary–marry–merry merger
  • NYC <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    The New York City dialect (with New Orleans English an intermediate sub-type between NYC and Southern) is defined by:
    • No cot–caught merger: the cot vowel is [ä~ɑ] and caught vowel is [ɔə~ʊə]; this severe distinction is the triggering event for the Back Vowel Shift before /r/ (/ʊər//ɔːr/~/ɔər//ɑːr/)[20]
    Non-rhoticity or variable rhoticity
    • Unique New York City /æ/ split system: the bad vowel is [eə] and bat vowel is [æ]
    // is [oʊ~ʌʊ]
    •No Mary–marry–merry merger
  • ENE <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
    Eastern New England dialect, including Maine and Boston sub-types (with Rhode Island English an intermediate sub-type between ENE and NYC), is defined by:
    Cot–caught merger to [ɒ~ɑ] (lacking only in Rhode Island)
    Non-rhoticity or variable rhoticity[21]
    // is [ɑʊ~äʊ][22]// is [oʊ~ɔʊ]
    // is [u]
    • Commonly, beginnings of // and // in a raised position when before voiceless consonants: [əɪ~ʌɪ] and [əʊ~ʌʊ], respectively
    • Possibly no Mary–marry–merry merger
    • No father–bother merger (except in Rhode Island): the father vowel is [a~ä] and bother vowel is [ɒ~ɑ][23]

East Coast

The "East Coast" comprises three or four traditionally and linguistically distinct regions, each of which possessing English varieties distinct from each other as well as quite internally diverse: New England, the New York metropolitan area, the Mid-Atlantic States (centering on Philadelphia and Baltimore), and the South. After the Civil War, the settlement of the western territories by migrants from the Eastern U.S. led to dialect mixing and leveling, (koineization) so that regional dialects are most strongly differentiated along the Eastern seaboard. The Connecticut River and Long Island Sound is usually regarded as the southern/western extent of New England speech, which has its roots in the speech of the Puritans from East Anglia who settled in the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

The Potomac River generally divides a group of Northern coastal dialects from the beginning of the Coastal Southern dialect area; in between these two rivers several local variations exist, chief among them the one that prevails in and around New York City and northern New Jersey, which developed on a Dutch substratum after the English conquered New Amsterdam. The main features of Coastal Southern speech can be traced to the speech of the English from the West Country who settled in Virginia after leaving England at the time of the English Civil War.


A distinctive speech pattern also appears near the border between Canada and the United States, centered on the Great Lakes region (but only on the American side). Linguists call this region the "Inland North", as defined by its unique vowel shift—occurring in the same region whose "standard Midwestern" speech was the basis for General American in the mid-20th century (though prior to this recent vowel shift). Those not from this area frequently confuse it with the North Midland dialect treated below, referring to both, plus areas to the immediate west of the Great Lakes region, all collectively as "the Midwest": a common but vaguely delineated term for what is now the central or north-central United States. The so-called '"Minnesotan" dialect is also prevalent in the cultural Upper Midwest, and is characterized by influences from the German and Scandinavian settlers of the region (like "yah" for yes, pronounced similarly to "ja" in German, Norwegian and Swedish). In parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio, another dialect known as Pennsylvania Dutch English is also spoken.


Between the traditional American "North" and "South" is what linguists have long called "the Midland." This geographically overlaps with some states situated in the lower Midwest. West of the Appalachian Mountains begins the broad zone of modern-day "Midland" speech. This is divided into two discrete subdivisions, the North Midland that begins north of the Ohio River valley area, and the South Midland speech, which to the American ear has some slight trace of a "Southern accent"; sometimes the former region is designated simply "Midland" and the latter is labelled as "Highland Southern". The North Midland speech continues to expand westward until it becomes the closely related Western dialect which contains Pacific Northwest English as well as California English, although in the immediate San Francisco area some older speakers do not possess the cot–caught merger and thus retain the distinction between words such as cot and caught which reflects a historical Mid-Atlantic heritage.

The South Midland or Highland Southern dialect follows the Ohio River in a generally southwesterly direction, moves across Arkansas and Oklahoma west of the Mississippi, and peters out in West Texas. It is a version of the Midland speech that has assimilated some coastal Southern forms (outsiders often mistakenly believe South Midland speech and coastal South speech to be the same).

Although no longer region-specific,[24] African American Vernacular English, which remains prevalent among African Americans, has a close relationship to Southern varieties of American English and has greatly influenced everyday speech of many Americans.

The island state of Hawaii, though primarily English-speaking, is also home to a creole language known commonly as Hawaiian Pidgin.

Dialect development in the United States has further been notably influenced by the distinctive speech of such important cultural centers as Baltimore, Boston, Buffalo, Charleston, Cleveland, Chicago, Detroit, Miami, New Orleans, New York City, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, etc. which imposed their linguistic marks on the surrounding areas.


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Compared with English as spoken in England, North American English[25] is more homogeneous, and any accent that exhibits a majority of the most common phonological features is known as "General American". Some distinctive accents can be found on the East Coast (for example, in eastern New England, New York City, Philadelphia, and Baltimore) partly because these areas were in close contact with England and imitated prestigious varieties of English at a time when these were undergoing changes.[26] In addition, many speech communities on the East Coast have existed in their present locations for centuries, while the interior of the country was settled by people from all regions of the existing United States and developed a far more general linguistic pattern.[citation needed]

The red areas are those where non-rhotic pronunciations may be found among white American speakers in the United States. AAVE-influenced non-rhotic pronunciations may be heard from AAVE speakers throughout the country.[27]

Studies on historical usage of English in the United States and the United Kingdom suggest that spoken American English did not simply evolve from period British English, but rather retained many archaic features contemporary British English has since lost.[28] Most North American speech is rhotic, because in the 17th century, when English was brought to the Americas, most English in England was rhotic. Rhoticity has been further supported by the influences of Hiberno-English, West Country English and Scottish English.[29] In most varieties of North American English, the sound corresponding to the letter r is a postalveolar approximant [ɹ̠] or retroflex approximant [ɻ] rather than a trill or tap (as often heard, for example, in the English accents of Scotland or India). A unique "bunched tongue" variant of the approximant r sound is also associated with the United States, and seems particularly noticeable in the Midwest and South.[30] The loss of the r sound after a vowel (for example, causing spar to sound like spa), known as non-rhoticity, is confined in the United States mostly to the accents of eastern New England, the former plantation South, metropolitan New York City, and the African American vernacular; nowadays, the vowel-consonant cluster found in "bird", "work", "hurt", "learn", etc. usually retains its r pronunciation, even in otherwise non-rhotic accents. On the other hand, dropping of syllable-final r may sometimes happen in natively rhotic dialects if r is located in unaccented syllables wherein the next syllable or word begins in a consonant (for example, many North Americans drop the first 'r' in "particular"). In England, the lost r was often changed into [ə] (schwa), giving rise to a new class of falling diphthongs.[citation needed] Furthermore, the er sound of fur or butter, is realized in AmE as a monophthongal r-colored vowel (stressed [ɝ] or unstressed [ɚ] as represented in the IPA).[citation needed] This does not happen in the non-rhotic varieties of North American speech.[citation needed]

Some other English changes in which most North American dialects do not participate:

  • The realization of intervocalic /t/ as a glottal stop [ʔ] (as in [ˈbʌʔɚ] for butter). The only environment in which t-glottalization is standard in American English is before syllabic /n/, as in "button" [ˈbʌʔn̩].

On the other hand, North American English has undergone some sound changes not found in other varieties of English speech:

  • The merger of /ɑ/ and /ɒ/, making father and bother rhyme. This change is in a transitional or completed stage nearly universally in North American English. Exceptions are in northeastern New England English, such as the Boston accent, New York City English, Philadelphia English, Baltimore English, and many Southern dialects, such as the Yat dialect.[31][32]
  • The merger of /ɑ/ and /ɔ/ in many areas.[citation needed] This is the so-called cot–caught merger, where cot and caught are homophones. This change has occurred in eastern New England (Boston area), in Pittsburgh and surrounding areas, and from the Great Plains westward.[citation needed]
  • For speakers who do not merge caught and cot: The replacement of the cot vowel with the caught vowel in many cases before voiceless fricatives (as in cloth, off [which is found in some old-fashioned varieties of RP]), as well as before /ŋ/ (as in strong, long), usually in gone, often in on, and irregularly before /ɡ/ (log, hog, dog, fog [which is not found in British English at all]).
  • The from-rum merger consisting of the replacement of the lot vowel with the strut vowel in most utterances of the words was, of, from, what and in many utterances of the words everybody, nobody, somebody, anybody; the word because has either /ɔ/ or /ʌ/. This is directly due to influence of the Irish language.[33] Want has normally /ɔ/ or /ɑ/, sometimes /ʌ/.[34][35][36]
  • Vowel merger before intervocalic /ɹ/. Which vowels are affected varies between dialects, but the Mary-marry-merry, nearer-mirror, and hurry–furry mergers are found in many American English dialects. Americans vary slightly in their pronunciations of R-colored vowels—such as those in /ɛəɹ/ and /ɪəɹ/—sometimes monophthongizing towards [ɛɹ] and [ɪɹ] or tensing towards [eɪɹ] and [i(ə)ɹ] respectively, causing pronunciations like [pʰeɪɹ] for pair/pear and [pʰiəɹ] for peer/pier.[37] Also, /jʊər/ is often reduced to [jɚ], so that cure, pure, and mature may all end with the sound [ɚ], thus rhyming with blur and sir. The word sure is also part of this rhyming set as commonly pronounced [ʃɚ].
  • Dropping of /j/ is more extensive than in RP. In most North American accents, /j/ is dropped after all alveolar and interdental consonant, so that new, duke, Tuesday, presume are pronounced [nu], [duk], [ˈtʰuzdeɪ], [pʰɹɪˈzum].
  • /æ/ tensing in environments that vary widely from accent to accent. With most American speakers, for whom the phoneme /æ/ operates under a somewhat continuous system, /æ/ has both a tense and a lax allophone (with a kind of "continuum" of possible sounds between those two extremes, rather than a definitive split). In these accents, /æ/ is overall realized before nasal stops as more tense (approximately [eə̯]), while other environments are more lax (approximately the standard [æ]); for example, note the vowel sound in [mæs] for mass, but [meə̯n] for man). In some American accents, though, specifically those from Baltimore, Philadelphia, and New York City, [æ] and [eə̯] are entirely separate (or "split") phonemes, for example, in planet [pʰɫænɪ̈t̚] vs. plan it [pʰɫeənɪ̈t̚]. This is often called the Mid-Atlantic split-a system. Note that these vowels move in the opposite direction in the mouth compared to the backed British "broad A" the phenomenon has been noted as related to the increasingly rare phenomenon of older speakers of the eastern New England (Boston) area who /æ/ to /ɑ/ (the so-called "broad A") before /f/, /s/, /θ/, /ð/, /z/, /v/ alone or when preceded by a homorganic nasal.
/æ/ tensing in North American English[38]
Environment Example words Dialect
Consonant after /æ/ Syllable type Canadian, Northwestern, Upper Midwestern USA Cincinnati (traditional)[39] Delaware Valley Eastern New England General USA & Midland USA Great Lakes New York City & New Orleans Southern USA & African American Vernacular Western USA
/r/ open <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
arable, arid, baron, barrel, barren, carry, carrot, chariot, charity, clarity, Gary, Harry, Larry, marionette, maritime, marry, marriage, paragon, parent, parish, parody, parrot, etc.; this feature is determined by the presence or absence of the Mary-marry-merry merger
[ɛ(ə)] [ɛ(ə)] [æ] [ɛ(ə)~æ] [ɛ(ə)] [ɛ(ə)] [æ] [ɛ(ə)] [ɛ(ə)]
/m/, /n/ closed <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
Alexander, answer, ant, band, can (the noun), can't, clam, dance, ham, hamburger, hand, handy, man, manly, pants, plan, planning, ranch, sand, slant, tan, understand, etc.; in Philadelphia, began, ran, and swam alone remain lax
[ɛə~æ] [eə] [eə] [eə~æ] [eə~æ] [eə] [eə] [ɛ(j)ə~eə] [eə~æ]
open <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
amity, animal, can (the verb), Canada, ceramic, family (varies by speaker),[40], gamut, hammer, janitor, manager, manner, Montana, panel, planet, profanity, salmon, Spanish, etc.
[æ] [æ]
/g/ closed <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
agriculture, bag, crag, drag, flag, magnet, rag, sag, tag, tagging, etc.
[e~æ] [æ] [æ] [æ] [eə] [ɛ(j)ə~æ] [æ]
open <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
agate, agony, dragon, magazine, ragamuffin, etc.
/b/, /d/, /dʒ/, /ʃ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/ closed <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
absolve, abstain, add, ash, bad, badge, bash, cab, cash, clad, crag, dad, drab, fad, flash, glad, grab, halve (varies by speaker), jazz (varies by speaker), kashmir, mad, magnet, pad, plaid, rag, raspberry, rash, sad, sag, smash, splash, tab, tadpole, trash, etc. In NYC, this environment, particularly, /v/ and /z/, has a lot of variance and many exceptions to the rules. In Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone in this set become tense. Similarly, in New York City, the /dʒ/ set is often tense even in open syllables (magic, imagine, etc.)
[æ] [eə] [ɛə~æ] [eə] [ɛə~æ]
/f/, /s/, /θ/ closed <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
ask, bask, basket, bath, brass, casket, cast, class, craft, crass, daft, drastic, glass, grass, flask, half, last, laugh, laughter, mask, mast, math, pass, past, path, plastic, task, wrath, etc.
all other consonants <templatestyles src="Template:Hidden begin/styles.css"/>
act, agony, allergy, apple, aspirin, athlete, avid, back, bat, brat, café, cafeteria, cap, cashew, cat, Catholic, chap, clap, classy, diagonal, fashion, fat, flap, flat, gap, gnat, latch, magazine, mallet, map, mastiff, match, maverick, Max, pack, pal, passive, passion, pat, patch, pattern, rabid, racket, rally, rap, rat, sack, sat, Saturn, savvy, scratch, shack, slack, slap, tackle, talent, trap, travel, wrap, etc.
[æ] [æ] [æ]
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1) Nearly all American English speakers pronounce /æŋ/ somewhere between [æŋ] and [eɪŋ], though Western speakers specifically favor [eɪŋ].
2) The NYC, Philadelphia, and Baltimore dialects' rule of tensing /æ/ in certain closed-syllable environments also applies to words inflectionally derived from those closed-syllable /æ/ environments that now have an open-syllable /æ/. For example, in addition to pass being tense (according to the general rule), so are its open-syllable derivatives passing and passer-by, but not passive.
  • Flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] before unstressed vowels (as in butter [ˈbʌɾəɹ], party [ˈpʰɑɹɾi]) and syllabic /l/ (bottle [ˈbɑɾəɫ]), as well as at the end of a word or morpheme before any vowel (what else [wʌˈɾɛɫs], whatever [wʌˈɾɛvəɹ]). Thus, for most speakers, pairs such as ladder/latter, metal/medal, and coating/coding are pronounced the same, except with the stressed /aɪ/ (see below).
  • Canadian raising of /aɪ/: many speakers split the sound /aɪ/ based on its presence before either a voiceless or voiced consonant, so that in writer it is pronounced [ʌɪ] but in rider it is pronounced [äɪ]. This is a form of Canadian raising but, unlike more extreme forms of that process, does not affect /aʊ/. In many areas and idiolects, a phonemic distinction between what elsewhere become homophones through this process is maintained by vowel lengthening in the vowel preceding the formerly voiced consonant, e.g., [ˈɹʌɪɾɚ] for "writer" as opposed to [ˈɹäɪɾɚ] for "rider".
  • T glottalization is common when /t/ is in the final position of a syllable or word (get, fretful: [ɡɛʔ], [ˈfɹɛʔfəɫ]), though this is always superseded by the aforementioned rules of flapping
  • L-velarization: England's typical distinction between a "clear L" (i.e. [l]) and a "dark L" (i.e. [ɫ] or sometimes even [ʟ]) is much less noticeable in nearly all dialects of American English; it may even be altogether absent.[41] Instead, most U.S. speakers pronounce all "L" sounds with a tendency to be "dark", meaning with some degree of velarization.[42] The only notable exceptions to this are in some Spanish-influenced U.S. English varieties (such as East Coast Latino English, which typically shows a clear "L" in syllable onsets) and in older, moribund Southern speech of the U.S., where "L" is clear in an intervocalic environment between front vowels.[43]
  • Both intervocalic /nt/ and /n/ may commonly be realized as [ɾ̃] or simply [n], making winter and winner homophones. In most areas where /nt/ is reduced to /n/, it is accompanied further by nasalization of simple post-vocalic /n/[vague], so that /Vnt/ and /Vn/ remain phonemically distinct. In such cases, the preceding vowel becomes nasalized, and is followed in cases where the former /nt/ was present, by a distinct[vague] /n/. This stop-absorption by the preceding nasal /n/ does not occur when the second syllable is stressed, as in entail.
  • The pin–pen merger occurs in certain areas, by which [ɛ] is raised to [ɪ] before nasal stops, making pairs like pen/pin homophonous. This merger originated in Southern American English but is now also sometimes found in parts of the Midwest and West as well, especially in people with roots in the mountainous areas of the Southeastern United States.
  • The vowel /ɪ/ in unstressed syllables generally merges with /ə/ (weak-vowel merger), so roses is pronounced like Rosa's.

Some mergers found in most varieties of both American and British English include:[citation needed]

  • merger of the vowels /ɔ/ and /o/ before 'r', making pairs like horse/hoarse, corps/core, for/four, morning/mourning, etc. homophones.
  • wine–whine merger making pairs like wine/whine, wet/whet, Wales/whales, wear/where, etc. homophones, in most cases eliminating /ʍ/, the voiceless labiovelar fricative. Many older varieties of southern and western American English still keep these distinct, but the merger appears to be spreading.


North America has given the English lexicon many thousands of words, meanings, and phrases. Several thousand are now used in English as spoken internationally.

Creation of an American lexicon

The process of coining new lexical items started as soon as the colonists began borrowing names for unfamiliar flora, fauna, and topography from the Native American languages.[44] Examples of such names are opossum, raccoon, squash and moose (from Algonquian).[45] Other Native American loanwords, such as wigwam or moccasin, describe articles in common use among Native Americans. The languages of the other colonizing nations also added to the American vocabulary; for instance, cookie, cruller, stoop, and pit (of a fruit) from Dutch; angst, kindergarten, sauerkraut from German,[46] levee, portage ("carrying of boats or goods") and (probably) gopher from French; barbecue, stevedore, and rodeo from Spanish.[47][48][49][50]

Among the earliest and most notable regular "English" additions to the American vocabulary, dating from the early days of colonization through the early 19th century, are terms describing the features of the North American landscape; for instance, run, branch, fork, snag, bluff, gulch, neck (of the woods), barrens, bottomland, notch, knob, riffle, rapids, watergap, cutoff, trail, timberline and divide[citation needed]. Already existing words such as creek, slough, sleet and (in later use) watershed received new meanings that were unknown in England.[citation needed]

Other noteworthy American toponyms are found among loanwords; for example, prairie, butte (French); bayou (Choctaw via Louisiana French); coulee (Canadian French, but used also in Louisiana with a different meaning); canyon, mesa, arroyo (Spanish); vlei, skate, kill (Dutch, Hudson Valley).

The word corn, used in England to refer to wheat (or any cereal), came to denote the plant Zea mays, the most important crop in the U.S., originally named Indian corn by the earliest settlers; wheat, rye, barley, oats, etc. came to be collectively referred to as grain. Other notable farm related vocabulary additions were the new meanings assumed by barn (not only a building for hay and grain storage, but also for housing livestock) and team (not just the horses, but also the vehicle along with them), as well as, in various periods, the terms range, (corn) crib, truck, elevator, sharecropping and feedlot.[citation needed]

Ranch, later applied to a house style, derives from Mexican Spanish; most Spanish contributions came after the War of 1812, with the opening of the West. Among these are, other than toponyms, chaps (from chaparreras), plaza, lasso, bronco, buckaroo, rodeo; examples of "English" additions from the cowboy era are bad man,[clarification needed] maverick, chuck ("food") and Boot Hill; from the California Gold Rush came such idioms as hit pay dirt or strike it rich. The word blizzard probably originated in the West. A couple of notable late 18th century additions are the verb belittle and the noun bid, both first used in writing by Thomas Jefferson.[citation needed]

With the new continent developed new forms of dwelling, and hence a large inventory of words designating real estate concepts (land office, lot, outlands, waterfront, the verbs locate and relocate, betterment, addition, subdivision), types of property (log cabin, adobe in the 18th century; frame house, apartment, tenement house, shack, shanty in the 19th century; project, condominium, townhouse, split-level, mobile home, multi-family in the 20th century), and parts thereof (driveway, breezeway, backyard, dooryard; clapboard, siding, trim, baseboard; stoop (from Dutch), family room, den; and, in recent years, HVAC, central air, walkout basement).[citation needed]

Ever since the American Revolution, a great number of terms connected with the U.S. political institutions have entered the language; examples are run (i.e, for office), gubernatorial, primary election, carpetbagger (after the Civil War), repeater, lame duck (a British term used originally in Banking)[51] and pork barrel. Some of these are internationally used (for example, caucus, gerrymander, filibuster, exit poll).

19th century onwards

The development of industry and material innovations throughout the 19th and 20th centuries were the source of a massive stock of distinctive new words, phrases and idioms. Typical examples are the vocabulary of railroading (see further at rail terminology) and transportation terminology, ranging from names of roads (from dirt roads and back roads to freeways and parkways) to road infrastructure (parking lot, overpass, rest area), and from automotive terminology to public transit (for example, in the sentence "riding the subway downtown"); such American introductions as commuter (from commutation ticket), concourse, to board (a vehicle), to park, double-park and parallel park (a car), double decker or the noun terminal have long been used in all dialects of English.[52]

Trades of various kinds have endowed (American) English with household words describing jobs and occupations (bartender, longshoreman, patrolman, hobo, bouncer, bellhop, roustabout, white collar, blue collar, employee, boss [from Dutch], intern, busboy, mortician, senior citizen), businesses and workplaces (department store, supermarket, thrift store, gift shop, drugstore, motel, main street, gas station, hardware store, savings and loan, hock [also from Dutch]), as well as general concepts and innovations (automated teller machine, smart card, cash register, dishwasher, reservation [as at hotels], pay envelope, movie, mileage, shortage, outage, blood bank).[citation needed]

Already existing English words—such as store, shop, dry goods, haberdashery, lumber—underwent shifts in meaning; some—such as mason, student, clerk, the verbs can (as in "canned goods"), ship, fix, carry, enroll (as in school), run (as in "run a business"), release and haul—were given new significations, while others (such as tradesman) have retained meanings that disappeared in England. From the world of business and finance came breakeven, merger, delisting, downsize, disintermediation, bottom line; from sports terminology came, jargon aside, Monday-morning quarterback, cheap shot, game plan (football); in the ballpark, out of left field, off base, hit and run, and many other idioms from baseball; gamblers coined bluff, blue chip, ante, bottom dollar, raw deal, pass the buck, ace in the hole, freeze-out, showdown; miners coined bedrock, bonanza, peter out, pan out and the verb prospect from the noun; and railroadmen are to be credited with make the grade, sidetrack, head-on, and the verb railroad. A number of Americanisms describing material innovations remained largely confined to North America: elevator, ground, gasoline; many automotive terms fall in this category, although many do not (hatchback, sport utility vehicle, station wagon, tailgate, motorhome, truck, pickup truck, to exhaust).[citation needed]

In addition to the above-mentioned loans from French, Spanish, Mexican Spanish, Dutch, and Native American languages, other accretions from foreign languages came with 19th and early 20th century immigration; notably, from Yiddish (chutzpah, schmooze, tush) and Germanhamburger and culinary terms like frankfurter/franks, liverwurst, sauerkraut, wiener, deli(catessen); scram, kindergarten, gesundheit;[53] musical terminology (whole note, half note, etc.); and apparently cookbook, fresh ("impudent") and what gives? Such constructions as Are you coming with? and I like to dance (for "I like dancing") may also be the result of German or Yiddish influence.[54]

Finally, a large number of English colloquialisms from various periods are American in origin; some have lost their American flavor (from OK and cool to nerd and 24/7), while others have not (have a nice day, for sure);[55][56] many are now distinctly old-fashioned (swell, groovy). Some English words now in general use, such as hijacking, disc jockey, boost, bulldoze and jazz, originated as American slang. Among the many English idioms of U.S. origin are get the hang of, bark up the wrong tree, keep tabs, run scared, take a backseat, have an edge over, stake a claim, take a shine to, in on the ground floor, bite off more than one can chew, off/on the wagon, stay put, inside track, stiff upper lip, bad hair day, throw a monkey wrench/monkeywrenching, under the weather, jump bail, come clean, come again?, it ain't over till it's over, and what goes around comes around.[citation needed]


American English has always shown a marked tendency to use nouns as verbs.[57] Examples of verbed nouns are interview, advocate, vacuum, lobby, pressure, rear-end, transition, feature, profile, spearhead, skyrocket, showcase, service (as a car), corner, torch, exit (as in "exit the lobby"), factor (in mathematics), gun ("shoot"), author (which disappeared in English around 1630 and was revived in the U.S. three centuries later) and, out of American material, proposition, graft (bribery), bad-mouth, vacation, major, backpack, backtrack, intern, ticket (traffic violations), hassle, blacktop, peer-review, dope and OD, and, of course verbed as used at the start of this sentence.

Compounds coined in the U.S. are for instance foothill, flatlands, badlands, landslide (in all senses), overview (the noun), backdrop, teenager, brainstorm, bandwagon, hitchhike, smalltime, deadbeat, frontman, lowbrow and highbrow, hell-bent, foolproof, nitpick, about-face (later verbed), upfront (in all senses), fixer-upper, no-show; many of these are phrases used as adverbs or (often) hyphenated attributive adjectives: non-profit, for-profit, free-for-all, ready-to-wear, catchall, low-down, down-and-out, down and dirty, in-your-face, nip and tuck; many compound nouns and adjectives are open: happy hour, fall guy, capital gain, road trip, wheat pit, head start, plea bargain; some of these are colorful (empty nester, loan shark, ambulance chaser, buzz saw, ghetto blaster, dust bunny), others are euphemistic (differently abled (physically challenged), human resources, affirmative action, correctional facility).

Many compound nouns have the form verb plus preposition: add-on, stopover, lineup, shakedown, tryout, spin-off, rundown ("summary"), shootout, holdup, hideout, comeback, cookout, kickback, makeover, takeover, rollback ("decrease"), rip-off, come-on, shoo-in, fix-up, tie-in, tie-up ("stoppage"), stand-in. These essentially are nouned phrasal verbs; some prepositional and phrasal verbs are in fact of American origin (spell out, figure out, hold up, brace up, size up, rope in, back up/off/down/out, step down, miss out, kick around, cash in, rain out, check in and check out (in all senses), fill in ("inform"), kick in or throw in ("contribute"), square off, sock in, sock away, factor in/out, come down with, give up on, lay off (from employment), run into and across ("meet"), stop by, pass up, put up (money), set up ("frame"), trade in, pick up on, pick up after, lose out).[citation needed][58]

Noun endings such as -ee (retiree), -ery (bakery), -ster (gangster) and -cian (beautician) are also particularly productive.[57] Some verbs ending in -ize are of U.S. origin; for example, fetishize, prioritize, burglarize, accessorize, itemize, editorialize, customize, notarize, weatherize, winterize, Mirandize; and so are some back-formations (locate, fine-tune, evolute, curate, donate, emote, upholster, peeve and enthuse). Among syntactical constructions that arose in the U.S. are as of (with dates and times), outside of, headed for, meet up with, back of, convince someone to, not about to and lack for.

Americanisms formed by alteration of some existing words include notably pesky, phony, rambunctious, pry (as in "pry open", from prize), putter (verb), buddy, sundae, skeeter, sashay and kitty-corner. Adjectives that arose in the U.S. are for example, lengthy, bossy, cute and cutesy, grounded (of a child), punk (in all senses), sticky (of the weather), through (as in "through train", or meaning "finished"), and many colloquial forms such as peppy or wacky. American blends include motel, guesstimate, infomercial and televangelist.

English words that survived in the United States and not in the United Kingdom

A number of words and meanings that originated in Middle English or Early Modern English and that have been in everyday use in the United States dropped out in most varieties of British English; some of these have cognates in Lowland Scots. Terms such as fall ("autumn"), faucet ("tap"), diaper ("nappy"), candy ("sweets"), skillet, eyeglasses and obligate are often regarded as Americanisms. Fall for example came to denote the season in 16th century England, a contraction of Middle English expressions like "fall of the leaf" and "fall of the year".[59]

During the 17th century, English immigration to the British colonies in North America was at its peak and the new settlers took the English language with them. While the term fall gradually became obsolete in Britain, it became the more common term in North America. Gotten (past participle of get) is often considered to be an Americanism, although there are some areas of Britain, such as Lancashire and North East England, that still continue to use it and sometimes also use putten as the past participle for put (which is not done by most speakers of American English).[60]

Other words and meanings, to various extents, were brought back to Britain, especially in the second half of the 20th century; these include hire ("to employ"), quit ("to stop", which spawned quitter in the U.S.), I guess (famously criticized by H. W. Fowler), baggage, hit (a place), and the adverbs overly and presently ("currently"). Some of these, for example monkey wrench and wastebasket, originated in 19th century Britain.

The mandative subjunctive (as in "the City Attorney suggested that the case not be closed") is livelier in American English than it is in British English. It appears in some areas as a spoken usage and is considered obligatory in contexts that are more formal. The adjectives mad meaning "angry", smart meaning "intelligent", and sick meaning "ill" are also more frequent in American (these meanings are also frequent in Hiberno-English) than British English.[61][62][63]

Regionally distinct English words within the United States

Linguist Bert Vaux created a survey polling English speakers across the United States about the specific words they use for a variety of given definitions.[64][verification needed] This 2003 study concludes that:

  • For a "long sandwich that contains cold cuts, lettuce, and so on", the most common term throughout the country (preferred by 77% of the participants) is the word sub (i.e., submarine sandwich). The New York metropolitan area shows the greatest variety of terms for this idea in one single region, largely counting for the 5% of the survey who prefer the term hero, nearly 7% (which is even more prevalent in the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, including all of New Jersey as well as eastern Pennsylvania) who prefer hoagie, and just less that 3% (also notably prevalent throughout New England, except Maine) who prefer grinder.
  • The U.S. is largely divided about the "generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage". Nearly 53% of the surveyed sample say soda, particularly in the Northeast, eastern Wisconsin, Greater St. Louis, the far West, and some of South Florida. Over 25% say pop, particularly around the Midwest (including the Great Lakes region) and the Western regions along the Canadian border. Over 12% say coke (which is also trademarked for a specific cola product), particularly scattered throughout the South. Urban, coastal California speakers use all three terms, though especially soda. Speakers of the West generally use soda or pop.[65]
  • The most common words "to address a group of two or more people" (in the second person) are the phrase you guys at almost 43%, particularly throughout the Northeast and Great Lakes region (along with simply you at nearly 13%). Y'all is preferred by 14%, particularly in the South, but reaching somewhat into the northern regions as well. Yous(e) is largely confined to the New York and Philadelphia metropolitan areas, at just over half of 1%.
  • The most common term for generic, rubber-soled shoes worn for athletic activities is sneakers as said by 46% throughout the country, but particularly in the Northeast. 41%, particularly outside of the Northeast, say tennis shoes. Several much rarer other terms may also be used in various regions of the country.
  • Nearly 68% of American English speakers make no distinction between dinner and supper, or simply never use the term supper.
  • 64% of American speakers say "Where are you at?" to mean "How are you coming along?" This also incorporates the 34% who use "Where are you at?" in any context, for example, to even mean "Where are you physically located right now?"
  • Small "freshwater lobsters" are known by 40% of polled speakers as crawfish, 32% as crayfish, and 19% as crawdads within no particular regional boundaries (though crayfish seems fairly uncommon in the South).
  • The most common nicknames for grandparents are grandpa/grampa and grandma/gramma.
  • Nearly all American English speakers call the lampyrid insect a firefly or lightning bug, with nearly 40% using the two terms interchangeably.

Differences between British and American English

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American English and British English (BrE) often differ at the levels of phonology, phonetics, vocabulary, and, to a much lesser extent, grammar and orthography. The first large American dictionary, An American Dictionary of the English Language, was written by Noah Webster in 1828, codifying several of these spellings.

Differences in grammar are relatively minor, and do not normally affect mutual intelligibility; these include: different use of some verbal auxiliaries; formal (rather than notional) agreement with collective nouns; different preferences for the past forms of a few verbs (for example, AmE/BrE: learned/learnt, burned/burnt, snuck/sneaked, dove/dived) although the purportedly "British" forms can occasionally be seen in American English writing as well; different prepositions and adverbs in certain contexts (for example, AmE in school, BrE at school); and whether or not a definite article is used, in very few cases (AmE to the hospital, BrE to hospital; contrast, however, AmE actress Elizabeth Taylor, BrE the actress Elizabeth Taylor). Often, these differences are a matter of relative preferences rather than absolute rules; and most are not stable, since the two varieties are constantly influencing each other,[66] and American English is not a standardized set of dialects.

Differences in orthography are also minor. The main differences are that American English usually uses spellings such as flavor for British flavour, fiber for fibre, defense for defence, analyze for analyse, catalog for catalogue and traveling for travelling. Noah Webster popularized such spellings in America, but he did not invent most of them. Rather, "he chose already existing options [...] on such grounds as simplicity, analogy or etymology".[67] Other differences are due to the francophile tastes of 19th century Victorian England (for example they preferred programme for program, manoeuvre for maneuver, cheque for check, etc.).[68] AmE almost always uses -ize in words like realize. BrE prefers -ise, but also uses -ize (see Oxford spelling).

There are a few differences in punctuation rules. British English is more tolerant of run-on sentences, called "comma splices" in American English, and American English requires that periods and commas be placed inside closing quotation marks even in cases in which British rules would place them outside. American English also favors the double quotation mark over single.[69]

AmE sometimes favors words that are morphologically more complex, whereas BrE uses clipped forms, such as AmE transportation and BrE transport or where the British form is a back-formation, such as AmE burglarize and BrE burgle (from burglar). However, while individuals usually use one or the other, both forms will be widely understood and mostly used alongside each other within the two systems.

British English also differ from American English in that some British words are pronounced with silent letters than are normally heard in AmE, such as the silent "c" in "schedule."

See also

Further reading

  • Bailey, Richard W. Speaking American: A History of English in the United States (2012) 20th-21st century usage in different cities
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  • Garner, Bryan A. (2003). Garner's Modern American Usage. New York: Oxford University Press.
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  • Lua error in package.lua at line 80: module 'strict' not found. (1921 edition; repr. 1977).[70]
History of American English
  • Bailey, Richard W. (2004). American English: Its origins and history. In E. Finegan & J. R. Rickford (Eds.), Language in the USA: Themes for the twenty-first century (pp. 3–17). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Finegan, Edward. (2006). English in North America. In R. Hogg & D. Denison (Eds.), A history of the English language (pp. 384–419). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.


  1. Dialects are considered "rhotic" if they pronounce the r sound in all historical environments, without ever "dropping" this sound. The father–bother merger is the pronunciation of the unrounded /ɒ/ vowel variant (as in cot, lot, bother, etc.) the same as the /ɑː/ vowel (as in spa, haha, Ma), causing words like con and Kahn and like sob and Saab to sound identical, with the vowel usually realized in the back or middle of the mouth as [ɑ~ä]. Finally, most of the U.S. participates in a continuous nasal system of the "short a" vowel (in cat, trap, bath, etc.), causing /æ/ to be pronounced with the tongue raised and with a glide quality (typically sounding like [ɛə]) particularly when before a nasal consonant; thus, mad is [mæd], but man is more like [mɛən].


  1. English (United States) at Ethnologue (18th ed., 2015)
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  7. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  8. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  9. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:141)
  10. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:123–4)
  11. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:135)
  12. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:237)
  13. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:271–2)
  14. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:130)
  15. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:133)
  16. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:125)
  17. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:127, 254)
  18. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:124, 229)
  19. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:237)
  20. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:124)
  21. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137, 141)
  22. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:230)
  23. Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:231)
  24. Cf. Trudgill, p.42.
  25. North American English (Trudgill, p. 2) is a collective term used for the varieties of the English language that are spoken in both the United States and Canada.
  26. Trudgill, pp. 46–47.
  27. Labov, p. 48.
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  30. A Handbook of Varieties of English, Bernd Kortmann & Edgar W. Schneider, Walter de Gruyter, 2004, p. 317.
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  32. Labov et al. (2006), p. 171.
  33. According to Merriam-Webster Collegiate Dictionary, Eleventh Edition. For speakers who merge caught and cot, /ɔ/ is to be understood as the vowel they have in both caught and cot.
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  38. Labov et al. (2006), p. 182.
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  40. Trager, George L. (1940) One Phonemic Entity Becomes Two: The Case of 'Short A' in American Speech: 3rd ed. Vol. 15: Duke UP. 256. Print.
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  42. Wells (1982:490)
  43. A Handbook of Varieties of English, Bernd Kortmann & Edgar W. Schneider, Walter de Gruyter, 2004, p. 319.
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  46. –
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  52. A few of these are now chiefly found, or have been more productive, outside of the U.S.; for example, jump, "to drive past a traffic signal;" block meaning "building," and center, "central point in a town" or "main area for a particular activity" (cf. Oxford English Dictionary).
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  54. Trudgill, Peter (2004). New-Dialect Formation: The Inevitability of Colonial Englishes.
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  57. 57.0 57.1 Trudgill, p. 69.
  58. British author George Orwell (in English People, 1947, cited in OED s.v. lose) criticized an alleged "American tendency" to "burden every verb with a preposition that adds nothing to its meaning (win out, lose out, face up to, etc.)".
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  60. A Handbook of Varieties of English, Bernd Kortmann & Edgar W. Schneider, Walter de Gruyter, 2004, p. 115.
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  64. Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  65. Katz, Joshua (2013). "Beyond 'Soda, Pop, or Coke.' North Carolina State University.
  66. Algeo, John (2006). British or American English?. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-37993-8.
  67. Algeo, John. "The Effects of the Revolution on Language", in A Companion to the American Revolution. John Wiley & Sons, 2008. p.599
  68. Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X, pp. 34 and 511.
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External links

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