Mid-Atlantic American English

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Mid-Atlantic American English, Middle Atlantic American English, or Delaware Valley English is a class of American English, considered by the Atlas of North American English to be a single dialect,[1] spoken in the southern Mid-Atlantic states of the United States (i.e. the Delaware Valley, southeastern Pennsylvania, South Jersey, Delaware, and Maryland).

The dialect consists mainly of the widely studied subsets known as Philadelphia English and Baltimore English.

This dialect of English centers most strongly around Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore, Maryland; and Atlantic City and Trenton, New Jersey.[2]

The Mid-Atlantic dialect is primarily united by some features in common with both the New York City dialect (a marked absence of the cot-caught merger,[3] a raising and diphthongizing of /ɔː/,[4] and a short-a split system)[5] as well as the Midland/Southern dialects (r-fulness and strong fronting of //, //, and //).[6]

Phonological characteristics[edit]

A chart of all vowels of Mid-Atlantic American English
Pure vowels (Monophthongs)
English diaphoneme Mid-Atlantic realization Example words
/æ/ [æ] act, pal, trap
[æə~ɛə~eə] ham, pass, yeah
/ɑː/ [ɑː] blah, father
/ɒ/ bother,
lot, top, wasp
[oə]~[o̝ə] dog, loss, cloth
/ɔː/ all, bought, taught, saw
/ɛ/ [ɛ] dress, met, bread
/ə/ [ə~ɜ] about, syrup, arena
/ɪ/ [ɪ~ɪ̈] hit, skim, tip
[ɪ~ɪ̈~ə] island, gamut, wasted
/iː/ [iː] beam, chic, fleet
/ʌ/ [ʌ] bus, flood, what
/ʊ/ [ʊ] book, put, should
/uː/ [ʉu] food, glue, new
/aɪ/ [äɪ] ride, shine, try
[ɐɪ] bright, dice, pike
/aʊ/ [æʊ~ɛɔ] now, ouch, scout
/eɪ/ [eɪ] lake, paid, rein
/ɔɪ/ [ɔɪ~oɪ] boy, choice, moist
/oʊ/ [ɘʊ~ɜʊ] goat, oh, show
R-colored vowels
/ɑːr/ [ɑɹ] barn, car, park
/ɪər/ [iɹ] fear, peer, tier
/ɛər/ [er] bare, bear, there
/ɜːr/ [əɹ~ɜɹ] burn, first, herd
/ər/ [əɹ] doctor, martyr, pervade
/ɔːr/ [ɔɹ~oɹ] hoarse, horse, poor
score, tour, war
/jʊər/ jʊɹ cure, Europe, pure

The Mid-Atlantic dialectal region is characterized by several unique phonological features:

  • No cot-caught merger: There is a huge difference in the pronunciation between the cot class of words (e.g. pot, glob, and rock) and the caught class (e.g. thought, awe, and call), as in New York City.[3] The caught class is raised and diphthongized towards [oə]~[o̝ə].[4]
  • Short-a split system: The Mid-Atlantic region uses a short-a split system similar to, but more limited than, the New York City short-a split system. (In the Trenton area, an intermediate system is used, falling between the typical Mid-Atlantic and the New York City system.)[7] Generally, in the Mid-Atlantic system, the vowel /æ/ is tensed (towards [eə]) before the consonants /m/, /n/, /f/, /s/, and /θ/ in a closed syllable (so, for example, bats and baths do not have the same vowel sound, being pronounced [bæts] and [beəθs], respectively), and in any words directly inflectionally derived from root words with this split. Therefore, pass and passing use the tense [eə], but passage and passive use the lax [æ].[8] The lax and the tense reflexes of /æ/ are separate phonemes in these dialects, though largely predictable using the aforementioned rules. There are exceptions, however; the three words bad, mad, and glad become tense, and irregular verbs ending in "-an" or "-am" remain lax.[9] See /æ/-tensing#Philadelphia and Baltimore or click "show" below for more details.
A chart of the Mid-Atlantic short-a split compared to General
American /æ/ tensing and the New York City short-a split
Environment Example
New York City General American Mid-Atlantic
following /æ/
Syllable type
/r/ open lax [æ] tense
lax [æ]
/m/, /n/ closed tense [eə] tense [eə]
open lax [æ] lax [æ]
/b/, /d/, /dʒ/, /g/,
/ʃ/, /v/, /z/, /ʒ/
closed tense [eə] lax [æ]
/f/, /s/, /θ/ closed tense [eə]
all other consonants lax [æ] lax [æ]

Lexical characteristics[edit]

  • To refer to a sweetened, flavored, carbonated soft drink, the term soda is preferred (rather than pop or the generic coke).
  • Positive anymore may be used without its negative polarity to mean "nowadays," as in "Her hoagies taste different anymore."
  • The term jimmies is sometimes used in this and the Boston dialect to refer to small confectionaries used to top ice cream and icing, normally called "sprinkles" in New York and the rest of the United States.

Notable speakers[edit]



  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.