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Mid-Atlantic American English


Mid-Atlantic American English

The Mid-Atlantic dialect or Delaware Valley variety of American English is a class of related varieties of English originating from and spoken in the Mid-Atlantic United States, centering around Philadelphia and Reading, Pennsylvania; Wilmington, Delaware; Baltimore, Maryland; and Atlantic City and Trenton, New Jersey.[1] This group of dialects and accents is primarily united by: a marked absence of the cot-caught merger,[2] a raising and diphthongizing of ,[3] and a short-a split system.[4]

The variety's most widely studied subsets are Philadelphia English and Baltimore English.

Phonological characteristics

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.[2] The caught class is raised and dipthongized towards [oə]~[o̝ə].[3]
  • 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.)[5] Generally, in the Mid-Atlantic system, the vowel 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].[4] 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, in the closed-syllable /m/ set, began, ran, and swam alone remain lax. See Phonemic /æ/ tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region or click "show" below for more details.
  • Extreme fronting in the diphthong (for example, towards [æʊ]), the diphthong (for example, towards [ɘʊ] or even [eʊ]) and the monophthong (for example, towards the diphthongized [ʉu]).[6]
  • Rhoticity: The Mid-Atlantic dialect, unlike traditional New York City dialect, is fully rhotic.

Lexical characteristics

  • 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 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.


  • Labov, William, et al (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter.  
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