Dialects in the United States:
Past, Present, and Future
Wolfram & Schilling-Estes
Chapter 4
Key Ideas
 Formation of dialects involves a complex array of
historical, social, and linguistic factors
 Dialects are not static, discrete entities
 Dialects simultaneously reflect the past, present,
and future
 Boundaries persist
 Dialects mark the regional and cultural
cartography as well as any other cultural artifact or
 Dialects will continue to have an emblematic role
in American life
Schneider’s 5 Stages (2003)
 Foundation Stage
– Typified by colonization; not homogeneous
 Exonormative Stage
– Foreign dominance; expatriate norms
 Nativization Stage
– Differentiation of new language variety from homeland
 Endonormative Stabilization Stage
– Adopts own new language norms
 Differentiation
– Internal diversification
4.1 The First English(es) in America
 Early Modern English had its own dialectal
 Standardization not until mid-18th century
 Different areas of the US were settled by
speakers of different British English dialects
4.1 The First English(es) in America
 Jamestown, 1607 (Tidewater Virginia):
– From the southeast of England (London area)
– r-less after vowels (and before consonants in
words like cart and work)—except for
communities like Ocracoke that were settled by
people from the southwest of England
[NB: English was largely r-pronouncing “r-ful” at this time, and
an authentic pronunciation of Shakespeare would sound
more like current American English than current RP.]
4.1 The First English(es) in America (cont.)
 Characteristics of settlers’ English retained
in US English (but changed in RP):
– Phonological: The vowel in path, dance, can’t
as /æ/ [changed in RP to /ɑ/]
– Semantic: mad as ‘angry;’ fall for ‘autumn’
– Syntactic:
 “I haven’t gotten the mail yet.” [Brit: haven’t got]
 “I don’t think I left the keys in the car, but I
might have.” [Brit: but I might have done]
4.1 The First English(es) in America (cont.)
 Massachusetts Bay Colony, 1620 (Eastern
New England): settlers from southeastern
England (r-less) in contrast with
 Western New England: r-pronouncing:
– (1) settled by r-ful speakers
– (2) dialect contact and language contact (in
New York and Penna. with Dutch and Germans)
– (3) relative lack of contact with London
Place Names
 Often reflect original Native American
– Merrimac
– Massachusetts
– Tappahannock
– Massaponex
4.1 The First English(es) in America (cont.)
 Philadelphia, 1680:
– William Penn and the Quakers from northern England
– Welsh
– Germans: “Pennsylvania Dutch” [from “Deutsch”]
– Scots-Irish (1724, peak in 1772-3, at time of Revolution
14% of population): strongly r-ful
(descendents of Scots who emigrated to Northern
Ireland at the beginning of the 17th century for economic
and political reasons)
Spread into Mid-Atlantic states and the highlands of the
American South (brought “you all”)
4.1 The First English(es) in America (cont.)
 Highland South: “yeoman farming culture” of the
 Lowland South: plantation culture (as in lower
Virginia area: Richmond)
– Influence of Charleston, SC (1670):
heterogeneous European, r-less, connection with West
– Africans through the slave trade from West Africa
(pidgin, creole to AAVE/Anglicist hypothesis)
A Note on New Orleans:
 1717: The French founded the city
 1765: Acadians were deported from Canada
and arrived in New Orleans [Cajuns]
 Plantation culture: slave trade
 Mid 1700’s: city briefly held by British and
 1803: New Orleans was acquired by the US
under the Louisiana Purchase
4.2 Earlier American English: The Colonial Period
 New England Dialect Area centered in Boston:
Eastern and Western New England
 New York: Upstate and Metropolitan
 Midland: fanning out from Philadelphia (includes
“Upper South”?)
 Highland (Upper) South: (Western Virginia, North
Carolina, West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee,
Northern Arkansas, Western Oklahoma)
 Lowland South: Atlantic South (Tidewater and
Charleston) and Delta South (distinctive New
Orleans region)
4.2 Earlier American English: The Colonial Period
 Influences from other languages (German, French, West
African languages, Native American languages)
 Contacts among speakers of different varieties of British
 Important links of eastern cities (Boston, NY, Richmond,
Charleston) to London as British RP developed (r-less)
 1735: complaints about American usages (“American
English” appears in 1782):
– Jefferson: coining new words
– Franklin: advocating spelling reform
– Noah Webster: dictionary, new spellings
 New England and the South partners in linguistic
4.3 American English Extended
 The northern US is largely a region of New England
– Inland North (entire North minus New England)
– Upper Midwest –influence of immigrants (1860 census shows 30%
born outside of US: Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Michigan;
highest percentage in US)
 Midland expansion by settlers from Upper South, MidAtlantic states, and New England/NY dialect area: fanning
out in the West
– Hoosier Apex of Southern speech
 Southern: (Old Southwest) Alabama as separate
subdialectal area
– AL settled later than other areas
– Settlers from both Lower and Upper Southern dialect regions
4.3 American English Extended
 19th century immigration largely to North
– Irish via New York in 1830s and 1840s
– Germans in 1840s and 1860s
– Italians between 1865 and 1920
– Eastern and Central European Jews between
1880 and 1910
– Scandinavians in 1870s
4.4 The Westward Expansion of English
 California Gold Rush of 1849
 Western areas:
– Northwest: Washington, most of Oregon, Western Idaho
(Portland as distinctive)
– Southwest (influence of Spanish in lexicon)
 Southern California
– 20th century migration from dustbowl—”Grapes of Wrath”
– Currently developing UPTALK
 Texas (1836)
– Southern Texas still largely Spanish-speaking
– New Mexico is officially bilingual
4.5 The Present and Future State of
American English
Example of change:
 Pronunciation of R in NYC: originally r-ful,
then r-lessness spread from Eastern New
England and was fully established in mid
1800’s, then began to recede after WWII
4.5 The Present and Future State of
American English (cont.)
 Changing patterns of immigration and language
 Shifting patterns of population movement
– SWAMPING versus FOCUSING (p. 128)
 Changing cultural centers
– Rural versus urban
– Markers of regional speech transformed into social
class, ethnicity, or urban-rural distinctions
 Increasing interregional accessibility
4.5 The Present and Future State of
American English (cont.)
 Labov’s findings from telephone surveys:
TELSUR (p. 131)
– The West has become a distinctive region
– Basic dialect divisions may be intensifying
 Atlas of North American English (see link on
course page and in eLearning)

Dialects in the United States: Past, Present, and Future