American Dialects

Dictionary of American Regional English

Explore the links that offer a taste of the kind of information gathered in the decades-old project called The Dictionary of American Regional English, which recently published the final volume of their massive reference work. Examine a Sample Page. Survey a large selection of sample entries. How many of these words do you recognize? Listen to some audio files, including 'Arthur the Rat', in which Americans from different regions are pieced together in an audio collage to show the impressive range of dialects. Most of the information was collected in the middle of the twentieth century, and most of the informants were older people who lived their lives in one region. 


This link will take you to the African-American and Gullah Project of the Linguistics Atlas Projects website. The Gullah part makes use of the data gathered by Lorenzo Dow Turner, which went in to his 1949 book. Some of the informants he interviewed were born into slavery. Use the "Browse" button to see a list of informants (identified by an alpha-numeric code), and then follow that link to explore the information collected from them.

Northern Cities Vowel Shift

A surprising sound change going on in contemporary English even as we speak! U Penn linguist William Labov discusses the shift affecting short vowels in Buffalo, Rochester, and other northern cities. Read more about it here.

Linguistic Atlas and Mapping Projects

The Linguistic Atlas Project: spend some time exploring this database. Does the information it gives for the dialect in the regions that you know line up with what you hear? Bring your observations to section.

The Telsur Project (includes North American regional dialect maps). You might begin with the maps (link near the top of page). See, for example, the map of the pin/pen merger in the southern US. Spend some time exploring, and bring your observations to section.

An excerpt from the Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change showing rhoticity or r-vocalization in American English. Do you always pronounce a rhotic r after a vowel?

New Yawk Tawk: March 12, 1999 NPR interview with William Labov on his forty-year study of the various accents of New York City.

The Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy: A study, with interative maps and a user-survey, of American terms for soft drinks by county. You can contribute to the database!

Beyond the Great Pop vs. Soda Controversy: Dialect Survey Maps: Statistician Joshua Katz at NC State University has taken data from the Harvard Dialect Survey, conducted by Bert Vaux and Scott Golden, and has compiled maps showing how 122 different words or phrases are pronounced across America. You can explore the survey maps here, or take this quiz to see which region of the United States your accent most closely resembles.

Audio Quiz on American Dialects (from PBS's 'Do You Speak American?' project)