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Central Pennsylvania accent: Wikis


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Central Pennsylvania speech is closely related to Western Pennsylvania speech, which is generally referred to as Pittsburgh English, although the speech extends beyond just the city of Pittsburgh, and also is closely related to the Southern accent, spoken in the Southeastern United States. Although Southeastern and Central Pennsylvania both have accents related to Southern American English, the Central Pennsylvania accent bears little resemblance to the accent spoken in the Delaware Valley. The accent spoken in the Philadelphia area is more similar to Mid-Atlantic English and New York-New Jersey English than to accents spoken in the rest of Pennsylvania. For the most part, the speech of Central Pennsylvania is an accent, but there are enough distinguishing features for one to argue that it is not just an accent, but a dialect.



The first white settlers in Central Pennsylvania were predominantly Scots-Irish. The Scots-Irish were then followed by German farmers, most of whom originated in the South German Sprachraum. It was not long before the Germans grew to outnumber the Scots-Irish, but the Germans quickly became bilingual in English and German, and eventually, their descendants became monolingual in English. These German settlers learned to speak English from people with Scots-Irish accents and consequently, the Central Pennsylvania accent is characterized by a harsh, guttural sound one would expect to hear from a German speaker who learned to speak English by listening to Scottish-accented English.

Geographic distribution

The Central Pennsylvania dialect is most prevalent in the following counties: Centre, Mifflin, Snyder, Huntingdon, Fulton, Juniata, Perry, Cumberland, Adams, Franklin, Bedford, Blair, Clearfield, Northumberland, Lycoming, Union, and Clinton. Parts of Dauphin County and the northeastern corner of York County (Dillsburg) and southwestern corner of York County (Hanover) also have the Central Pennsylvania accent. As one moves further west towards Pittsburgh, the accent begins to blend into the closely related Western Pennsylvania Pittsburgh English accent.

There are some notable exceptions. State College in Centre County, home to the main campus of the Pennsylvania State University, has students and faculty from all over the world. State College, although located in the middle of Appalachia, is a cosmopolitan small city. Most people living in State College do not have a strong Central Pennsylvania accent, while just ten miles away in the county-seat of Bellefonte, the accent is commonly heard. The capital city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania houses the main campus of Harrisburg Area Community College. Many culturally diverse students attend the school for the low tuition expenses, thus providing the Harrisburg area various accents from Eastern and South American countries.

Other exceptions are the small towns of Belleville and Allensville in Mifflin County. These towns, located in close proximity to one another, have long been home to large Amish and Mennonite communities. The dialect in these two towns is much more influenced by Pennsylvania German than by the Central Pennsylvania accent. Thus, people in Belleville and Allensville sound more like people in rural Lancaster and Lebanon Counties than other residents of Mifflin County.


The Central Pennsylvania dialect typically has the following features:

  1. The word "pictures" is commonly pronounced [pɪˈtʃərz] rather than [pɪkˈtʃərz].
  2. Typically, the copula is not used in certain contexts. For example, one would not say "The car needs to be washed.", but rather, "The car needs washed."
  3. Use of a distinct second-person plural pronoun. Commonly, this is you'ns (pronounced /jʊʔnz/. For example, "What're you'ns doing?" This is closely-related to the yinz or yunz used in Pittsburgh English.
  4. The terms gram, pap, and mum are often used in place of grandma, grandpa, and mom, respectively. Other familial terms are the same as they are in Standard English, though the word cousin may be pronounced [kʌzɪnt].
  5. Use of the term one, where German phrases use the word eins, einen or eine. For example "Ich schlage dir gleich einen.", is literally translated as "I'm about to slap you one." The literal translation has become common, even though most Central Pennsylvanian speakers no longer speak German, or have learned it in school rather than home. The phrase is usually rendered as, "I'm about to slap you one upside the head."
  6. Use of the term redd or redd up to mean "to tidy". For example, "You've got to redd up before you can go outside." This is from the old Norse by way of Middle English and probably arrived with the Scots-Irish. (The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000)
  7. Use of the word goonie. A goonie is a big rock, which is still small enough to be thrown. If a rock is too big to be thrown, it is not a goonie. Conversely, if it is smaller than a human fist, it is also not a goonie.
  8. Use of the word about to mean very. For example "You're about dumb." means "You're very stupid." Sometimes the word half is added for extra emphasis. Therefore, "You're are about half dumb." means "You're extremely stupid." The about-half construction has evolved into the Central Pennsylvanian insult "You're about half!". The term about is not a true substitution for very but rather it is understood to be an intended understatement on the part of the speaker.
  9. Use of the word think as a syntactic marker for questions (Short for Do you think...? or similar). For example, "Think that's wrong?" would convey the same meaning as, "Do you think that's wrong?"
  10. Use of the phrase that'd be odd in response to something that happens frequently, and which is annoying to the speaker.
  11. Use of the term hogged up to mean very drunk.
  12. Use of the interjections so I do, so it is, so he does, etc. following declaratory sentences. Some speculate that this construction has its origins in literal translations from Celtic languages such as Irish and Welsh, but as of yet, there is no definitive proof. For example, "The car needs washed. So it does."
  13. Use of the word ignorant to mean rude, as in, "You're being ignorant!" Pronounced English pronunciation: /[ˈɪɡnərɨnt]/, as in General American, or [ˈɪɡnərnt].
  14. The plural forms of game animals do not add an "s" or have any other plural marker; the singular and plural are identical, with the plural form being ascertained through verb declension or context. For example, one would say "I seen three turkey in them woods." Non-game animals have the same plurals as they do in Standard English. For example, one would never say "I seen three cow." or "I seen three horse in the Amishman's field."
  15. Many speakers of the Central Pennsylvanian dialect use different past-tense verbs that vary from Standard English. This appears mostly as a socialectal feature. Note that not all of these terms may be used by a single speaker. Some of these tenses are common in other dialects, such as African American Vernacular English and Cockney Some examples of these variations:
    • sawseen
    • grewgrowed
    • knewknowed
    • camecome
    • gavegive
    • we, you, they werewe, you, they was
    Past participles are also different from Standard English; for example, "I should have went to the store." would be more common than, "I should have gone to the store."
  16. The caught-cot merger is firmly in place. Caught and cot, and Dawn and Don are homophones.
  17. Him, her, them and me replace the Standard English he, she, they and I as the subjects of a sentence, but only in sentences with a compound subject. For example, one would say "Him and Mike went to the store." instead of "He and Mike went to the store." However, one would never hear "Him went to the store." Likewise, one hears "Mike and them are coming to the party," but one would never hear "Them are coming to the party." In Western Pennsylvania, them can be the subject of a sentence, even as a single subject. For example, one could say "Them's good eats." However, them is never used as a single subject in the Central Pennsylvania dialect.
  18. With some speakers, the ile sound is pronounced [aʊːl]. Thus, the following words may be homonyms: aisle and owl, file and foul; while and wow; mile and Mao; pile and pow; and Kyle and cow.
  19. In some speakers, "like" is pronounced lɛk. The following words may be homonyms:
    • did and dead
    • hid and head
    • rid and read
    • bid and bed
  20. Pool and pole can be homonyms so that pole barn may be pronounced pool barn.
  21. In some words, /ə/ or /ɪ/ may be realized as [iː]. Examples of words this may occur in:
    • Garbage[ˈɡarbiːdʒ]
    • Him[iːm] (The [h] is deleted)
    • Porridge[ˈporiːdʒ]
    • Message[ˈmɛsiːdʒ]
  22. Verb placement is sometimes derived from German, rather than following Standard English verb order. For example, "I saw him walking in town.", in German is "Ich sah ihn in der Stadt gehen." In the Central Pennsylvanian dialect, the sentence would be "I seen him in town walking."
  23. The word creek is pronounced [ˈkrɪk].
  24. The word "wash" is pronounced [ˈwarʃ] or [ˈwɜrʃ].
  25. Word-initial and word-end syllables may be dropped, as in some British dialects. For example, "Up there" may be pronounced [ʌpə.ər] and "going" may be pronounced [ɡoʊ.ɪn].
  26. Use of the term yonder to refer to or describe an ill-defined place.
  27. Use of the term let in place of leave in other dialects. For example, one in Central Pennsylvania would say, "Should I just let it on the table?"
  28. Leave may also be used in place of let or allow. For example, someone may ask, "You going to leave us go play?"
  29. Bathe is replaced with the term bath as in some British dialects.
  30. The word color is often pronounced [ˈkʌlər].
  31. The word eagle is commonly pronounced [ˈɪɡəl].
  32. The phrase What are you may be pronounced [ˈwʌtʃə], [ˈwʌtʃjə], or [tʃjə].
  33. Nothing may be pronounced [ˈnʌʔɪn] or [ˈnʌθɪn].
  34. The world yammerin is used to mean, "To talk one's ear off."
  35. Often, the syllable /ɪŋ/ is pronounced [ɪn] and /əŋ/ is pronounced [ən].
  36. Intervocalic alveolar flapping.
  37. When referring to consumable products, the word all is used to mean all gone. This likely derives from German, where one might say "Die Butter ist alle" in this case.
  38. Iron is pronounced [arn].
  39. Elision often occurs with words that are followed by have, often only occurring as /ə/ at the end of the preceding word. For example, "could have" would be pronounced [kʊɾə] (with the intervocalic alveolar flapping rule applied), and "want to" is pronounced [wəɾ̃ə].
  40. Ain't is often used in place of haven't', hasn't, isn't, aren't, and am not.
  41. /aʊər/ is diphthongized to /aər/.
  42. /h/ is realizd as [j], word-initially, in some words.
  43. Pumpkin is pronounced [ˈpʌŋkɪn].
  44. What? is often used to answer a question initiating conversation, followed by a brief pause and an answer to the question.

Diglossia and code switching

The Central Pennsylvania dialect is different enough from Standard English that diglossia and code-switching are possible. Many educated Central Pennsylvanians can switch back and forth between the accent and Standard English, while the less educated are more apt to speak only in dialect or with a thick Central Pennsylvania accent. Most people do not develop the ability to switch back and forth between the Central Pennsylvania dialect and Standard English until they leave the area to attend college, join the military, or seek employment outside of Central Pennsylvania. Often, the code switching is subconscious. For example, one who has spent years living away from Central Pennsylvania and normally speaks Standard English may revert to the dialect when around other people who are speaking it.


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