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Central Pennsylvania speech is closely related
to Western Pennsylvania speech, which is generally referred to as
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
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
- The word "pictures" is commonly pronounced [pɪˈtʃərz] rather than [pɪkˈtʃərz].
- 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."
- 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
- 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].
- 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
- 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)
- 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.
- 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
- 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?"
- Use of the phrase that'd be odd in response to
something that happens frequently, and which is annoying to the
- Use of the term hogged up to mean very drunk.
- 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."
- Use of the word ignorant to mean rude, as in,
"You're being ignorant!" Pronounced English
pronunciation: /[ˈɪɡnərɨnt]/, as in General American, or [ˈɪɡnərnt].
- 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."
- 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:
- saw – seen
- grew – growed
- knew – knowed
- came – come
- gave – give
- we, you, they were – we, 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."
- The caught-cot merger is firmly in place.
Caught and cot, and Dawn and
Don are homophones.
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- Pool and pole can be homonyms so that
pole barn may be pronounced pool barn.
- 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]
- 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."
- The word creek is pronounced [ˈkrɪk].
- The word "wash" is pronounced [ˈwarʃ] or [ˈwɜrʃ].
- 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].
- Use of the term yonder to refer to or describe an
- 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?"
- Leave may also be used in place of let or
allow. For example, someone may ask, "You going to leave
us go play?"
- Bathe is replaced with the term bath as in
some British dialects.
- The word color is often pronounced [ˈkʌlər].
- The word eagle is commonly pronounced [ˈɪɡəl].
- The phrase What are you may be pronounced [ˈwʌtʃə], [ˈwʌtʃjə], or [tʃjə].
- Nothing may be pronounced [ˈnʌʔɪn] or [ˈnʌθɪn].
- The world yammerin is used to mean, "To talk one's ear
- Often, the syllable /ɪŋ/ is pronounced [ɪn] and /əŋ/ is pronounced [ən].
- Intervocalic alveolar
- 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.
- Iron is pronounced [arn].
- 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].
- Ain't is often used in place of haven't',
hasn't, isn't, aren't, and am
- /aʊər/ is diphthongized to /aər/.
- /h/ is realizd as [j], word-initially, in some words.
- Pumpkin is pronounced [ˈpʌŋkɪn].
- What? is often used to answer a question initiating
conversation, followed by a brief pause and an answer to the
Diglossia and code
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