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The Philadelphia dialect is the dialect of English spoken in Philadelphia; and extending into Philadelphia's suburbs in the Delaware Valley and southern New Jersey. It is one of the best-studied dialects of American English since Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania is the home institution of William Labov, one of the most productive American sociolinguists. The Philadelphia dialect shares some unusual features with the New York dialect and Southern American English, although it is a distinct dialect region. The Philadelphia dialect is, however, in most respects similar to the dialects of Reading, Pennsylvania, Wilmington, Delaware, and Baltimore, together with which it constitutes what Labov describes as the "Mid-Atlantic Dialect".[1]



Actual Philadelphia dialects are seldom heard nationally; Philadelphia natives who attain national prominence often make an effort to tone down or eliminate their accents. However, Chris Matthews is a conspicuous example of the real thing. [1] Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money, is another. Bam Margera, as well as several others in the MTV Jackass (TV series) crew are other speakers of the Philadelphia accent.

Movies and television shows set in the Philadelphia region generally make the mistake of imbuing the characters with a working class New York dialect (specifically heard in Philly-set movies such as the Rocky series, Invincible, and A History of Violence) which is not how Philadelphians actually speak. A contrary example is the character of Lynn Sear (played by Toni Collette) in The Sixth Sense, who speaks with an accurate Philadelphia dialect.

The use of geographically inaccurate dialects is also true in movies and television programs set in Atlantic City or any other region of South Jersey; the characters often use a supposed "Joisey" dialect, when in reality that New York-influenced dialect for New Jersey natives is almost always exclusive to the extreme northeastern region of the state nearest New York City. An important factor here is that in the real world, "local" TV, political, and sports personalities in South Jersey and part of Central Jersey are culturally associated with Philadelphia, not New York City.

Linguistic Features




The vowels in Philadelphia speech show a remarkable degree of volatility. Labov's extensive research has identified changes affecting over half of the vowel phonemes. In regional terms, Philadelphia shows an interesting mixture of Northeastern and Midland patterns.

  • A feature shared by Philadelphians, New Yorkers, and southern New Englanders is the raising of /ɔ/ to [o] or even higher. The raised variants often appear as diphthongs with a centering glide. As a result, Philadelphia is resistant to the cot-caught merger. Labov's research suggests that this pattern of raising is essentially complete in Philadelphia and seems no longer to be an active change.
  • One of the features that Philadelphia shares with Midland dialects (and one absent from New York speech) is the fronting of /oʊ/ and /uː/; the resulting allophones are around [ɜʊ] and [ʉu], respectively. Generally, greater degrees of fronting are heard when the vowels appear in "free" positions (i.e., without a following consonant) than in "checked" positions (i.e., with a following consonant). Fronting does not occur in the context of following liquids leading to a significant difference between, e.g., goat and goal. The fronting of /oʊ/ and /uː/ is well established in Philadelphia, though cross-generational data show that it remains an active change. Fronted nuclei in /aʊ/ are well established in Philadelphia speech as in New York. More recent research has noted a tendency among Philadelphians to raise the vowel, resulting in [ɛɔ].
  • /ʊ/, the vowel in foot, is sometimes fronted though not to the degree seen with /oʊ/ and /uː/.
  • As in New York English, historical short-'a' has split into two phonemes: lax /æ/ (as in bat) and tense /eə/ (as in bath). Their distribution is however different from that of New York City: for instance, the words mad and sad do not rhyme in Philadelphia. For more details on both the Philadelphia and New York systems see: phonemic æ-tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region.
  • As in New York, Boston, and most native dialects of English outside North America, there is a three-way distinction between Mary [meri]~[mɛri], marry [mæri], and merry [mɛri]~[mʌri]. However, in Philadelphia some speakers have a merger (or close approximation) of /ɛ/ and /ʌ/ before /r/ (the furry-ferry merger), so that merry is merged instead with Murray (with both pronounced as something like [mʌri]). Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006: 54) report that about one third of Philadelphia speakers have this merger, one third have a near-merger, and one third keep the two distinct. Relatedly, as in New York, many words like orange, Florida, and horrible have /ɑ/ before /r/ rather than the /ɔr/ used in many other American dialects (See: Historic "short o" before intervocalic r).
  • Canadian raising occurs for /aɪ/ (as in price) but not for /aʊ/ (as in mouth) (Labov, Ash, and Boberg 2006: 114-15, 237-38). Consequently, the diphthong in like may begin with a nucleus of mid or even higher position [lʌik], which distinguishes it from the diphthong in live [laɪv]. Canadian raising in Philadelphia occurs before voiceless consonants, and it is extended to occur before some voiced consonants as well, including intervocalic voiced stops as in tiger and spider. Fruehwald argues[2] that /aɪ/ has actually undergone a phonemic split in Philadelphia as a result of Canadian raising. The raising of /aɪ/ is unusual as the innovators of this change are primarily male speakers while the other changes in progress led by primarily females. The sociolinguistic evidence suggests this raising is a fairly recent addition to Philadelphia speech.
  • Early descriptions of Philadelphia speech indicate lowered and/or laxed variants of /iː/ were common. The recent sociolinguistic evidence indicates a reversal of this trend such that the vowel is now commonly raised and fronted. This raising is heard primarily before consonants (e.g., eat).
  • The Linguistic Atlas researchers recorded lax variants of /eɪ/ near [ɛɪ]. As with /iː/, recent research suggests this trend is being reversed by raising and fronting of the vowel often to a position well beyond [e]. This raising occurs before consonants (e.g., paid); in word-final position (pay), /eɪ/ remains lowered and lax.
  • Many Philadelphians use a rather high and back vowel for /ɑɹ/ as in start; something near [ɔ]. The so-called horse-hoarse merger takes place, and the merged vowel is typically mid to high back; it can be as high as [ʊ]. As noted in New York, these tendencies toward backing and raising of /ɑɹ/ and /ɔɹ/ may constitute a chain shift. The evidence suggests the movement of /ɑɹ/ began this shift, and this vowel is relatively stable today, while generational differences are heard in the shifting of /ɔɹ/.
  • /ɔɪ/, as in choice, may be more raised than in other dialects; sometimes it is as high as [ʊɪ].[3]
  • /ʌ/, as in strut, may show raised and back variants. In some cases, the vowel is in the high, back corner of the vowel space near /u/. This is reportedly a recent development and is one more common among male speakers.
  • Labov's research has indicated a tendency toward lowering of the lax vowels /ɪ/ and /ɛ/. This pattern is not yet well established and is labeled by Labov as an "incipient" change.


  • Philadelphia is situated in the middle of the only traditionally rhotic area of the Atlantic states. This area runs from Pennsylvania and New Jersey down to Delaware and Northern Maryland, and remains r-pronouncing today.
  • The sibilant /s/ is palatalized to [ʃ] (as in she) before /tɹ/. Thus, the word streets might be pronounced "shtreets" [ʃtɹits].[4]
  • L-vocalization is quite pervasive in Philadelphia speech. Phonetically it may be realized as something like [o] or a velar or labio-velar glide, [ɰ] or [w], or the consonant may be deleted altogether. Among Philadelphians, as in other dialects, vocalization occurs quite frequently in word-final and pre-consonantal contexts (e.g., mill, milk). In a more unusual development, vocalization may also occur intervocalically in Philadelphia. This tendency is more common when /l/ appears following low vowels bearing primary word stress (e.g., hollow). This variable also shows some lexical conditioning, appearing, for example, with exceptionally high frequency in the pronunciation of the name of the city (Ash 1997). This, in part, leads to the stereotype of Philadelphia being pronounced as "Fluffya".
  • As in other areas, the interdental fricatives /θ/ and /ð/ are often realized as stops, [t] and [d] or affricates [tθ] and [dð] in Philadelphia speech. This variation appears to be a stable class-stratified feature with the non-fricative forms appearing more commonly in working class speech.
  • In words like human and huge, which begin with an /hj/ cluster, the /h/ is commonly deleted giving /jumən/ and /judʒ/.

Phonemic incidence

  • On may be pronounced /ɔn/, so that, as in the South and Midland varieties of American English (and unlike New York) it rhymes with dawn rather than don. However, Philadelphia has been noted as featuring, at least among some speakers, the Northern /ɑ/ in on (Kurath and McDavid 1961).
  • The word water is commonly pronounced /wʊdər/ (with the first syllable identical to the word wood, so that it sounds like wooder.)[5][6] This is considered by many to be the defining characteristic of the Philadelphia dialect.
  • Both long-e and long-a sounds are shortened before /g/. Eagle rhymes with giggle /ˈɪgəl/ (as in "the Iggles"); league rhymes with big /lɪg/; vague and plague rhyme with peg (pronounced /vɛg/ and /plɛg/, respectively).[7] For some Philadelphians, colleague and fatigue also have /ɪ/ (pronounced /ˈkɑlɪg/ and /fəˈtɪg/, respectively). However, these are words learned later, so many use the standard American /ˈkɑlig/ and /fəˈtig/.
  • In words like gratitude, beautiful, attitude, Baltimore, and prostitute, the i may be pronounced with a long ee sound [i], as in bee.
  • Many words ending in -ow or -o, such as window, widow, tomato, or casino, are pronounced with a schwa ending (like the indistinct vowel sound at the end of the word coda). Thus, windows would be pronounced /ˈwɪndəz/ and tomorrow would be pronounced /təˈmɑrə/.


There are a number of slang terms and other lexical items associated with the City of Philadelphia, its surrounding counties, and South Jersey.

For example, a sandwich consisting of a long bread filled with lunch meats, cheeses, and vegetables, variously called a "sub" or "submarine sandwich" in other parts of the United States, may be called a hoagie. The term hoagie originated in Philadelphia.[8][9][10] A similar sandwich toasted in an oven or broiler is called a grinder.[11]

The interjection yo was popularized in the Philadelphia dialect among Italian American and African American youths. The word is commonly used as a greeting or a way to get someone's attention.[12][13][14]

Many Philadelphians are known to use the expression "youse" both as second person plural and sometimes second person singular pronoun, much like the mostly Southern / Western expression "y'all." "Youse" (often "youse guys" when addressing multiple people) is common in many working class northeastern areas, but is often associated with Philadelphia especially. This may be in part due to Philadelphians distinctly pronouncing the word as "yiz" (ex: "Yiz want anything at the store?" "Yiz guys alright over there?"). [15][16][17][18]

Anymore is used as a positive, e.g. "Jimmy's hoagies taste different anymore."[19]

External links


  1. ^ Labov, William (2007) "Transmission and Diffusion", Language June 2007 p. 64
  2. ^ Fruehwald, Josef (2007). "The Spread of Raising". College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal, University of Pennsylvania
  3. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004) "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities" in Kortmann, Bernd & Schneider, Edgar W. (Eds.) A Handbook of Varieties of English: Volume 1: Phonology Walter de Gruyter ISBN 3110175320 p. 290
  4. ^ Labov (2001), p. 123
  5. ^ Search Results :: Philadelphia Restaurants :: Philadelphia City Paper :: Philadelphia Arts, Restaurants, Music, Movies, Jobs, Classifieds, Blogs
  6. ^
  7. ^ Wolfram and Ward, p. 90.
  8. ^ Kenneth Finkel, ed., Philadelphia Almanac and Citizen’s Manual, (Philadelphia: The Library Company of Philadelphia, 1995) page 86.
  9. ^ "Philly Via Italy", thirtyfourthstreetmagazine, April 17, 2007, page 9.
  10. ^ "The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context," Eames & Robboy, American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4 (Dec., 1967), pp. 279-288
  11. ^ Eames, Edwin and Howard Robboy. American Speech, Vol. 42, No. 4. "The Submarine Sandwich: Lexical Variations in a Cultural Context"
  12. ^ Sorry, New York, 'Yo' Was Born in Philadelphia - New York Times
  13. ^ How they Talk in Philadelphia
  14. ^ Dalzell, Tom (1996). Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang. Springfield, Massachusetts: Merriam Webster. ISBN 0-87779-612-2.  
  15. ^ My sweet | Philadelphia Inquirer | 02/03/2008
  16. ^ Push and Pull of Immigration: Letters from Home - Johnstown Heritage Discovery Center
  17. ^ - Philly Slang
  18. ^ Tony Luke’s: The New Yorker
  19. ^ Labov, Ash, & Boberg (2006), p.293
  • Hindle, Donald. (1980). The social and structural conditioning of phonetic variation. (Doctoral dissertation, University of Pennsylvania).
  • Kroch, Anthony. (1996). Dialect and style in the speech of upper class Philadelphia. In G. R. Guy, C. Feagin, D. Schiffrin, & J. Baugh (Eds.), Towards a social science of language: Papers in honor of William Labov (pp. 23-45). Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science (Series 4). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.
  • Kurath, Hans; & McDavid, Raven I., Jr. (1961). The pronunciation of English in the Atlantic states. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press.
  • Labov, William. (1980). The social origins of sound change. In W. Labov (Ed.), Locating language in time and space (pp. 251-265). Qualitative analyses of linguistic structure (No. 1). New York: Academic.
  • Labov, William. (1989). Exact description of the speech community: Short a in Philadelphia. In R. W. Fasold & D. Schiffrin (Eds.), Language change and variation (pp. 1-57). Amsterdam studies in the theory and history of linguistic science (Series 4), Current issues in linguistic theory (No. 52). Amsterdam: John Bengamins.
  • Labov, William. (1994). Principles of linguistic change: Internal factors (Vol. 1). Language in society (no. 20). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Labov, William. (2001). Principles of linguistic change: Social factors (Vol. 2). Language in society (no. 29). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Labov, Willam; Karen, Mark; & Miller, Corey. (1991). Near-mergers and the suspension of phonemic contrast. Language Variation and Change, 3, 33-74.
  • Labov, William; & Ash, Sharon. (1997). Understanding Birmingham. In C. Bernstein, T. Nunnally, & R. Sabino (Eds.), Language variety in the South revisited (pp. 508-573). Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama Press.
  • Labov, Wiliam, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.  
  • Payne, Arvilla. (1980). Factors controlling the acquisition of the Philadelphia dialect by out-of-state children. In W. Labov (Ed.), Locating language in time and space (pp. 143-178). Orlando: Academic.
  • Roberts, Julie. (1997). Hitting a moving target: Acquisition of sound change in progress by Philadelphia children. Language Variation and Change, 9, 249-266.
  • Thomas, Erik R. (2001). An acoustic analysis of vowel variation in New World English. Publication of the American Dialect Society (No. 85). Duke University Press for the American Dialect Society.
  • Tucker, Whitney R. (1944). Notes on the Philadelphia dialect. American Speech, 19, 39-42.
  • Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, editors (2006). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing.

See also


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