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6 Dialects of American English
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January 2, 2020
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Travel Trivia Editorial
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If you've spent any amount of time traveling the U.S., you've noticed that, even though many residents speak the same language, we seem to say things a little differently. That's because every region has its own unique dialect that has evolved over time. Here are six of them.

Smoky Mountain/Appalachian

Rolling hills in Tennessee
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If you've visited Dollywood, you might have heard the Smoky Mountain dialect (also called Appalachian) spoken by some of the locals. This dialect stems from a small region located between Tennessee and North Carolina. The area, established by English and Scottish settlers in the 18th century, had a strong British influence. It is thought that this dialect reflects Elizabethan English, or the language of Shakespeare. Over time, the language has evolved into its own dialect. You'll hear "britches" when someone is referring to pants, "fixin" when they're getting ready, and other regional quirks.

Eastern New England

Boats in harbor in New Hampshire
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You might know this dialect better as a "Boston accent," although it's been referred to as the Yankee dialect since the 19th century. It's easy to recognize, and you'll hear it if you travel to Boston or the surrounding areas. The most notable aspect of this dialect is the absence of R's. For example, "cah" instead of car or "fah" instead of far. Order clam "chowdah" instead of clam chowder if you want to sound more like a local. Vowels in this dialect tend to be raised and more nasal. There are pockets of this area that have their own version of the dialect, including the Downeast Maine accent and the New Hampshire accent.

Upper Midwestern

A white and red historic lighthouse on the shore of Lake Superior in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.
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It would be a mistake to assume that everyone in the Midwest speaks the same dialect. If you've ever traveled up north, you've probably heard an upper Midwestern accent. This dialect spreads from North Dakota into Minnesota, Wisconsin, northern Iowa, and northern Michigan.

There's even a sub-dialect of upper Midwestern for people who live in Michigan's Upper Peninsula, referred to as the "yooper" dialect. The movie Fargo is perhaps the most well-known pop culture reference of the upper Midwestern accent. The dialect comes from German, Dutch, and Finnish settlers who landed in the somewhat remote region in the 18th and 19th centuries. The Finnish language doesn't have prepositions, so it isn't uncommon to hear someone say, "I went post office" instead of "I went to the post office."

Pennsylvania Dutch

Aerial view of small town in Pennsylvania
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This is probably what fictional character Dwight Schrute from "The Office" grew up speaking. It's a regional dialect that is only spoken among Amish communities in south-central Pennsylvania. While many assume it is influenced by Dutch, it actually stems from German (in German, "German" is "Deutsche").

Confused yet? Probably not as confused as you would be if you were trying to follow a conversation carried out in this dialect, which is sort of a mashup of German and English, with several local takes on both languages thrown in for added flavor. It uses an amalgam of completely unique words, terms, and expressions, such as "fernhoodle" to mean "confused" and "hurrieder" to mean "faster." There are also pronunciation changes, such as use the "v" sound for "w" (as in "ve" instead of "we"). This dialect is dying out among the population, as there are fewer Amish communities. Today, it is spoken in some homes in an effort to keep the language alive.

Southern American English

Purple sagebrush blooming in the Texas desert with the Chisos mountain in the background.
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We would be remiss to have an article about dialects without including one of the most recognizable ones, southern. You've undoubtedly heard this accent either in person or in a movie that takes place anywhere south of Ohio. The south refers to several states, including Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Louisiana, Arkansas, Virginia, West Virginia, Kentucky, and parts of Florida.

There are several sub-dialects, and the southern dialect changes a bit based on where, exactly, you are in the south. Certain characteristics are the same, though. For instance, in the south people say "y'all" for second person plural, or when talking or referring to a group of people. Then there's the southern drawl, which is really just long vowel sounds, as one vowel is spread over multiple syllables (e.g., "ray-hed" is "red" and "hee-yur" is "here").

Louisiana/Cajun English

Three-story building in the French Quarter of New Orleans
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As an example of how different dialects can be across the Southern region, let's look at the Louisiana dialect, also referred to as Cajun English. (Creole is a sub-dialect of this sub-dialect and comes from the combination of African, Spanish, and French settlers who landed in the region.)

You'll hear Cajun English throughout all of Louisiana and even up into parts of Texas. It has its roots in French, which was the language spoken in this area from the 18th century through the 19th century. After the Louisiana Purchase, English was the only language taught in schools. In an act of rebellion, Cajuns still spoke French and Cajun at home, and so Cajun English evolved as a combination of the languages. One of the recognizable standards of this dialect is replacing the "th" sound with "d" or "t," as in "dat ting" instead of "that thing."