Philadelphia English is a variety or dialect of American English native to Philadelphia and extending into Philadelphia's metropolitan area throughout the Delaware Valley, which includes southeastern Pennsylvania, counties of northern Delaware (especially New Castle and Kent), the northern Eastern Shore of Maryland, and all of South Jersey, with the dialect being spoken in cities such as Wilmington, Atlantic City, Camden, Vineland, and Dover. Philadelphia English is one of the best-studied types of English, as Philadelphia's University of Pennsylvania is the home institution of pioneering sociolinguist William Labov. Philadelphia English shares certain features with New York City English and Midland American English, although it remains a distinct dialect of its own. A closely related and nearly identical dialect, or a subdialect of Philadelphia English, often distinguished as Baltimore English, is prevalent in nearby Baltimore and the Baltimore metropolitan area; both the Philadelphia and Baltimore English dialect together constitute what Labov describes as a single "Mid-Atlantic" regional dialect.

According to linguist Barbara Johnstone, migration patterns and geography affected the dialect's development, which was especially influenced by immigrants from Northern England, Scotland, and Northern Ireland. Today, a marked or "heavier" Philadelphia accent is most commonly found in Irish American and Italian American working class neighborhoods.


Philadelphia English has a complicated history, with speakers at times showing features shared with neighboring regions as well as uniquely local features. The Philadelphia and New York accents presumably shared certain common linguistic inputs in the nineteenth century, since both accents by the twentieth century demonstrated a high /ɔ/ vowel (which helps to maintain a contrast between words like cot and caught) as well as a phonemic split of the short a vowel, /æ/ (causing gas and gap to have different vowels sounds, for example) not found elsewhere in the United States.[1] One important indicator of this is that Philadelphia's short a split appears to be a simplified variant of New York City's split.[2] Unlike New York City English, however, most speakers of Philadelphia English have always used a rhotic accent (meaning that the r sound is never "dropped").

Despite sharing patterns with the New York City accent, Philadelphia accents in the very late nineteenth century until the 1950s shifted toward certain features of the then-emerging (and now-common) regional accents of the American South and Midland, for example in fronting /oʊ/, raising /aʊ/, and even some reported weakening of /aɪ/.[3] Philadelphians then began retreating from their longstanding New York City-like accent features after this point, and even further developed their own entirely unique phonological features.[4] Next, higher-educated Philadelphians born in or since the last quarter of the twentieth century have been showing a process of dialect levelling towards unmarked Northern American English (General American English) features. This includes notable regularity among this demographic in replacing the traditional Philadelphia /æ/ split with the more General American tensing of /æ/ only before nasal consonants; this probably began around the time the first generation of this demographic attended college.[5]

As of today, "the most strongly supported generalization is that Philadelphia has moved away from its Southern heritage in favor of a Northern system, avoiding those forms that are most saliently associated with local phonology".[4] In the city of Philadelphia proper, the dialect has evolved further, especially among younger residents,[6] and the "White Philadelphian dialect" is now spoken by a numerical minority of all Philadelphians within the city of Philadelphia itself, though it remains strong throughout the Philadelphia metropolitan region in general.[7]

Linguistic features



The vowels in Philadelphia speech have shown volatility across the last century, as Labov's research has identified changes affecting over half of the vowel phonemes.

/æ/ raising in North American English[14]
New York City,
New Orleans[16]
Philadelphia[17] General US,
New England,
Western US
Midland US,
Mountain US
Great Lakes
/m, n/
fan, lamb, stand [ɛə][18][A][B] [ɛə][18] [ɛə] [ɛə~ɛjə][21] [ɛə][22] [ɛə][23]
/m, n/
animal, planet,
/ŋ/[24] frank, language [ɛː~eɪ][25] [æ][24] [æ~æɛə][21] [ɛː~ɛj][22] [eː~ej][26]
bag, drag [ɛə][A] [æ][C] [æ][18]
Prevocalic /ɡ/ dragon, magazine [æ]
/b, d, ʃ/
grab, flash, sad [ɛə][A] [æ][27] [ɛə][27]
/f, θ, s/
ask, bath, half,
Otherwise as, back, happy,
  1. ^ a b c d In New York City and Philadelphia, most function words (am, can, had, etc.) and some learned or less common words (alas, carafe, lad, etc.) have [æ].[19]
  2. ^ In Philadelphia, the irregular verbs began, ran, and swam have [æ].[20]
  3. ^ In Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone in this context have [ɛə].[19]
  4. ^ In New York City, certain lexical exceptions exist (like avenue being tense) and variability is common before /dʒ/ and /z/ as in imagine, magic, and jazz.[28]
    In New Orleans, [ɛə] additionally occurs before /v/ and /z/.[29]


Phonemic incidence


"Be done + noun phrase": The grammatical construction "be done something" means roughly "have/has finished something". For example, "I am done my homework" and "The dog is done dinner" are genuine sentences in this dialect, respectively meaning "I have finished my homework" and "The dog has finished dinner". Another example, "Let's start after you're done all the coffee", means "Let's start after you've finished all the coffee". This is not exactly the same as the standard construction "to be done with something", since "She is done the computer" can only mean "She is done with the computer" in one sense: "She has finished (building) the computer".[42][43]


The interjection yo originated 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.[44][45][46]

Many Philadelphians are known to use the expression "youse" both as second person plural and (rarely) second person singular pronoun, much like the mostly Southern / Western expression "y'all" or the Pittsburgh term, "yinz". "Youse" or "youse guys" is common in many working class Northeastern U.S. areas, though it is often associated with Philadelphia especially. However, unlike in other Northeastern U.S. areas, the Philadelphian pronunciation of "youse" reflects vowel reduction more often than not, frequently yielding /jəz/ and /jɪz/ ("yiz") rather than the stereotypical /juz/ ("youse"). (ex: "Yiz want anything at the store?" "Yiz guys alright over there?").[47][48][49][50] Second person singular forms commonly are heard as /jə/ and /jɪ/.

Anymore is used as a positive polarity item, e.g. "Joey's hoagies taste different anymore."[51] This sense of anymore is not specific to the region but is well represented there.

A sandwich consisting of a long bread filled with lunch meat, cheese, and lettuce, onion and tomato, variously called a "sub" or "submarine sandwich" in other parts of the United States, is called a hoagie. Olive oil, rather than mayonnaise, is used as a topping, and "hot" or "sweet" peppers are used for spice. The term 'hoagie' originated in Philadelphia.[52][53]

A similar sandwich toasted in an oven or broiler is called a grinder.[54][55]

Small chocolate or multi-colored confections sprinkled on ice cream and cake icing, elsewhere called sprinkles, are known as jimmies in the Philadelphia area, as well as in the Boston and Pittsburgh areas. (In Boston, and among some older Philadelphians, only chocolate sprinkles are called jimmies.)

Another distinctively Philadelphian word is jawn. According to Dan Nosowitz, jawn " an all-purpose noun, a stand-in for inanimate objects, abstract concepts, events, places, individual people, and groups of people."[56]

Notable examples of native speakers

Lifelong speakers

The following well-known Philadelphians represent a sampling of those who have exhibited a Philadelphia accent:

Lifelong non-rhotic South Philadelphia speakers

These speakers, primarily of Irish, Italian, or Jewish ethnicity, show the non-rhotic version of the Philadelphia accent local to South Philadelphia:

Marginal speakers

These speakers retain slight traces or elements of a rhotic Philadelphia accent:

In media

Philadelphia English spoken by native speakers is seldom heard in movies and fictional television shows. When PE is portrayed, many actors often mistakenly use a New York accent or simply substitute a General American accent. Movies and television shows set in the Philadelphia region generally make the mistake of giving the characters a working class New York dialect (specifically heard in films set in Philadelphia such as the Rocky series, Invincible, and A History of Violence). Contrary examples exist, such as the character Lynn Sear (played by Toni Collette) in The Sixth Sense, who speaks with an accurate Philadelphia dialect. In the film Sleepers, Kevin Bacon, a Philadelphia native, uses an exaggerated Philadelphia accent for the character of Sean Nokes. 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.[38]

Philadelphia dialect is portrayed in the 2021 miniseries drama Mare of Easttown, set in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, adjacent to Philadelphia to the west and south.[87] Reviews of the portrayal of the dialect by lead actor Kate Winslet and others have been mostly positive.[88][89]

News media and reality TV

Philadelphia natives who work in media and entertainment often assimilate to the General American broadcast standard. Speakers with a noticeable local accent include Jim Cramer, the host of CNBC's Mad Money,[90] singer Joe Bonsall, political commentator Chris Matthews,[91] Bam Margera,[90] and several others in the MTV Jackass crew. Venezuelan American actress Sonya Smith, who was born in Philadelphia, speaks with a Philadelphia accent in both English and Venezuelan Spanish. Local television, political, and sports personalities in South Jersey and part of Central Jersey are culturally associated with Philadelphia, not New York City.

See also


  • Baker, Adam; Mielke, Jeff; Archangeli, Diana (2008). "More velar than /g/: Consonant Coarticulation as a Cause of Diphthongization" (PDF). In Chang, Charles B.; Haynie, Hannah J. (eds.). Proceedings of the 26th West Coast Conference on Formal Linguistics. Somerville, Massachusetts: Cascadilla Proceedings Project. pp. 60–68. ISBN 978-1-57473-423-2.
  • Boberg, Charles (2008). "Regional phonetic differentiation in Standard Canadian English". Journal of English Linguistics. 36 (2): 129–154. doi:10.1177/0075424208316648. S2CID 146478485.
  • Duncan, Daniel (June 21, 2016). "'Tense' /æ/ is still lax: A phonotactics study". Proceedings of the Annual Meetings on Phonology. 3. doi:10.3765/amp.v3i0.3653.
  • Kurath, Hans; McDavid, Raven I., Jr. (1961). The pronunciation of English in the Atlantic states. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press. ISBN 9780817301293.
  • Labov, William (2001). Principles of linguistic change: Social factors. Language in society. Vol. 2. Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Labov, William (2007). "Transmission and Diffusion" (PDF). Language. 83 (2): 344–387. doi:10.1353/lan.2007.0082. JSTOR 40070845. S2CID 6255506.
  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 978-3-11-016746-7. cf. Chapter 17.

Further reading


  1. ^ Labov, Rosenfelder & Fruehwald 2013, p. 173, In NYC and the Mid-Atlantic region, short-a is split into a tense and lax class. There is reason to believe that the tense class /æh/ descends from the British /ah/ or 'broad-a' class..
  2. ^ Ash, Sharon (2002). "The Distribution of a Phonemic Split in the Mid-Atlantic Region: Yet More on Short a". Working Papers in Linguistics. University of Pennsylvania: 1.
  3. ^ Labov, William; Rosenfelder, Ingrid; Fruehwald, Josef (2013). "One Hundred Years of Sound Change in Philadelphia: Linear Incrementation, Reversal, and Reanalysis" (PDF). Language. 89 (1): 31, 49. doi:10.1353/lan.2013.0015. hdl:20.500.11820/6aaeba15-89f6-4419-a930-7694d9463d43. S2CID 56451894.
  4. ^ a b Labov, Rosenfelder & Fruehwald 2013, p. 61.
  5. ^ Labov, Rosenfelder & Fruehwald 2013, p. 55.
  6. ^ Labov, Rosenfelder & Fruehwald 2013, p. 30–65.
  7. ^ Fruehwald, Josef (2013). "The Phonological Influence on Phonetic Change" (Dissertation). University of Pennsylvania: 48. ...the White Philadelphian dialect is spoken now by a numerical minority of all Philadelphians... ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  8. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 189
  9. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 237
  10. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 173
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), chpt. 17
  12. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 239
  13. ^ a b Henderson, Anita (January 1, 1996). "The Short 'a' Pattern of Philadelphia among African-American Speakers". University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics. 3 (1).
  14. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 182.
  15. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174.
  16. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174, 260–261.
  17. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174, 238–239.
  18. ^ a b c Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2.
  19. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 173.
  20. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 238.
  21. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 178, 180.
  22. ^ a b Boberg (2008), p. 145.
  23. ^ Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2; Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 175–177.
  24. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 183.
  25. ^ Baker, Mielke & Archangeli (2008).
  26. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 181–182.
  27. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 82, 123, 177, 179.
  28. ^ Labov (2007), p. 359.
  29. ^ Labov (2007), p. 373.
  30. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 114–15, 237–38
  31. ^ Fruehwald, Josef (November 11, 2007). "The Spread of Raising: Opacity, lexicalization, and diffusion". CUREJ.
  32. ^ Gordon, Matthew (2004). "New York, Philadelphia and other Northern Cities". In Edgar Werner Schneider; Bernd Kortmann (eds.). A Handbook of Varieties of English: Morphology and Syntax. Vol. 1. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Company KG. p. 290. ISBN 3-11-017532-0.
  33. ^ a b c d Quinn, Jim (1997). "Phillyspeak". Philadelphia City Paper. Archived from the original on January 1, 2012. Retrieved January 16, 2012.
  34. ^ Meyerhoff, Miriam; Nagy, Naomi (2008). Social Lives in Language Sociolinguistics and multilingual speech communities: Celebrating the work of Gillian Sankoff. John Benjamins Publishing. p. 320. ISBN 978-90-272-9075-5.
  35. ^ Verma, Mahendra K. (1998). "Sociolinguistics, Language and Society". New Delhi: 94. ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  36. ^ Dal Vera, Rocco (1998). "Rhotic and Non-Rhotic English Accents". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  37. ^ Labov 2001, p. 123.
  38. ^ a b c d Nester, Daniel (March 1, 2014). "The Sound of Philadelphia Fades Out". The New York Times.
  39. ^ Kurath & McDavid 1961.
  40. ^ Barrist, Adam (2009). The Concrete Lawyer. ISBN 978-1-4401-6573-3.
  41. ^ Wolfram and Ward 2006, p. 90.
  42. ^ "Done My Homework". Yale Grammatical Diversity Project English in North America. Yale University. 2017.
  43. ^ Fruehwald, Josef; Myler, Neil (December 31, 2015). "I'm done my homework—Case assignment in a stative passive". Linguistic Variation. 15 (2): 141–168. doi:10.1075/LV.15.2.01FRU. hdl:20.500.11820/71d562f0-fbb4-4e7f-9fa9-6cf585900e57. S2CID 59887277.
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