Pacific Northwest English

Pacific Northwest English

Pacific Northwest English is a dialect of the English language spoken in the Pacific Northwest. The Pacific Northwest, defined as an area that includes part of the northwest coast of the United States and the west coast of Canada, is home to a highly diverse populace, which is reflected in the historical and continuing development of the dialect. As is the case of English spoken in any region, not all features are used by all speakers in the region, and not all features are restricted in use only to the region. The sound system of Pacific Northwest English resembles that of General American and California English, with the cot-caught merger.


Linguists who studied English as spoken in the West before and in the period immediately after the Second World War tended to find few if any distinct patterns unique to the Western region [Walt, W. and Ward, B. , eds. "American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast", page 140. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.] However, several decades later, with a more settled population and continued immigration from around the globe, linguists began to notice a set of emerging characteristics of English spoken in the Pacific Northwest. However, Pacific Northwest English still remains remarkably close to the "standard American accent," which shows, for example, the cot/caught merger (although this even is not universal, especially among the elderly in the Seattle area).

[ Hear Pacific Northwest English]


As a variety of North American English, Pacific Northwest English is similar to most other forms of North American speech in being a rhotic accent, which is historically a significant marker in differentiating English varieties. It is found in the range of British Columbia, Alberta, Washington, Oregon, northern California, Idaho and western Montana, and as the variety stresses vowels far less than other varieties, it is seen by linguists as the least accented form of English. Most linguists have credited the distinct lack of accent on the minimal contact with the British during America's formative early years and its relatively recent immigration increases, in comparison to New York and the New England states.

*The vowels in words such as "Mary", "marry", "merry" are merged to the open-mid front unrounded vowel IPA| [ɛ] .
*Most speakers do not distinguish between the open-mid back rounded vowel IPA| [ɔ] and open back unrounded vowel IPA| [ɑ] , characteristic of the cot-caught merger. A notable exception occurs with some speakers born before roughly 1947.
*Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as IPA| [oʊ] as in "boat" and IPA| [eɪ] , as in "bait", have acquired qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers.
* The Pacific Northwest also has some of the features of the California and Canadian vowel shifts, which both move vowels in roughly the opposite direction of the Northern Cities Vowel Shift of the Great Lakes.
**IPA|/ɛ/ can sometimes become 'short I' IPA|/ɪ/, so that "elk" sounds more like "ilk". Some speakers in Eastern Washington and Oregon, and western Idaho, either perceive or produce specifically the pairs IPA|/ɛn/ and IPA|/ɪn/ close to each other [ Labov, W., Ash, S., and Boberg, C: "The Phonological Atlas of North American English", page 68. Mouton-de Gruyter, 2006.] , resulting in a merger between "pen" and "pin".
**IPA|/æ/ is lowered in the direction of IPA| [a] .
**IPA|/ɑ/ is backed and raised toward IPA| [ɔ] . Thus, to a Seattleite or Vancouverite, a speaker from Milwaukee--where the phoneme is sometimes fronted towards IPA| [a] --may say "cot" more like "cat".
*There are also conditional raising processes of open front vowels.
**Before the velar nasal IPA| [ŋ] , IPA|/æ/ becomes IPA| [e] . This change makes for minimal pairs such as "rang" and "rain", both having the same vowel IPA| [e] , differing from "rang" IPA| [ræŋ] in other varieties of English.
**Among some speakers in Portland and southern Oregon, IPA|/æ/ is sometimes raised and diphthongized to IPA| [eə] or IPA| [ɪə] before the non-velar nasal consonants IPA| [m] and IPA| [n] . This feature is virtually absent further north, where IPA|/æ/ remains the same before non-velar nasal consonants, except for occasional schwa-like qualities, resulting in IPA| [æə] .
** IPA|/ɛ/ and in the northern Pacific Northwest IPA|/æ/ become IPA| [eɪ] before the voiced velar plosive IPA|/ɡ/: "egg" and "leg" are pronounced as "ayg" and "layg", a feature shared by many northern Midwestern dialects and with the Utah accent.
* The close central rounded vowel IPA| [ʉ] or close back unrounded vowel IPA| [ɯ] for IPA|/u/, is found in Portland, and some areas of Southern Oregon, but is generally not found further north, where the vowel remains the close back rounded IPA| [u] .Dubious|date=August 2008
* Some speakers have a tendency to slightly raise IPA|/ai/ and IPA|/aw/ before voiceless consonants. It is strongest in rural areas in British Columbia and Washington, and in older and middle-aged speakers in Vancouver and Seattle. In other areas, IPA|/ai/ is occasionally raised. This phenomenon is known as Canadian raising and is widespread and well-known throughout Anglophone Canada and other parts of the northern United States.


Pacific Northwest English and British Columbian English have several words still in current use which are loanwords from the Chinook Jargon, which was widely spoken throughout British Columbia by all ethnicities well into the middle of the 20th Century. Fact|date=August 2008 Skookum, potlatch, muckamuck, saltchuck, and other Chinook Jargon words are widely used by people who do not speak Chinook Jargon. These words tend to be shared with, but are not as common in, the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and, to a lesser degree, Idaho and western Montana. Fact|date=August 2008


*Boberg, C: "Geolinguistic Diffusion and the U.S.-CanadaBorder" Language Variation and Change", "Language Variation and Change", 12(1):15.
*Wolfram, W. and Ward, B, eds: "American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast", pages 140, 234-236. Blackwell Publishing, 2006.
*Labov, W., Ash, S., and Boberg, C: "The Atlas of North American English", page 68. Mouton de Gruyter, 2006.

Further reading

*"Vowels and Consonants: An Introduction to the Sounds of Languages". Peter Ladefoged, 2003. Blackwell Publishing.
*"Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics". Suzanne Romaine, 2000. Oxford University Press.
*"How We Talk: American Regional English Today". Allan Metcalf, 2000. Houghton Mifflin.

ee also

* Chain shift
* California English
* Vowel Shift
* British Columbian English
* Chinook Jargon
* Chinook Jargon use by English Language speakers

External links

* [ Contrary to belief, local linguists say Northwest has distinctive dialect]
* [ Do you speak American? PBS]
* [ Phonological Atlas of North America]

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