Philly dialects on All Things Considered

« previous post | next post »

A feature on Philadelphia dialects that appeared a week ago on the local public radio show Newsworks Tonight ("How the Philly accent is changing", 3/28/2013),  was recast yesterday on the national show All Things Considered, starring Penn grad student Joe Fruehwald: "Dialects Changing, But Not Disappearing In Philadelphia".

Zack Seward did a terrific job on the local story, and the quality of his treatment also emerged in the ATC piece.  For a more complete and more technical discussion, see  William Labov , Ingrid Rosenfelder, and Josef Fruehwald, "One Hundred Years of Sound Change in Philadelphia: Linear Incrementation, Reversal, and Reanalysis", Language 89.1 pp 30-65 2013.


  1. Victor Mair said,

    April 7, 2013 @ 7:37 am

    When I taught at Tunghai University in Taichung, Taiwan from 1970-72, I had a colleague from Philadelphia who would say things like "Yo, youse guys!" I thought that was very unbecoming of a professor! Earlier, as an undergrad from Ohio at Dartmouth, I was amused by the speech of my classmates from Philadelphia. Not only were the sounds of their English different from mine, they used a lot of special terms that I couldn't understand, such as "hoagie".

    This excellent discussion of Philadelphia dialects by Bill Labov, Joe Fruehwald, and Ingrid Rosenfelder leads me to ponder the distinction between "Philly dialect" and "Philly slang". We have the same problem in studying the local varieties of Chinese. Sometimes they are referred to as "slang" and sometimes as "dialect", but I'm not always sure what the difference is, though I feel that "slang" tends to be pejorative, whereas "dialect" is neutral.

  2. Keith M Ellis said,

    April 7, 2013 @ 12:35 pm

    I appreciated it when you provided the link to their paper in the previous thread; unfortunately, not all of us are academics with access to such sites. The abstract was interesting, though.

  3. T Barna said,

    April 7, 2013 @ 12:46 pm

    What's the difference between an accent and a dialect? Are they interchangeable?

  4. Glenn Bingham said,

    April 7, 2013 @ 3:11 pm

    I will venture the following: an accent is the phonological component of a dialect. A dialect may also display syntactic, semantic, and pragmatic variations from the norm.

  5. Ken Brown said,

    April 7, 2013 @ 4:25 pm

    Accent is different ways to say the same words. Two people can speak the same language or dialect in different accents.

    Dialect is different grammar, or different standard vocabularies, between speech communities.

    Slang is locally non-standard vocabulary within a speech community.

  6. J.W. Brewer said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 11:28 am

    I don't think I have a lot of obvious regional "tells" in my pronunciation, but as it happens just a few weeks ago I was "outed" by a work colleague I'd been speaking to regularly for a few months. He suddenly stopped mid-conversation and said "where did you grow up?" I had outed my Mid-Atlantic/Delaware Valley childhood via that distinctive "o in soda" – all dipthongized and/or fronted and/or tensed and/or however else you want to describe it. (My colleague grew up in Baltimore – he doesn't have that "o" very noticeably but says his mother and sister do.)

    Interestingly enough, the piece claims that the prominence of that style of "o" receded for Philadelphians born in the '50's and '60's (I was born in '65, and my brother, who also has it, was born in '69). Maybe that's just a statistical tendency, or maybe Philadelphia proper is the innovator so that those of us in that cohort who were born and raised 25 or 30 miles outside the city limits retained a regional feature that the city-raised had already moved past.

  7. Ellen K. said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 1:50 pm

    While I think Glenn Bingham's description, "an accent is the phonological component of a dialect" is in some sense correct, it's incomplete. It leaves out that accent differences can exist apart from dialect differences. Particularly, when people move, whether native speakers or 2nd language speakers of English. Often, they will speak the dialect of where they live, but the accent of where they come from (more or less).

  8. Ellen K. said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 1:51 pm

    P.S. Or, in the case of 2nd language speakers, an accent influences by their first language. And possibly as well by where they learn English.

  9. bianca steele said,

    April 8, 2013 @ 4:38 pm

    J.W. Brewer:
    I have that "o" and I was born in 1966. I grew up in an area that was incorporated into the city, but that was farmland within less than 10 years before I was born, where new houses were still being built around the time we moved in. After the earlier post, I was wondering whether the newness of the neighborhood could have affected the accent that was usual there. I've definitely never had that Brooklynese front vowel sound that some of the people interviewed in the piece have, and don't remember anybody I grew up around having it–my college roommate was from Brooklyn and it was definitely something new to me.

RSS feed for comments on this post