The Inland North dialect
of American English
is spoken in a region that includes the cities along the Erie Canal
and south of the Great Lakes
, as well as a corridor extending down across central Illinois
to St. Louis
This dialect used to be the "standard Midwestern" speech that is traditionally regarded as the basis for General American in the mid-20th century, though it has been since modified by an innovative vowel shift known as the Northern Cities Shift, which has altered its character.
Notable speakers of the Inland North Dialect include actors Jim Belushi, Dennis Franz, and Chris Farley, Senator Hillary Clinton, actresses Katie Holmes and Bonnie Hunt, filmmaker Michael Moore, and musician Bob Seger.
The Inland North consists of western and central New York State (Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo); northern Ohio (Akron, Cleveland, Toledo); Michigan's Lower Peninsula (Detroit, Grand Rapids); northwestern Indiana (Gary); northern Illinois (Chicago); and southeastern Wisconsin (Kenosha, Racine, Milwaukee).
A corridor of cities along Interstate 55 southwest of Chicago as far as St. Louis, Missouri, which historically belong to the Midland region, have also begun taking on features of the Inland North's Northern Cities Shift in recent decades. On the other hand, Erie, Pennsylvania was regarded as an Inland North city by researchers in the first half of the 20th century, but it never underwent the Northern Cities Shift and now shares many features with the rest of Western Pennsylvania.
Many of the characteristics listed here are not unique to the region, but are found elsewhere in the United States, especially elsewhere in the Midwest.
- As in General American, which was based on this accent, Inland North speech is rhotic.
- The Mary-marry-merry merger: Words containing /æ/, /ɛ/, or /eɪ/ before an r and a vowel are all pronounced "[eɪ]-r-vowel", so that Mary, marry, and merry all rhyme with each other, and have the same first vowel as Sharon, Sarah, and bearing. This merger is widespread throughout the Midwest, West, and Canada.
- The Inland North is resistant to the cot-caught merger.
- The word on rhymes with don, not with dawn.
- The Northern cities shift
This chain shift is found only in the Inland North—in fact, it is the feature that defines the Inland North, for modern dialectological purposes. It has been occurring in six stages:
- The first stage of the shift is the general raising and fronting of /æ/, which often comes to be realized as a centering diphthong of the type [eə] or [ɪə].
- The second stage is the fronting of /ɑ/ to [a], which occupies a place close to the former /æ/.
- In the third stage, /ɔ/ lowers towards [ɑ].
- The fourth stage is the backing and lowering of /ɛ/.
- During the fifth stage, /ʌ/ is backed towards [ɔ].
- In the sixth stage, /ɪ/ is lowered and backed, although it is kept distinct from /ɛ/ in all phonetic environments, so the pin-pen merger does not occur.
Note that this shift is in progress across the region, but that each subsequent stage is a result of the previous one(s), so that an individual speaker may not display all of these shifts, but no speaker will display the last without also showing the ones before it.
- Other characteristics
- Canadian raising of /aɪ/ is found in this region. It occurs before some voiced consonants. For example, many speakers pronounce fire, tiger, and spider with the raised vowel.
- The starting point of /aʊ/ (for example, browse, down) is pronounced noticeably in the back of the mouth [bɻɑʊz], [dɑʊn], while /aɪ/ (size, dine) is much further front.
- Like /aʊ/, the nucleus of /oʊ/ (as in go and boat) remains a back vowel [oʊ], not undergoing the fronting that is common in some other regions.
- /ɑr/ (as in bar) is fronted for many speakers in this region.
Note that not all of these are specific to the region.
- Faucet vs. Southern spigot.
- (Peach) Pit vs. Southern stone or seed.
- Pop for soft drink, vs. East-Coastal and Californian soda and Southern coke. In parts of eastern Wisconsin, soda is more common.
- Shopping cart vs. Southern buggy.
- Teeter totter vs. Southern seesaw.
- Tennis shoes vs. New England sneakers.
- Drinking fountain vs. Water fountain.
Individual cities and regions also have their own vocabularies. For example, in eastern and southern Wisconsin, drinking fountains are known as bubblers, in Chicago and surround suburbs, tennis shoes are often known as gym shoes, and in Cleveland the strip of grass between the sidewalk and the street is called a tree lawn.
- Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8