American English

American English
RegionThe United States of America
Native speakers
225 million, all varieties of English in the United States (2010 census)[1]
25.6 million L2 speakers of English in the United States (2003)
Early forms
Latin (English alphabet)
Unified English Braille[2]
Official status
Official language in
Language codes
ISO 639-3
English language prevalence in the United States. Darker shades of blue indicate higher concentrations of native English speakers in the corresponding states

American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US),[3] sometimes called United States English or U.S. English,[4][5] is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States.[6]

English is the most widely spoken language in the United States and is the common language used by the federal government, to the extent that all laws and compulsory education are practiced in English. Although not an officially established language of the whole country, English is considered the de facto language and is given official status by 32 of the 50 state governments.[7][8] As an example, while both Spanish and English have equivalent status in the local courts of Puerto Rico, under federal law, English is the official language for any matters being referred to the United States district court for the territory.[9]

The use of English in the United States is a result of English and British colonization of the Americas. The first wave of English-speaking settlers arrived in North America during the 17th century, followed by further migrations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since then, American English has developed into new dialects, in some cases under the influence of West African and Native American languages, German, Dutch, Irish, Spanish, and other languages of successive waves of immigrants to the United States.

American English varieties form a linguistic continuum of dialects more similar to each other than to English dialects of other countries, including some common pronunciations and other features found nationwide.[10] Any North American English accent perceived as free of noticeably local, ethnic, or cultural markers is popularly called "General" or "Standard" American, a fairly uniform standard of broadcast mass media and the highly educated. Otherwise, according to Labov, with the major exception of Southern American English, regional accents throughout the country are not yielding to this standard,[11] and historical and present linguistic evidence does not support the notion of there being one single "mainstream" American accent.[12][13] On the contrary, the sound of American English continues to evolve, with some local accents disappearing, but several larger regional accents emerging.[14]


While written American English is largely standardized across the country, there are several recognizable variations in the spoken language, both in pronunciation and in vernacular vocabulary. The regional sounds of present-day American English are reportedly engaged in a complex phenomenon of "both convergence and divergence": some accents are homogenizing and levelling, while others are diversifying and deviating further away from one another.[15] In 2010, William Labov summarized the current state of regional American accents as follows:[16]

Some regional American English has undergone "vigorous new sound changes" since the mid-nineteenth century onwards, spawning relatively recent Mid-Atlantic (centered on Philadelphia and Baltimore), Western Pennsylvania (centered on Pittsburgh), Inland Northern (centered on Chicago, Detroit, and the Great Lakes region), Midland (centered on Indianapolis, Columbus, and Kansas City) and Western regional accents, all of which "are now more different from each other than they were fifty or a hundred years ago". Similarly, distinguishing features of the Eastern New England (centered on Boston) and New York City accents appear to be stable. "On the other hand, dialects of many smaller cities have receded in favor of the new regional patterns";[16] for example, the traditional local accents of Charleston and of Cincinnati have given way to the Midland regional accent, and of St. Louis now approaches an Inland Northern or Midland accent. At the same time, the Southern regional accent, despite the huge population it covers,[14] "is on the whole slowly receding due to cultural stigma: younger speakers everywhere in the South are shifting away from the marked features of Southern speech". Finally, the extremely local-level "Hoi Toider" dialect shows the paradox of receding among younger speakers in the islands of North Carolina's Outer Banks, yet strengthening in the islands of the Chesapeake Bay.

Major regional dialects of American English

Below, eleven major American English accents are defined by their particular combinations of certain characteristics:

Accent name Most populous urban center Strong / fronting Strong / fronting Strong / fronting Strong ɑːr/ fronting Cot–caught merger Pin–pen merger /æ/ raising system
African American Mixed No No No Mixed Yes Southern
Chicano No No Mixed No Yes No none
Inland Northern Chicago No No No Yes No No general
Mid-Atlantic States Philadelphia Yes Yes Yes No No No split
Midland Indianapolis Yes Yes Yes No Mixed Mixed pre-nasal
New York City New York City Yes No No[32] No No No split
North-Central (Upper Midwestern) Minneapolis No No No Yes Yes No pre-nasal (pre-velar)
Northern New England Boston No No No Yes Yes No pre-nasal
Southern Houston Yes Yes Yes No Mixed Yes Southern
Western Los Angeles No No Yes No Yes No pre-nasal
Western Pennsylvania Pittsburgh Yes Yes Yes No Yes Mixed pre-nasal

Eastern New England

Marked New England speech is mostly associated with eastern New England, centering on Boston and Providence, and traditionally includes some notable degree of r-dropping (or non-rhoticity),[29] as well as the back tongue positioning of the / vowel (to [u]) and the / vowel (to [ɑʊ~äʊ]).[30] In and north of Boston, the ɑːr/ sound is famously centralized or even fronted. Boston shows a cot–caught merger, while Providence keeps the same two vowels sharply distinct.

New York City

New York City English prevails in a relatively small but nationally recognizable dialect region in and around New York City, including Long Island and northeastern New Jersey. The New York accent includes some notable degree of non-rhoticity and a locally unique short-a vowel pronunciation split. New York City English otherwise broadly follows Northern patterns, except that the / vowel is fronted. The cot–caught merger is markedly resisted in the New York metropolitan area, as depicted in popular stereotypes like tawwk and cawwfee, with this THOUGHT vowel being typically tensed and diphthongal.


Most older Southern speech along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts was non-rhotic, though, today, almost all Southern dialects are rhotic, and even "hyper-rhotic",[33] with a very strongly enunciated, "bunched-tongue" r sound. The modern accent is defined most recognizably by the / vowel losing its gliding quality to approach [aː~äː], the initiation event for the Southern Vowel Shift. This vowel shift involves the "Southern drawl" that makes short front vowels into distinct-sounding gliding vowels.[25] The most advanced sub-varieties exist in the southern Appalachian cities and certain areas of Texas. Non-Southern Americans tend to stereotype Southern accents negatively, associating them with slowness, lack of education, bigotry, and religious or political conservatism,[34] with labels for the accent such as "hick" or "hillbilly".[35] Meanwhile, Southerners themselves tend to have mixed judgments of their own accents, some negative but some positively associated with a laid-back, plain, or humble attitude.[36]


Since the mid-twentieth century, a distinctive new Northern speech pattern has developed near the Canadian border of the United States, centered on the central and eastern Great Lakes region (but only on the American side). Linguists call this region the "Inland North", as defined by its Northern Cities Vowel Shift (æ/ raising, ɑː/ fronting, and other vowel changes), occurring in the same region whose "standard Midwestern" speech was the basis for General American in the mid-twentieth century, though prior to the full Northern Cities Vowel Shift. The Inland Northern accent was lampooned on the television show Saturday Night Live's "Bill Swerski's Superfans" segments, though the accent's shift may be reversing in certain communities.[37][38] Many people view the "North Central" or "Upper Midwestern" accent, another Northern accent, from the stereotypical lens of the movie Fargo.[39] The North Central accent is characterized by a more common cot-caught merger and influences from the German and Scandinavian settlers of the region.


Between the traditional American dialect areas of the "North" and "South" is what linguists have long called the "Midland" encompassing states situated in the lower Midwest, beginning west of the Appalachian Mountains. The vocabulary of its older speakers was divided into two discrete subdivisions, the "North Midland" that begins north of the Ohio River valley area, and the "South Midland" speech, which to the average American ear has a slight trace of the "Southern accent" (especially due to some degree of / glide weakening). Modern Midland speech is transitional between a presence and absence of the cot–caught merger. Historically, Pennsylvania was a home of the Midland dialect; however, this state of early English-speaking settlers has now largely split off into new dialect regions, with distinct Philadelphia and Pittsburgh dialects documented since the middle of the twentieth century.


A generalized Midland speech continues westward until becoming a somewhat internally diverse Western American English that unites the entire western half of the country, mostly unified by a firm cot–caught merger and a conservatively backed pronunciation of the long oh sound in goat, toe, show, etc., but a fronted pronunciation of the long oo sound in goose, lose, tune, etc. Western speech itself contains such advanced sub-types as Pacific Northwest English and California English, with the native-speaker English of Mexican Americans also being a sub-type primarily of the Western dialect. The island state of Hawaii, though primarily English-speaking, is also home to a creole language known commonly as Hawaiian Pidgin, and some Hawaii residents speak English with a Pidgin-influenced accent.

Other varieties

Although no longer region-specific,[40] African-American Vernacular English, which remains the native variety of most working- and middle-class African Americans, has a close relationship to Southern dialects and has greatly influenced everyday speech of many Americans, including hip hop culture. Hispanic and Latino Americans have also developed native-speaker varieties of English. The best-studied Latino Englishes are Chicano English, spoken in the West and Midwest, and New York Latino English, spoken in the New York metropolitan area. Additionally, ethnic varieties such as Yeshiva English and "Yinglish" are spoken by some American Jews, Cajun Vernacular English by some Cajuns in southern Louisiana, Pennsylvania Dutch English by some Pennsylvania Dutch in Pennsylvania and the Midwest, and American Indian Englishes have been documented among diverse Indian tribes.

Other Languages
azərbaycanca: Amerikan ingiliscəsi
Bân-lâm-gú: Bí-kok Eng-gí
brezhoneg: Saozneg SUA
한국어: 미국 영어
Bahasa Indonesia: Bahasa Inggris Amerika
interlingua: Anglese american
Nederlands: Amerikaans-Engels
norsk nynorsk: Angloamerikansk
português: Inglês americano
Simple English: American English
српски / srpski: Američki engleski jezik
Tiếng Việt: Tiếng Anh Mỹ
粵語: 美國英文
中文: 美国英语