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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 west coast of United States and 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 dialect is very similar to General American with the cot-caught merger, and some features in common with Prairies and Californian English.
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 . 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 non-youths 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. Notable is the absence of /ɔ/, which has merged with /ɑ/ through the cot-caught merger.
- Some front vowels are raised before velar nasal [ŋ], so that the near-open front unrounded vowel /æ/ is raised to a close-mid front unrounded vowel [e] before[ŋ]. This change makes for minimal pairs such as rang and rain, both having the same vowel [e], differing from rang [ræŋ] in other varieties of English.
- The vowels in words such as Mary, marry, merry are merged to the open-mid front unrounded vowel [ɛ]
- Most speakers do not distinguish between the open-mid back rounded vowel [ɔ] and open back unrounded vowel [ɑ], characteristic of the cot-caught merger. A notable exception occurs with some speakers over the age of 60.
- Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as [oʊ] as in boat and [eɪ], as in bait, have acquired qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers. However, the continuing presence of slight offglides (if less salient than those of, say, British Received Pronunciation) and convention in IPA transcription for English account for continuing use of [oʊ] and [eɪ].
- [ɛ] and sometimes [æ] as [eɪ] before g.: "egg" and "leg" pronounced "ayg" and "layg".
- The Pacific Northwest also has some of the features of the California vowel shift and the Canadian vowel shift.
- /æ/ is raised and diphthongized to [eə] or [ɪə] before nasal consonants among some speakers in Portland, and in some areas of Southern Oregon. This feature is virtually absent further north, where /æ/ is tense before /g/ only.
- /æ/ is lowered in the direction of [a], although to a much lesser extent than in neighboring regions. This is more common in male speakers; female speakers may even raise it slightly. Before /g/, in the Northern Pacific Northwest it is pronounced tense, and in Portland, before /n/ it is also tense.
- /æ/ before /ŋ/ may be identified with the phoneme /e/.
- The Close central rounded vowel [ʉ] or Close back unrounded vowel [ɯ] for [u], is found in Portland, and some areas of Southern Oregon, but is generally not found further north, where the vowel is [u].
- Somes speakers have a tendency to slightly raise /ai/ and /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 /ai/ is occasionally raised. This phenomenon is known as Canadian Raising, or pre-fortis clipping.
- Some speakers in Eastern Washington and Oregon either perceive or produce the pairs /ɛn/ and /ɪn/ close to each other, resulting in a merger between "pen" and "pin."
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. 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.
- ↑ Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, editors (2006). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 140, 234-236. ISBN 978-1-4051-2108-8.
- ↑ Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter, 68. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
This article uses material from California English and West/Central Canadian English.
- 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.
- Chain shift
- California English
- Vowel Shift
- British Columbian English
- Chinook Jargon
- Chinook Jargon use by English Language speakers
- Do you speak American? PBS
- Phonological Atlas of North America
Categories: American English | Canadian English