Merchantville NJ 08109, USA
"The dialect of the citizens [of Philadelphia],
particularly of the children... is very defective."
Anne Royall, 1826.
The local dialect of Philadelphia is not as well known as that of its
neighbor to the north, New York City, but has nonetheless been fairly
studied. Linguists have been able to confirm through studies of
and other urban centers that not only are dialects alive and well in
but that in many places pronunciation is actually continuing to diverge
from the national standard.
Americans commonly understand the two types of dialects as northern and
southern, and they would certainly recognize Philadelphian as a dialect
of the northern type. However, most linguists today recognize a third
group, the Midland, which runs between the true Northern dialects and
Southern dialects. Philadelphian is classified by these linguists as a
Midland dialect. Other researchers, notably Craig Carver, recognize
two major divisions of American English: Northern and Southern, and the
Pennsylvania dialects as layers of the Northern group.
Included within the general area of the Philadelphia dialect, though
naturally some differences can be expected, are the Pennsylvania
suburbs as well as southern New Jersey and northern Delaware.
One interesting feature of the dialect, in light of its geographic
position, is its clear pronunciation in all positions of the 'r',
consonants and at the end of words. Philadelphia and Baltimore are two
the only major port cities of the Atlantic coast to retain the 'r' in
positions, in contrast to New England, New York City, and the Coastal
South, where they are dropped.
The dialect also has the following pronunciational characteristics:
words with "-er-" like "ferry" are pronounced "furry" with the
short 'u' of "cut"
The "l" is very indistinct (dark or vocalized l), especially at
end of words, pronounced at the back of the mouth rather than the
and the tip of the tongue does not touch the roof of the mouth.
the "-ow-" sound is pronounced as "al" with the type of
backed "l" described above.
words with "-ore" like "core" are pronounced "coor".
words with "-ar" like "car" are pronounced "caur" (non-locals may
hear this as 'core')
words with "-ague" and "-eeg" are pronounced "-egg" and "-igg"
words with long "i" and an unvoiced consonant such as "ike" and
"ite" are pronounced "uh-ee".
short 'a' in two forms - tense and lax - with complex
according to the following consonants.
The common local pronunciation of "Philadelphia" is "Fulladulfya," very
often even in careful speech. It is spoken just like the separate words
"full", "a", "dull", and then the monosyllabic ending "fya", in which
'y' is consonantal.
Naturally, Philadelphian has its own peculiar vocabulary. Some words
are purely local, others are being used in other regions as well. Ten
most commonly cited usages are as follows.
anymore, at the present time, currently. baby coach, baby carriage. bag school, skip school. hoagie, submarine sandwich. hotcake, pancake. scrapple, a local breakfast dish. square, city block. pavement, sidewalk. yo, hey there; hello. youse, you all, you plural.
For More Information
I have recently written two books dealing with Philadelphia speech,
both of which go into much more detail than can be made available here
web. Each of these titles is available through mail-order, or your
bookstore can order a copy for you.
If you have a good library near you, these articles are worth checking
out and are fairly easy to read for the non-linguist:
Quinn, Jim. 1975. "How to Talk Like a Philadelphian." Philadelphia
Magazine, 66:11, pp. 136-154. Nov. 1975.
Quinn, Jim. 1976. "How to Talk Like a Philadelphian Part II."
Philadelphia Magazine, 67:3, pp. 124-127. March 1976.
Tucker, R. Whitney. 1944. "Notes on the Philadelphia Dialect." American
Tucker, R. Whitney, 1964. "More on the Philadelphia Dialect." American
If you can't get a hold of the journal American Speech, then
consult the section on Pennsylvania in H.L. Mencken's American
Supplement II, which discusses Tucker's article. Hans Kurath's Word
Geography has a few paragraphs on Philadelphia terms as well.
This next source is very difficult to track down, but it's well worth
it for the serious student of the dialect, containing 300 local
expressions, many of which are not found anywhere else, and their
various age groups, ethnic groups, and neighborhoods:
Lebofsky, Dennis Stanley. 1970. The Lexicon of the Philadelphia
Metropolitan Area. PhD. dissertation, Princeton University.
Michael Ellis' Slanguages Page
treats the speech of about 40 cities, but as a resident of the Delaware
Valley, he has given special attention to the Philly area. He has also
authored the first (that I know of) popular treatment of Philadelphia
speech, which can be ordered from his page.