Journal of the International Phonetic Association

Illustrations of the IPA

American English: Southern Michigan

James M. Hillenbrand a1
a1 Department of Speech Pathology and Audiology, Western Michigan University, Kalamazoo

As Ladefoged (1999) points out in his description of American English, there is considerable diversity in the phonetic characteristics of English spoken in North America, such that the commonly used phrase ‘General American English’ is not entirely meaningful. The description of American English provided by Ladefoged was based on a southern California dialect. The purpose of this report is to augment that account with a brief description of southern Michigan speech patterns. According to Labov and colleagues (e.g. Labov, Yeager & Steiner 1972, Labov 1994), southern Michigan, particularly in its urban areas, is part of a relatively large dialect region in the inland northeast United States called ‘Northern Cities’. According to Labov, the Northern Cities dialect cuts an irregular swath through a chain of cities in the inland northeast extending, roughly, from upstate New York (e.g. Syracuse, Rochester, Buffalo), through northern Ohio (e.g. Cleveland, Toledo), southern Michigan (e.g. Detroit, Kalamazoo, Grand Rapids), northwest Indiana (e.g. Gary, Hammond), northeast Illinois (e.g. Chicago, Rockford) and south-central Wisconsin (e.g. Milwaukee, Madison). Speakers from neighboring regions such as northwest Vermont, northwest Pennsylvania, and north-central/northeast Indiana appear to show some features of the dialect. Labov contends that the vowel shifts that characterize the Northern Cities dialect are observed in their most advanced forms in the largest urban areas of the region, such as Detroit, Buffalo, and Rochester.