Pittsburgh Dialect

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Thu Oct 19 06:58:41 UTC 2000

>>I'm doing a research project on the dialect of Pittsburgh and western
>>Pennsylvania ...
>I live in metropolitan Pittsburgh. I'm not a native Pittsburgher (but my
>daughter is). I'll be happy to help if I can; for example, I can do a small
>poll among native Pittsburghers at work on any controversial point.
>The books and Web entries on "Pittsburghese" are naive and unreliable in my
>experience. You can't easily make a whole book on distinctive
>"Pittsburghisms", so the books and sites are fleshed out with irrelevant
>local references, near-universal mispronunciations, and spurious material.

Largely true, but there are have been some fairly good popular
treatments, including a nice feature in the (Pittsburgh) Times of
Oct. 12, 1998 titled "Words N'at" (another Pittsburghism) that quotes
linguists Sally Thomason and Bryan Gick.  Bryan, who actually hails
from N.W. Pennsylvania, also wrote on Pittsburghese here on ads-l
back in August 1998 on a thread (Help with/Beyond Pittsburghese) that
featured notes from Mike Salovesh and others; it may be worth
searching on the archive.

>Distinctive lexical items include (in my experience):
>"You-uns" = "you-all" or "you [plural]" [pronounced /jInz/, /j at nz/, /junz/,

And spelled "yinz" and "yunz" in some of the literature.

>"Gum band" = "rubber band"
>"Rift" = "belch"/"burp" [verb]
>The most noticeable grammatical oddity, which is absolutely usual in
>Pittsburgh and freely used even in semiformal writing, is the elision of
>"to be" or equivalent as in:
>"This needs cleaned" = "This needs to be cleaned"
>"I want done with it" = "I want to be/get done with it"
>"My son wants laid" = "My son wants to get laid"
>Borderline cases exist, which are accepted by some but not by all
>Pittsburghers: e.g.,
>(*)"The cat likes petted" = "The cat likes to be petted"

And then there's the opener of Hamlet's soliloquy, in the Pittsburgh
version:  "Or not".  But the deletion is clearly a bit more
context-dependent than that.

>The most distinctive pronunciation oddity is /au/ > /a/, the usual
>Pittsburgh examples being "downtown" /dantan/ ('daantaan' or 'dahntahn')
>and "South Side" /saTsaid/ ('Saath Side' or 'Sahth Side') (a district of
>Pittsburgh). Thus 'power' in Pittsburgh tends to be monosyllabic /par/,
>rhyming with 'far'. This is completely usual. Approximately, Pittsburgh
>'down' = Chicago 'don', while Pittsburgh 'don' = 'dawn' = Chicago 'dawn'.

The [au] > [a] is indeed a real Pittsburgh shibboleth; there are no
other places on the U.S. dialect map from Labov et al. (reprinted in
black-and-white in Wolfram & Schilling-Estes) in which the relevant
diacritic occurs, and the Telsur project URL Doug cites below
contains the assertion "The monophthongization of /aw/ is much less
common [than that of /ay/]; in the United States, it is found in only
one urbanized area: Pittsburgh" but I did notice that some of the
Okracoke Island speakers on Schilling-Estes's "Okracoke Brogue" video
monophthongized their [au]s in a similar way.

>Phonology reference on the Web:
>-- Doug Wilson

Doug doesn't mention another striking Pittsburgh-area trait, the
laxing of high and mid vowels before a rather unusual natural class
consisting of [g] and [l].  The local Pennsylvania pro teams are
sometimes referred to in the local press as the Pittsburgh "Stillers"
and the Philadelphia "Iggles", and a major supermarket chain in
Pittsburgh sometimes promotes itself as the Giant Iggle.  /i/ thus
becomes [i], /e/ becomes [E] (as when you drink Arn City "Ell"), and
/u/ and /o/ merge to [U] ("pool" and "toll" both rhyme with "bull").
The relevant rule and its conditioning factors, phonetic motivation,
and theoretical implications are described in a 1997 U. Mass.
phonology dissertation by Laura Walsh Dickey, "The Phonology of
Liquids" (section, Pittsburgh English, using data from her
field notes).


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