LINGUIST List 11.2515

Tue Nov 21 2000

Sum: North American Dialect Regions

Editor for this issue: Marie Klopfenstein <>


  1. Robin Belvin, North American Dialect Regions

Message 1: North American Dialect Regions

Date: Fri, 17 Nov 2000 13:51:35 -0800
From: Robin Belvin <>
Subject: North American Dialect Regions

Dear Linguists,
 Long, long ago (February), in a Linguist List posting not very
far away, I posted the following query about dialect regions
in the U.S. and Canada. I am finally posting the summary.
I have included at the beginning my own summary based
on responses and a little of my own reading, and following
this I have included most of the actual responses. I note
in passing that, while I posted a query about North
American dialects of French and English (i.e. U.S. and
Canada), I received a number of very helpful responses
about the dialects of Canada, and very few about the U.S.
(though thanks to those who did offer comments about
U.S. English). Therefore there is much more in the following
about Canadian dialects than U.S. dialects.

Thanks again to all the respondants,
Robert Belvin

***************MY ORIGINAL Query********************

First, is there a consensus among dialectologists on
what the major dialect areas are for North American English?
I have a NIST spoken language corpus which identifies eight
(New England, Northern, North Midland, South Midland,
Southern, NYC, Western and 'Army Brat' (i.e. transient)),
and I would be interested in knowing how widely
held this rough division of areas is.

Second, which if any of the Canadian (English) dialect
regions can be lumped into one of the US regions?

Third, is Canadian French relatively uniform, or are there
distinct dialect regions comparable to those which exist
among North American English speakers?

******************MY SUMMARY************************

*Summary of English dialect regions in the USA*

The seven main dialect regions identified in the NIST corpus
 are fairly widely agreed upon, though one could obviously
make finer-grained distinctions (e.g. distinguishing Brooklyn
from Manhattan, California from the rest of Western, etc.).
Nobody had ever heard of "Army brat" as a term used for


*Summary of English and French dialect regions in Canada*

Canadian French:
There are 3 major dialects which correspond roughly to
geographical regions:

- Acadian French, spoken along the Atlantic seabord, in
several small areas of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and
Newfoundland and a somewhat larger area in New Brunswick.

- Quebec French, with Quebec city and Montreal as the main
centers; though Acadian French and other smaller dialectal
varieties exist in Quebec, Papen (98:160) reports that 85%
of the population of Quebec province have QF as their mother
tongue. (Also the French in Labrador is close to Quebec

- Western varieties, spread over smaller communities in
Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta; Papen remarks
that although there are three sources of French for the
western dialects (M�tis, European immigrants and migrating
Quebecois), the majority of the influence comes from Quebec.

The situation is more complicated then this, of course,
because people have moved around and there is social
stratification which has resulted in there being variation
within a given area depending on a given speaker's education
and family background. As with North American English, there
is a standard dialect (based on educated Quebec French) as
well as the colloquial dialects, which the foregoing
tripartite division mostly comprises. The standard dialect
is apparently very uniform all across the country, and is
fairly close to Standard European French (what is sometimes
called "Metropolitan French").

In addition to this there are several other distinct but much
smaller speech communities; several linguists mentioned
Gasp�sie (in some areas of the Gasp� peninsula) and La
Beauce as important.


Canadian English

There appear to be three major English dialects in Canada,
again roughly corresponding to geographical areas (I haven't
gotten as much info. on this as for French):

Newfoundland (centered around St. John's)

Ottawa valley (centered around Ottawa)

Western (including Ontario and the western provinces)

There is some variation within the western areas, and again,
it will vary considerably between socio-economic
groups; the tripartite distinction just noted applies
primarily to colloquial English. Also like Canadian French,
there is really only one standard dialect. J.K. Chambers,
who everyone seems to regard as the expert in this area

"Standard Canadian English is heard in cities and towns from
sea to sea with virtually no variation. This is not to say
that CE lacks variation, only that standard CE does.
Canadians who are not (at least) second-generation, middle-
class city-dwellers have varied accents." ("English:
Canadian varieties" in J.Edwards, op.cit, p. 254).

Again, the responses I got from linguists responding to my
query mostly agree with the articles I looked at, though I
have not yet been able to confirm that there is a consensus
on the tripartite distinction given above; the only thing
that everyone really clearly agrees on is that: 1. Standard
CE is VERY uniform, 2. Colloquial Newfoundland English is
very different than the colloquial dialects of
the rest of the country.

Chambers, J. K. (1998) "English: Canadian varieties," in
John Edwards' (ed.) Language in Canada (Cambridge U.Press).
Papen, Robert A. (1998) "French: Canadian varieties," in
John Edwards' (ed.) Language in Canada (Cambridge U.Press).

************INDIVIDUAL RESPONSES****************

Annik Foreman

With regards to your posting on the Linguist List about North
American dialect regions, your divisions seem to be fairly
widely held, except for the 'army brat' classification,
which I've never heard before. However, it seems to depend
somewhat on whether or not a linguist is looking at
phonological or lexical criteria, since lexical criteria
comes out with slightly different (but not vastly different)
boundaries from phonological criteria. The Dictionary of
Regional American English (Carver, 1987 I think) is pretty
close but not identical to Labov's phonological atlas of
North America (1996).

Canadian English has generally been divided into only two or
three regions - Newfoundland, the Ottawa Valley and whatever
remains is lumped together. Whether or not it is really
that homogeneous is questionable, though. Warkentyne (in a
book called Focus on Canada) has found evidence of /ae/
backing in the Vancouver region, and there is some evidence
from a 1992 study by Gaelan De Wolf that Canadian raising
(the raising of the first element of the diphthongs /ai/ and
/au/) is becoming divided according to region. There is
more evidence of Canadian raising maintenance in the West
than in the East (Ottawa area). There is also currently a
vowel shift underway in Canadian English which is quite
similar to a vowel shift underway in California English (see
papers by Sandra Clarke 1995 and Luthin 198-).

Sang Seong

See: Labov, Atlas of North American English, Mouton de
Gruyter (to appear)
(I've been checking for this; it's not out yet -RSB)

Marc Picard

As a native speaker of both Canadian English and Canadian
French though by no means a dialectologist, I can only give
you a general idea of the situation. First, concerning CE,
I'd have to say it's pretty much identical to Northern US
speech almost everywhere except parts of the Maritimes,
especially Newfoundland. CE is remarkably uniform so that
you generally can't tell where anybody comes from. The
recognized expert in this area is J. K. (Jack) Chambers whom
you could probably reach at the University of Toronto.

For CF, I'd have to say impressionistically that there are
five major dialect areas. There's Acadia, the Gasp�sie,
Beauce and Saguenay-Lac St-Jean regions, and then pretty
much everything west of Qu�bec City with Montr�al as the
epicenter. for an overview of the linguistic situation in
Canada, take a look at John Edwards' (ed.) Language in
Canada (CUP, 1998).

Marie-Lucie Tarpent

There are three major varieties:
- Acadian French, spoken along the Atlantic: in several
small areas of Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and
Newfoundland and a somewhat larger area in New Brunswick.
NS and NB are the area of oldest French settlement starting
in the early 1600's. Most of the settlers came from the
area of France along the Atlantic, south of the Loire
(Poitou-Vendee-Saintonge). There is a vast marshy area
there and the settlers were used to making dikes and
reclaiming salt meadows as they had to do in Acadia. NS
French was disrupted by the Expulsion of the Acadians in
1755. Some of them went to Louisiana and stayed there --
the Cajuns -- but many of the other survivors eventually
came back to NS, although they could not regain the lands
they had before and there was a new mix of the French
population, including some who had hid among the MicMaq
population and intermarried there. So the dialectal
situation is quite complex, as well as preserving traits
from the French provinces of origin.
- Quebec: there was a lot of settlement in the St Lawrence
Valley during the reign of Louis XIV, and people came from
an area further north than the Acadians and more inland
(mostly Normandy and Ile-de-France). Again, current speech
preserves a lot of traits which were typical of those
regions at the time, even if they are no longer present
there. However there are some typically Quebecois
developments, some of them due to the influence of English
but not all.
- Western varieties: deriving mostly from migration of
Quebecois towards the west. There are small communities in
Ontario, Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta. I don't know
much about them although i have heard them speak while i was
travelling west.

As well, you may know that there is a small French
population in Vermont and Maine, dating from before the
American Revolution, and also a presence in Massachusetts
since many Acadians and Quebecois went to work in industry
there in the 19th century. And nowadays Florida hears a lot
of French as many Quebecois go to winter there.

- I may add that although educated Quebec French is not very
different from educated Metropolitan (not "Parisian")

Doug Walker

In response to your questions on Linguist, I can offer the
following comments on Canadian French. CF is, in the
opinion of many, surprisingly uniform, given its sources and
history since settlement. There are distinct variants, but
they do not divide themselves into nicely differentiated or
discrete regional differences (for the most part--La Beauce
being one classic exception). Many of the distinctions are
lexical rather than phonological (even the well-known
differences involving the pronunciation of 'r' or
diphthongization have broken down). It is often said that
social variation outweighs the geographic variation (as the
many debates over 'joual' seem to indicate). One excellent
starting place to look for further information is the
article by Thomas Lavoie, "Le fran�ais qu�b�cois" in P.
Gauther and T. Lavoie, eds., Fran�ais de France et fran�ais
du Canada. Les parlers de l'Ouest de la France, du Qu�bec et
de l'Acadie, Lyon, Universit� Lyon III Jean Moulin, 1995.
(The bibliography dealing with this issue is very large and
still expanding rapidly.)

As for Canadian English, I have no firm information here,
but would impressionistically resist attempts at
cross-border 'lumping'. For references, check the work by
J.K Chambers at the University of Toronto.

- ---------------------------------------------------------------
Robert Belvin Loc MA Bldg 254 M/S RL69
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