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The Philadelphia Dialect

"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 well studied. Linguists have been able to confirm through studies of Philadelphia and other urban centers that not only are dialects alive and well in America, 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 the true Southern dialects. Philadelphian is classified by these linguists as a North Midland dialect. Other researchers, notably Craig Carver, recognize only 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', including before consonants and at the end of words. Philadelphia and Baltimore are two of the only major port cities of the Atlantic coast to retain the 'r' in these 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 the end of words, pronounced at the back of the mouth rather than the front, 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 indistinct, 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" respectively.
  • 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 distributions 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 the '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 of the 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 on the web. Each of these titles is available through mail-order, or your local bookstore can order a copy for you.

  • A Grammar of the Philadelphia Dialect (1995)
  • The Philadelphia Dialect Dictionary (1996)

    Pricing and other information for these titles is available from the Evolution Publishing page at Books in American Dialectology.


    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 Speech 19:37-42

    Tucker, R. Whitney, 1964. "More on the Philadelphia Dialect." American Speech 39:157-158.

    If you can't get a hold of the journal American Speech, then consult the section on Pennsylvania in H.L. Mencken's American Language, 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 distributions among various age groups, ethnic groups, and neighborhoods:

    Lebofsky, Dennis Stanley. 1970. The Lexicon of the Philadelphia Metropolitan Area. PhD. dissertation, Princeton University.

    Web Links

    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.

    Also of interest is a page with instructions on how to talk like a Fluffyian, and Jim Quinn's article on PhillySpeak from a 1997 article in Philadelphia Magazine.

    And for those of you who want to see how people from other cities mangle the King's English, browse the links in the American Dialect Homepage.

    Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

    If you know of any localisms that might be of interest to the readers of our page, let me know, and I'll put them up on a feedback page.

    This site written and maintained by Claudio Salvucci

    Last modified 5/7/02.