English is the most widely spoken language in the U.S., but that doesn’t mean that all Americans speak the same dialect. In fact, traveling through the country can showcase vastly different phrases that may sound foreign and incomprehensible to people from different regions of the U.S. The continental U.S. may have as many as 24 different English language dialects that move far beyond simple accent differences.
In general, the United States divides into northeastern, southeastern, midwestern, western, and southwestern regions. Within these main geographic regions lie numerous subdivisions that produce distinctive English language dialects.
* Eastern New England – In the upper northeastern corner of the country, the eastern New England dialect is famous for dropping their “r’s” and pronouncing “a’s” with an “ah” sound.
* Upper Midwestern – The northern tier of states along the Mississippi River and the Great Lakes has a marked German and Scandinavian heritage, as well as influence from Canadians just north of the border. People living in this region usually have a pronounced Midwestern twang as they speak.
* Pacific Southwest – This region was originally populated by gold miners, so a number of gold rush phrases are still part of the dialect today. People often say that they hit “pay dirt” to describe an important discovery, or they say that something “panned out” if it worked well.
* Southwestern – The Mexican influence is strong in this region, so Spanish words are a common part of the language. Typical words of the dialect include “cantina,” “plaza,” and “ramada.”
* Southern – People living in the southeastern region of the United States have a heavy southern accent. The accent predominantly drops the “r’s” at the ends of words. Common words of the region include “buggy” (shopping cart), and “mash” (slang for push).
Although travel can become confusing because of different English language dialects, try friendly questions if you don’t understand words or phrases. Most people will be happy to explain the meaning behind their words.