North American Dialects and Fonetik Speling

09 May 2013

There is an interesting meme making the rounds of Facebook this week. It is a map of North American English Dialects, Based on Pronunciation Patterns. Rick Aschmann operates a website,, that includes a lot of genealogy information. His interest in dialects has led him to find some very interesting data.  Thus, he created the page with the map, and a whole lot of other useful information as well.

According to Aschmann, there are eight dialects in North America:

  • Canada
  • Northern New England
  • The North
  • Greater New York City
  • The Midland
  • The South
  • North Central
  • The West

These regions do not necessarily conform to generally accepted locations. For example, Boston is included in the Northern New England dialect, while the entire Commonwealth of Massachusetts is geographically located in Southern New England. There is a small map, and then a full-scale version that is much easier to read. It allows you to get in and see subsections of the regions, as well localized versions of dialects.


North American English Dialects Map


The next section is a Dialect Description Chart. This chart explains the dialects. The eight regions are divided into subsections and sub-subsections (such as the St. Louis Corridor, a subsection of the Inland North, which is a subsection of the North). There are some interesting  observations, such as making Downtown New Orleans a subsection of Greater New York City. The chart is cross referenced to the maps, so you can easily move back and forth.

He then provides a Guide to the Sounds of North American English. He explains the phonemic guide employed on his site, and why he used it. He asks the question “How many vowels are there in American English?” Then he moves on to explain the difference between the vowel letters (a,e,i.o, and u) and vowel sounds, of which there are 16. He then goes on to illustrate those sounds. This is followed by a discussion of the 24 consonant sounds.

At the bottom are audio samples of many local dialects. A number of them are YouTube videos of famous peoples: singers, politicians, actors, such as Alison Kraus, Jimmy Carter Jack Kemp, Clint Eastwood, Alicia Silverstone, Merv Griffin, and Bill Elliott.

Just before this section, however, is a part of particular interest to genealogists. Aschmann includes a section where words are spelled phonetically. For example:

“Awl əv thə sowndz wee hav awlredee diskust aar shohn in thə chaarts bəloh. Thee ohnlee speshəl kairəktər yoo stil haf tə mes withh iz “ə” and thats not too haard tə kopee intə yər tekst. Thee ohnlee thhing not in theez chaarts thət iy səjest yoo doo iz tə riyt thə fiynəl ‘s’ sownd az “ss” tə keep peepəl frəm thhingking its a ‘z’ sownd. Thair aar too igzampəlz əv this in thə nekst pairəgraf.”

This is exactly how many of our ancestors wrote. Their spelling was based on what they heard, not from any standard education in English grammar and spelling. Understanding the dialect of a particular area my help you to interpret original records of the time, especially those written by individuals with less education. This site can be a great help to you with this.