Essay About Regional Dialect Variation

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Settlement patterns and development of American regional dialects

3. A geographical overview
3.1 The Northern dialect region
3.2 The Midland dialect region
3.3 The Southern dialect region
3.4 The Western dialect region

4. Morphosyntactic features of American regional dialects
4.1 Verb phrases
4.2 Noun phrases, possessives, and pronouns
4.3 Adverbs
4.4 Negation

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Introduction

This term paper will provide a geographical overview of the main dialect regions of the United States and primarily focus on morphosyntactic variations in American regional dialects that can be found in the United States.

Present regional dialects of the U.S. reflect the experiences of explorers and settlers on the Atlantic Seaboard, of Western pioneers who followed them, and of late immigrants who enriched the society as they moved across the country. The dialects echo cultural relations of American geography.

There are five coastal centers which most American dialects developed from during the Westward Movement: Philadelphia, Boston, Tidewater Virginia, Charleston and Richmond. Settlement patterns are measured to be one of the most influential factors in explaining dialect regions. Considering social, physical, and linguistic geography, modern dialect study suggests four major dialect areas in the United States: Northern, Midland, Southern, and Western. These regions can be subdivided further into smaller dialect regions. The settlement pattern of early settlers and the history of regional dialects will be discussed in section 2 of this paper. I will further give a geographical overview of the major dialect regions before I will look closer at the morphosyntactic features the dialects have in common and the differences that set them apart from each other.

Although morphosyntactic variations in American dialects are the main focus of this term paper, I will, nevertheless, consider the influence of social factors when it comes to dialects. Often it is not clear to find out what kind of variations are due to regional or social factors. Information and thoughts on this issue will be presented in the conclusion of this work.

2. Settlement patterns and development of American regional dialects

One of the most evident explanation why there are dialects is deep-rooted in the settlement pattern of speakers in a specified region. The earliest English-speaking inhabitants of America came from different parts of the British Isles at the beginning of the seventeenth century. Immigration groups came from different dialect areas in their mother country and tended to settle down in different parts of America. Settling America, British immigrants established communities in different regions of the East Coast of the United States. Many emigrants from south-eastern England settled in Eastern New England and Tidewater Virginia whereas settlers from Northern and Western parts of England took up residence in the New Jersey and Delaware area. Scotch-Irish immigrants coming from Ulster situated themselves in Western New England, upper New York, and parts of Appalachia.

European immigrants brought their language and cultural distinctiveness with them and thus, formed contrasting groups. As mentioned in the introduction, the first major centers founded by immigrants, were Boston in Massachusetts, Philadelphia in Delaware, the Tidewater area of Virginia, Charleston in West-Virginia and Richmond, Virginia. From these centers, the population headed westward in a way that is still reflected in the dialect formation of the U.S. today. The Virginia settlers preserved Old World traditions with a dependence on the cultural resources of their mother country whereas the Massachusetts colonists brought a revolutionary spirit into the New World and a determination to create a culture according to their beliefs that had been the driving force to leave their mother country. According to The Cambridge History of the English Language“these social facts stand on the base of the primary regional division of American Speech, Southern and Northern” (Algeo 2001: 296). While expanding westward, the settlers of America had to face natural boundaries such as mountains, lakes, rivers and valleys that determined the routes they took and were they settled.

When it comes to the development of American dialects, major rivers like the Ohio and Mississippi played a central role, as the British and other Europeans created inland networks of commerce and communication. It is therefore no accident that a major East-West dialect boundary runs along the course of the Ohio River. On the other hand, the Mississippi River, running a North-South route, deflected the westward movement of Midland populations.

In the U.S of today, there are four regional divisions that are due to the immigration groups in the East and Southeast of the U.S having shared different cultural backgrounds and geographical conditions influencing settlement patterns: The Northern and Southern dialect regions of America emerged from the above mentioned primary settlements in the Eastern U.S. Originating in the seventeenth century they reflect the Puritan (Massachusetts) and Royalist (Virginia, Carolinas) division in England.

The Midland and Western dialects are the result of secondary settlements to the South and West with the beginning of the Westward Movement. The speech of the Midland originated in Pennsylvania and developed with the Westward Movement in the eighteenth century as an extension from the Northern area. The Midland area shows significant influence by the Pennsylvania speech concerning the English spoken in the Northern and Southern States. In contrast to the Northern area that was characterized by its predominantly English sources, the Midland area became home of a large number of German settlers in its early development. It was also known to have a comparatively strong Irish and Scottish influence and a weaker English one than the Northern and Southern regions. West of the Mississippi River, the Western speech area developed in the nineteenth century, following the Louisiana Purchase. The Western territory was delimited before the outbreak of the Civil War in 1861. With the exception of the State of Missouri, all American English spoken in the Western states today, remained to be a mixture of Northern and Midland dialect.

3. A geographical overview

3.1 The Northern dialect area

As the Northern region was the first land to be settled by Europeans, the oldest and most influential dialect patterns can be found in this region which extends from Maine to Northern Pennsylvania in the East and reaches beyond the Mississippi River across Northern Iowa, Minnesota, and North and South Dakota.

John Algeo divides the Northern Speech area into six major subdivisions: (1) north eastern New England including the states Maine, New Hampshire, and eastern Vermont, (2) south-eastern New England (the Boston focal area), (3) metropolitan New York and its surrounding, (4) south-western New England (Western Massachusetts, Connecticut and the north-central Pennsylvania), (5) the Hudson Valley (South Central New York and north-eastern Pennsylvania), and (6) the Inland North (western Vermont, Upstate New York, and derivatives spread across the Midwest beneath the Great Lakes and beyond the Mississippi into Iowa, Minnesota, and the Dakotas).

The New England English, the primary source of the Northern dialects, has remained stable for a long time and is still regarded the purest English spoken in the U.S. today.

The so called focal areas of Boston and New York City can be considered major regional dialect areas in itself, that are characterized by specific speech habits, and heavily influence the speech of the surrounding areas because of cultural, commercial, political and other factors.


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