A quick overview of American slang and dialects

Would y’all know the difference between youse and you guys?

US vs. UK

English is the native language in numerous countries worldwide, from several Caribbean islands to Australia. But perhaps the two most dominant Englishes in the world today are British English and American English.

Today we’re going to focus on the U S of A. American English has become extremely dominant in the last fifty years due to the worldwide success of American film and television and the explosion of internet business, whose main centers of innovation are in the west coast of the United States.

How to spot an American speaker

Whilst UK and US English may have more overall similarities than differences (they’re still the same language after all), American English has its own references, sounds and cultural significance. And these differences reflect the variations in culture and custom between the US and the UK.

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Here are a few key American slang phrases that can help you:

  • Y’all/you guys – used to refer to two or more people in the second person.
  • Sucker – someone easily fooled/persuaded/impressed: i.e. “I’m a sucker for a good bargain”.
  • For real – speaking truthfully/honestly; can also be a synonym for ‘genuinely’ or used the same was British speakers would use ‘really’ {i.e. I’m really sorry/ I’m sorry, for real]
  • Bail – to leave in a hurry, to get out of something (often awkward/difficult).
  • Bounce – also to leave, to get going.
  • The holidays – Christmas and the Christmas period.
  • Dough/green/bucks/bills/smackers – money.

people talking american slang

Major regional differences

America is a huge place and, as we all know from our own native languages, the way a language sounds can vary even from village to village. Every city or region has its particular sounds and defining features.

Eastern New England English

This describes the classic “Boston Accent” (see the following section for some good examples). It also refers to related accents in Eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Maine, Eastern New Hampshire and Eastern Connecticut. Many of these regions retain elements of middle or early-modern English sounds.

The most important feature of this is non-rhoticity: unlike other American accents, New Englanders drop the “r” at the end of syllables. Hence the famous phrase “pahk yuh cahr in hahvuhd yahd” (Park your car in Harvard Yard).

New York City English

One of the more famous American accents, the classic “New Yorkese” has been immortalized by films and actors (see many of Martin Scorsese’s works, “Goodfellas,”; or indeed Woody Allen), TV shows (“All in the Family,” “Seinfeld,” “King of Queens”) and plays (“A View from the Bridge,” “Lost in Yonkers,” “Guys and Dolls”). Like the Boston accent, there’s no-rhoticity (lack of definition of the ‘r’), plus a few irregularities. In New York City the rules for vowel sounds are a little complex.

The short-a in words like cat, mad, can’t and last are sometimes pronounced tensely (slightly higher in the mouth) while other words are pronounced laxly (lower in the mouth). The vowel in words like thought, north and dog are pronounced “thaw-uht,” “naw-uht” and “daw-uhg”.

Inland/Mountain Southern

This is perhaps the most commonly spoken Southern dialect today, sometimes perceived as more guttural. You hear this accent amongst Appalachian natives, Texans, Tennesseans and many others. It’s a little different from the ‘classic’ (rather historical) southern accent that you might have seen in movies set in the ‘Deep South’ in the early twentieth century. Some key pointers:

  • Words ending in -in, -en, -im and -em are pronounced with the same vowel (this is why when somebody from this region says “Ben” is sounds a bit like “bin” to a Northerner).
  • The vowel in words like thought and dog change and tend to be pretty low.
  • The oo sound in goose and the long o in words like goat tend to be pronounced more forward in the mouth.

Article related: Five key American slang phrases

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