Not all Americans sound the same. You’ll hear very different American accents in the east, south, central and western United States.
Some accents are subtle. Sometimes they can be hard to understand.
We’ll break down the distinct pronunciation and vocabulary of different American accents. And hey! Maybe you’ll be able to do a New York or southern American accent after reading this article.
- New England Accent
- Boston Accent
- Maine Accent
- New York Accent
- Philadelphia Accent
- Southern Accent
- Midwestern Accent
- Californian Accent
- Hawaiian Accent
- Pacific Northwest Accent
- High Tider Accent
- Cajun Accent
Accents in America
From Maine to Hawaii, American accents can vary a lot. Most Americans can understand all the different accents.
American accents signal where in the country a person is from. Our list doesn’t include every single accent in the US, much less the English-speaking ones. Also, not everyone from the same place sounds the same. Different accents are found across cultural communities, generations and socioeconomic backgrounds. Everybody has a unique way of speaking and the degree to which they take on the local accent varies by individual.
The US is a big country. To keep it all straight, we put together an American accent map to help visualize where you might hear them.
Different American Accents
We’ll start with the American accents from the eastern part of the United States.
The New England or Boston accent can be heard in movies like Good Will Hunting and a few film classics. It’s famous for its less round, more nasal pronunciation of words like park /pak/, car /ka/ and yard /yad/.
A sentence like “Park the car in Harvard yard.” would sound like: /pak tha ka in Havad yad/
People in this region like to say “wicked” to mean awesome or to give emphasis.
The Maine accent is very unique and not easily replicated. It flattens out some vowels. The vowels in “year” or “hard” will be pronounced more like the vowel in “air” /εr/: /yεr/ and /hεrd/.
You might also hear the “s” and “z” consonants change to a “sh” sound. Instead of “I spent my days” it might sound like /I shpent muh daysh/.
The New York accent has very rounded “a” and “o” vowels.
So words like father, daughter and coffee, are pronounced very distinctly. New Yorkers pronounce the vowel in “father” and “hot” the same, but these vowels sound more like the /ͻr/ sound in “oar” and “court.”
- Father /fͻr tha/
- Coffee /kͻr fee/
- Daughter /dͻr ta/
New Yorkers say “fuhgeddaboudit” (forget about it) as one single word.
The Philadelphia or “Philly” accent also has distinct vowel pronunciation. The “a” vowel in words like “water” will sound a bit more like a schwa sound.
The schwa /Ə/ sound is found in words like “support” /sƏ port/and “banana” /bƏ na nƏ/. Philadelphians will say “water” /wƏ der/.
They’ll also shorten words and phrases.
- /Jeet?/ = Did you eat?
- /Fridee/ = Friday
- /krowns/ = crayons
The American accents of the southern United States can vary a lot. From Texas to Georgia and up to the Carolinas, southern accents range from nasal to smooth. Here are some common things you’ll hear.
The southern accent is slower. They will prolong vowel sounds of words and often turn monophthongs into diphthongs. In these examples, the southern accent ads the schwa /Ə/ sound in “support” to make a diphthong:
- Hat → /ha Ə t/
- Have → /ha Ə v/
- Pet → /pe Ə t/
Southerners like to say things like “y’all” and “howdy.” (Howdy! Do y’all have a pet?)
The midwestern accent is heard in movies like Fargo. This accent will change a number of short vowels.
- “Bat” changes to a diphthong and sounds like /bee at/
- The rounded “bought” /bͻt/ (like “law”) flattens out and sounds like “ah” /baht/
“I bought a bat” sounds like /I baht a bee at/.
Midwesterns like to say “you betcha” and “doncha know?”
The California accent It’s not the stereotypical “valley girl” accent that is often joked about.
Californians also like to say “dude” and in the Bay Area “hella” to mean a lot. Hella cool, dude.
Hawaii has Hawaiian pidgin. It is a type of creole that developed from native Hawaiian language and English.
Sentences may be shorter and words may be omitted. The “th” sound will often be pronounced “d” or “t’.
“You go on this side on three” sounds like “Go dis side on t’ree.”
In Hawaii, they like to say “shaka”, which means cool or great.
The Pacific Northwest stretches along the Northwestern coastline of Oregon and people say there’s no specific accent. But that’s not true, the accent is similar to the Canadian and Californian way of speaking.
Apart from that, there are many indigenous cultures. 49 tribes speak the Chinook Jargon.
So what’s the Pacific Northwest accent like? For example, speakers pronounce the vowels in “cot” and “caught” exactly the same. The most famous speaker is probably Bill Gates. Have a listen:
High Tider Accent
The High Tider accent is only spoken on the Outer Banks of North Carolina in the US. It is a mix of English, Scottish and Irish dialects and is only spoken by approximately 950 people in total. Most of the people live on an island called Ocracoke, that’s why this dialect is also called Ocracoke Bogue.
Cajun English is mostly spoken in southern Louisiana, in the area of Acadiana. Cajuns are descendants of French settlers who moved to Acadia which is a Canadian area. Many of those people left to move to Louisiana and took their accent with them.
What is special about this accent is its similarity to French syntax and some French vocabulary that’s used in everyday speech. For example, a Cajun speaker would say:
She’s really fâché right now. (She’s really angry right now).
American Accents, dude
American accents are all about where you are from. A great way to start a conversation and make new friends is by asking, “Where is your accent from?”
People are proud of their accent and their roots. Knowing different American accents will help you fit right into American culture.
Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.