Jawn Talk: The Evolution and Identity of the Philadelphia Accent

Elly Kimreviewed byNataliia Afonina / more about Editorial Process9 min
Created: Jan 26, 2024Last updated: Jan 26, 2024
Philadelphia Accent

It’s always sunny in Philadelphia, and they always use the Philly accent there. Today, we’ll explore this unique dialect of the area, often considered the most prominent accent of US English. Keep reading to explore the roots and origins of the dialect, its unique features, slang terms, and many more exciting things.

What is a Philadelphia Accent: History and Origins

The Philadelphia accent is a distinctive and unique way of speaking that has its roots deeply embedded in the city’s rich history and diverse cultural influences. To truly understand the Philadelphia accent, we want to tell you its history and explore the various factors contributing to its development.

  • The origins of the Philadelphia accent can be traced back to colonial times. As one of the oldest cities in the United States, Philadelphia was a hub of cultural exchange and linguistic interplay during the 18th century. The diverse inflow of settlers and immigrants from different regions of Europe laid the foundation for what we’ll call a Philadelphia accent in the future.
  • Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries, waves of immigrants from Ireland, Italy, and Eastern Europe flocked to Philadelphia, bringing more unique languages and dialects. It also contributed to the phonological features and pronunciations of the modern Philly accent.
  • The industrial boom in the late 19th and early 20th centuries brought about significant urbanization and demographic shifts in Philadelphia. The working-class neighborhoods that emerged during this period shaped the local dialect. The interaction between different communities nearby further molded the distinct features of the accent.

Unlike some other major cities, Philadelphia has maintained a certain resistance to linguistic homogenization. While other urban centers experienced a convergence toward a more standardized accent due to increased communication and media influence, Philadelphia has retained its unique linguistic identity. This resistance is reflected in the city’s distinct vocabulary, pronunciation, and intonation. Let’s explore them in more detail.

How to Talk Like a Philadelphian: Pronunciation Guide

The Philly accent is an exciting and fun way to explore the language. It has many unique features you won’t hear in other American dialects. Today, we want to help you master these intricacies and sound like a local in Philadelphia. So, what should you know about Philadelphia accent words and their pronunciation?

Vowels

This is one of the most prominent features of the Philly accent. Locals change the vowels in words, making them sound entirely different from General American pronunciation. There are many examples, but we’ll explore a few common ones.

  • Rounding the Os. 

The first thing to remember when learning how to speak Philadelphia is the o sound. Locals pronounce the words like “on” and “don” more like “oawn” and “doawn.” In some cases, they even use the [ah] sound, turning the words into “ahn” and “dahn.”

  • Canadian rising. 

Another prominent feature of Philly pronunciation is the Canadian rising, when the speaker elongates a simple vowel and turns it into a diphthong. You can hear it in the words “fight,” “price,” and “like.”

  • The case of “water.”

If, at some point in your life, you’ll need to find out whether the person is Philadelphian, ask them to say the word “water.” You can easily find out their origins depending on what you hear. Philadelphians usually use the schwa sound, the same one as in the words “support” and “banana” when they say “water.” As a result, you hear something like “wooder,” which might be confusing sometimes.

  • Shortening the vowels before the “g.”

In words like “bagels” or “eagles,” you can hear the sound shift, turning them into “igls” (as in “giggles”) and “begls.” This is another unique and prominent feature of the Philadelphia pronunciation.

Consonants

The change of consonants in the Philadelphia accent is not as prominent as in the case of vowels. However, there are still some unique features peculiar to this dialect. Let’s explore them together.

  • R-sounds.

Mostly, the Philadelphia accent is rhotic, meaning that they pronounce every r-letter in the sound (and sometimes, even when there is no “r” at all). However, in some regions, like in Southern Philadelphia, the accent is considered non-rhotic, resulting in dropping the rs.

  • Other consonants. 

The last pronunciation feature on our list is the dropping of letters in the Philadelphia accent. It is very widespread and can be heard in different words. Some examples include “mus-sard” for “mustard,” “fil-del-fia” for Philadelphia, and “sawf” for “soft.”

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Philadelphia Pronunciations in Action: Common Slang Terms

In addition to unique pronunciation, Philadelphian people have tons of great slang phrases and expressions worthy of your attention. Of course, we can’t leave you without some exciting examples. Below, you can find the list of the most popular slang terms from Philadelphia.

  • Jawn – a thing or person.

This word is the ultimate all-purpose noun in Philadelphia, representing anything and everything. It can fill in the blanks when you can’t quite find the right word. For example:

Yo, pass me that jawn over there.

Did you see that new jawn they just released? It’s fire!

  • Hoagie – sub sandwich.

While the rest of the world might call it a sub or a hero, it’s a hoagie in Philly. Packed with various meats, cheeses, and toppings, it’s a symbol of local culinary pride. For example:

I could go for a classic Italian hoagie right about now.

You can’t visit Philly without trying a hoagie from a legit deli.

  • Wit/Witout – with or without (onions).

When ordering a cheesesteak, you’re faced with the crucial decision of whether you want onions (wit) or without onions (witout). For example:

I’ll take a cheesesteak wit, please.

Nah, I’m going witout today. Keep it simple.

  • Bul – male person.

This term, also pronounced as “boul” and “bol,” is a Philly way of referring to a male person. For example:

What’s up, bul? Long time no see!

Me and my buls are heading down the shore this weekend.

  • Youse Guys – plural form of ‘you.’

In Philly, addressing a group of people requires a special touch. Instead of a simple “you,” the phrase “youse guys” adds a touch of local flavor. For example:

Youse guys coming to the game tonight?

I told youse guys not to sleep on that new pizza joint.

  • Down the Shore – going to the beach.

Philadelphia may not have its own coastline, but that doesn’t stop locals from heading “down the shore” to enjoy the Atlantic Ocean. It’s a quintessential Philly summer experience. For example:

I can’t wait for the weekend – we’re going down the shore!

Down the shore, the sun’s shining, and the water’s perfect.

  • Jabroni – Fool or idiot.

Made famous by The Rock in wrestling circles, jabroni has found a home in Philadelphia slang. It’s a slightly offensive term describing someone who’s acting foolish or being overly competitive. For example:

Don’t be a jabroni; get your act together.

I can’t believe he said that. What a jabroni move.

Bonus! Exploring Philadelphia Accents in Pop Culture

In the previous list, we’ve mentioned The Rock using Philly slang during his WWE era. However, it is not the only time the Philadelphia accent slipped into pop culture. There are many more examples, and, for kicks and giggles, we’ll tell you about some of them.

  • Sylvester Stallone’s portrayal of the iconic boxer, Rocky Balboa, in the “Rocky” film series is perhaps one of the most famous depictions of the Philadelphia accent. Although the actor is from New York, we personally believe that he nailed Philly’s dialect.
  • The Philadelphia local Will Smith brought his unique West Philly accent in the Fresh Prince of Bell-Air sitcom. It is another great example of this dialect in pop culture.
  • Toni Colette, despite being Australian, nailed the Philly accent playing Lynn Sear in the Sixth Sense movie. This should be your go-to choice if you want to watch something truly exciting and hear the accurate dialect.

These are only a few cases of Philly accent in movies and sitcoms. Moreover, many famous people speak like Philadelphians in real life. For example, Kevin Bacon, who was born in PA, has never got rid of his accent. Just like Rodney Anonymous, the lead singer of the Dead Milkman, also known for using the Philly dialect.

Nail the Philly Accent with Promova

While mastering a unique English accent can be highly beneficial for general knowledge, you need to understand that it won’t be enough to reach fluency in the language. There are many factors you need to focus on, including speaking, reading, writing, and listening skills. 

But don’t worry! With the help of proper resources, you can achieve both fluency and the ability to speak using different accents. That is why we want to introduce you to Promova – an international language-learning platform that can help you reach your goals. Here’s what you can count on:

  1. Personal and group lessons with professional tutors. Depending on your personal preferences, you can either join group classes with fellow students or choose a one-on-one option for a more personalized experience.
  2. Free Conversation club. For those aiming to practice speaking and listening skills, Promova offers a free conversation club. You can join it to discuss exciting topics and hear the thoughts of other language learners.
  3. Convenient Promova app. If you prefer studying on your own, say no more! The Promova application is a great choice for mastering language anywhere, and anytime you want. It has tons of useful materials created by true professionals. And the best part is that here you can study not only English but also German, French, Spanish, Korean, and other foreign languages.

To access all the features of Promova, you need to pass a quick to determine your fluency level and studying preferences. It will help us create a personalized course tailored to your specific needs. And if you’re still hesitating, you can always use the free trial option to visit a personal lesson with a tutor and give Promova a try.

Conclusion

To sum up, we can say that the Philly dialect is probably one of the most prominent and recognizable accents of American English. Its pronunciation features and exciting slang expressions show the unique beauty of the area. We hope that today’s article helped you to understand and memorize some nuances of the accent. See youse guys in the next one!

FAQ

Can understanding how to do a Philadelphia accent help me improve my English fluency?

Although studying it can be an interesting and potentially beneficial endeavor, it’s essential to approach it with a nuanced understanding. Accents are a reflection of regional linguistic variations. And while acquiring a specific accent may not necessarily enhance your overall fluency, it can certainly contribute to your language proficiency and cultural awareness.

Are there any tips to master the Philly accent?

Sure thing! The best way to learn the Philly accent is by listening actively to people who speak it. It can include watching movies, TV shows, or videos featuring characters from the region. Pay attention to the pronunciation of vowels, consonants, and unique intonation patterns. After that, try to imitate native speakers by mimicking their speech. Repeat phrases and sentences after native speakers to practice your pronunciation.

What is the difference between Philly words accents and Midwestern accents?

The Midwestern accent is typically considered the closest to the General American accent, making it quite common in terms of pronunciation. The Philly accent, on the other hand, has more unique features, such as vowel shifts, dropping consonants, etc. However, both dialects still have their slang terms and expressions.

What are the examples of other English accents in the US?

The United States is a diverse country, so there is no wonder why it contains so many dialects within the same language. The most common examples include the NYC accent, Boston accent, Midwestern accent, Southern California accent, and much more.

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