Pacific Northwest English
Pacific Northwest English (also known, in the United States, as Northwest English) is a variety of North American English, and is geographically defined within the U.S. states of Washington and Oregon, sometimes including Idaho and the Canadian province of British Columbia. The area contains a highly diverse and mobile population, which is reflected in the historical and continuing development of the variety. Current studies remain inconclusive about whether Pacific Northwest English is a complete dialect of its own, separate from Western American English or even California English and Standard Canadian English, with which it appears to share its major phonological features.
The linguistic traits that flourish throughout the Pacific Northwest attest to a culture that transcends boundaries. Historically, this hearkens back to the early years of colonial expansion by the British and Americans, when the entire region was considered a single area and people of all different mother tongues and nationalities used Chinook Jargon (along with English and French) to communicate with each other. Until the Oregon Treaty of 1846, it was identified as being either Oregon Country (by the Americans) or Columbia (by the British). As a result of the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush, the culture of the Pacific Northwest expanded northward into Yukon and Alaska, carried along by the thousands of people who were attracted to the gold fields in the north. Today, the English variety common to this shared culture can be heard by people from Eugene, Oregon to Fairbanks, Alaska.
Linguists immediately after World War II tended to find few patterns unique to the Western region, as among other things, Chinook Jargon and other "slang words" (despite Chinook Jargon being an actual separate language in and of itself, individual words from it like "salt chuck", "muckamuck", "siwash" and "tyee" were and still are used in Pacific Northwest English) were pushed away in favour of having a "proper, clean" dialect. Several decades later, linguists began noticing emerging characteristics of Pacific Northwest English, although it remains close to the standard American accent.
Commonalities with both Canada and California
- The vowels in words such as Mary, marry, and merry are merged to the open-mid front unrounded vowel [ɛ]. This is also typical in most dialects of the United States.
- Younger speakers of Pacific Northwest English also show features of the Canadian/California Vowel Shift, which move front vowels through a lowering of the tongue:
- /æ/ is lowered toward almost [a]; /ɛ/ toward almost [æ]; and /ɪ/ toward almost [ɛ]. Therefore, among younger speakers, hick can sound like heck, heck like hack, and hack like hock.
- /ɑ/ is backed and sometimes rounded to become [ɒ]. Most Pacific Northwest speakers have undergone the cot–caught merger. A notable exception occurs with some speakers born before roughly the end of World War II.
Commonalities with Canada
These commonalities are shared with Canada and the North Central United States which includes the Minnesota accent.
- Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as [oʊ] as in boat and [eɪ], as in bait, have qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers.
- There are also conditional raising processes of open front vowels. These processes are often more extreme than in Canada and the North Central United States.
- Before the velar nasal [ŋ], /æ/ becomes [e]. This change makes for minimal pairs such as rang and rain, both having the same vowel [e], differing from rang [ræŋ] in other varieties of English.
- Among some speakers in Portland and southern Oregon, /æ/ is sometimes raised and diphthongized to [eə] or [ɪə] before the non-velar nasal consonants [m] and [n]. This feature is rarer further north, where /æ/ tends to remain the same before non-velar nasal consonants, except for occasional schwa-like qualities (co-articulation of tongue and palate), resulting in [æə].
- /ɛ/, and, in the northern Pacific Northwest, /æ/, become [eɪ] before the voiced velar plosive /ɡ/: egg and leg are pronounced to rhyme with plague and vague, a feature shared by many northern Midwestern dialects and with the Utah accent. In addition, sometimes bag will be pronounced bayg.
- Canadian raising: Some speakers have a tendency to slightly raise /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ before voiceless obstruents. It is strongest in rural areas in British Columbia and Washington, and in older and middle-aged speakers in Vancouver and Seattle. In other areas, /aɪ/ is occasionally raised. This phenomenon is widespread and well known throughout Anglophone Canada and other parts of the northern United States.
Commonalities with California
- California Shift: The Canadian/California Shift developing in Pacific Northwest English also includes these additional features only reminiscent of California English, but not Canadian English (especially among working-class young-adult females):
- The close central rounded vowel [ʉ] or close back unrounded vowel [ɯ] for /u/, is found in Portland and some areas of Southern Oregon, but is generally not found further north, where the vowel remains the close back rounded [u].
- In speakers born around the 1960s, there is a tendency to move the tongue forward in the first element of the diphthong //. This is reminiscent also of Midland, Mid-Atlantic, and Southern U.S. English. This fronting does not appear before /m/ and /n/, for example, in the word home.
- Some speakers perceive or produce the pairs /ɛn/ and /ɪn/ close to each other, for example, resulting in a merger between pen and pin, most notably in Eugene, Oregon and Spokane, Washington.
- Consonant phonology is more conservative, as with other varieties of English.
Words and phrases
Pacific Northwest English and British Columbian English adopted a huge number of words from Chinook Jargon, as before the beginning of the 1900s essentially the entire population was at least slightly bilingual in the language. There are also several terms of English origin that originated in or are distinct to the region.
- Sunbreak: break in the clouds during the dark, rainy winters typical west of the Cascade Mountains
- Black ice: invisible ice on a road. A term used in everyday speech, and on the radio.
- Salt chuck: the ocean (from Chinook Jargon, where it means "salt water; the ocean"). A term used on the radio.
- Potlatch: a potluck (from Chinook Jargon, where it means "give, a gift")
- High muckamuck: an important person or person of authority, usually a pompous one (from Chinook Jargon, where it means "eats a lot; much food")
- Duff: another word for forest litter
- Fish wheel: a fish trap powered by a river current
- Spendy: expensive
- Rig: Any vehicle: car, truck, or SUV
- Chain shift
- California English
- Canadian English
- General American English
- Vowel Shift
- British Columbian English
- Chinook Jargon
- Chinook Jargon use by English Language speakers
- Riebold, John M. (2014). "Language Change Isn't Only Skin Deep: Inter-Ethnic Contact and the Spread of Innovation in the Northwest" (PDF). Cascadia Workshop in Sociolinguistics 1 at University of Victoria. University of Washington. p. 7. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-10-23.
- Riebold, John M. (2012). "Please Merge Ahead: The Vowel Space of Pacific Northwestern English" (PDF). Northwest Linguistics Conference 28. University of Washington. p. 2. Archived from the original (PDF) on 2015-09-28.
- Ward (2003:87): "lexical studies have suggested that the Northwest in particular forms a unique dialect area (Reed 1957, Carver 1987, Wolfram and Shilling-Estes 1998). Yet the phonological studies that could in many ways reinforce what the lexical studies propose have so far been less confident in their predictions".
- Ward (2003:43–45)
- Meinig, Donald W. (1995) [1st pub. 1968]. The Great Columbia Plain (Weyerhaeuser Environmental Classic ed.). University of Washington Press. p. 104. ISBN 978-0-295-97485-9.
- Lang, George (2008). Making Wawa: The Genesis of Chinook Jargon. Vancouver: UBC Press. pp. especially 127–128. ISBN 978-0-7748-1526-0.
- Wolfram and Ward 2006, pg. 140
- Ward (2003:93)
- Conn, Jeff (2002). An investigation into the western dialect of Portland Oregon. Paper presented at NWAV 31, Stanford, California. Archived from the original on 2015-11-21.
- Ward (2003:44)
- Labov, Ash, Boberg 2006
- Labov et al. 2006. p. 68.
- Champagne, Reid (2013-02-08). "Solar neighborhood projects shine in 'sunbreak' Seattle". The Seattle Times. Archived from the original on 2015-11-21. Retrieved 2013-05-29.
[I]n this part of the world . . . sunshine is more frequently reported as ‘sunbreaks’.
- Raftery, Isolde (2014-12-23). A brief history of words unique to the Pacific Northwest. KUOW. Archived from the original on 2015-09-21.
Duff = The decaying vegetable matter, especially needles and cones, on a forest floor.
Fish wheel = A wheel with nets, put in a stream to catch fish; sometimes used to help fish over a dam or waterfall.
- Do You Speak American? § Pacific Northwest. PBS. Archived from the original on 2015-07-23.
As Portlanders continue to front their back vowels, they will continue to go to the coast (geow to the ceowst), not the beach or the shore, as well as to microbrews, used clothing stores (where the clothes are not too spendy (expensive), bookstores (bik‑stores) and coffee shops (both words pronounced with the same vowel).
- DeLange, Greg (2012-10-22). What Do You Call Your Vehicle?. Richland, Washington: KORD-FM. Archived from the original on 2015-09-12.
This causes confusion sometimes when one of us calls everything with four wheels a ‘rig’
- Boberg, Charles (2000). "Geolinguistic diffusion and the U.S.–Canada border". Language Variation and Change. Cambridge University Press. 12 (1). p. 15. doi:10.1017/S0954394500121015. ISSN 0954-3945.
- Wolfram, Walt; Ward, Ben, eds. (2005). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast (1st ed.). Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 140, 234–236. ISBN 978-1-4051-2109-5. LCCN 2005017255. OCLC 56911940. OL 16950865W.
- Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2005). The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 68. ISBN 978-3-11-020683-8.
- Ward, Michael (2003). Portland Dialect Study: The Fronting of /ow, u, uw/ in Portland, Oregon (PDF). Portland State University.
- Vowels and Consonants: An Introduction to the Sounds of Languages. Peter Ladefoged, 2003. Blackwell Publishing.
- Language in Society: An Introduction to Sociolinguistics. Suzanne Romaine, 2000. Oxford University Press.
- How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Allan Metcalf, 2000. Houghton Mifflin.
- Paulson, Tom (2005-05-20). "Contrary to belief, local linguists say Northwest has distinctive dialect". Seattle Post‑Intelligencer. ISSN 0745-970X. Archived from the original on 2009-01-13.