What I'm meaning to ask is: What are the technical names for things like the Southern Accent, California accent (or Western, if that's what it is), etc.?

I assume that regional accent differences have some sort of grouping terminology.

  • 4
    Hm. Well, setting aside the tricky question of ‘accent’ vs. ‘dialect’ vs. other terms: I don’t think any of the them are ‘official’, but there are different conventionalized options used by different linguists. If you used (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Atlas_of_North_American_English), you’d have options like ‘The North’, ‘The South’, which might not be satisfying. Some of the more famous local varieties have names (‘Pittsburghese’), especially for non-technical use. Commented Sep 7, 2020 at 18:09
  • @JeremyNeedle, I think it would be helpful if you posted that in an answer, including a list of categories used in that book. I think it's the best known grouping and naming of American dialects.
    – Jetpack
    Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 20:20
  • Actually, Wikipedia is better, since the dialect regions summarized there have links you can follow for details, and they would be tedious to put in an answer, especially when Wikipedia has already done it.
    – jlawler
    Commented Sep 8, 2020 at 23:08
  • @Jetpack I tend to agree with jlawler, and I don’t think I’m contributing a very comprehensive answer. But, seeing nothing else, I will go ahead and add a brief answer for now. :) Commented Sep 9, 2020 at 21:59

1 Answer 1


First, caveats: the distinction in usage between ‘accent’ vs. ‘dialect’ vs. other terms can be somewhat tricky in academic work, but I suppose they’re nearly equivalent in normal speech. Also, I don’t think any naming scheme for US dialects is ‘official’.

There are different conventionalized options used by different linguists. One clear option is The Atlas of North American English (ANAE) (Labov, W., Ash, S., & Boberg, C. (2008). The atlas of North American English: Phonetics, phonology and sound change. Walter de Gruyter.). This book is described on Wikipedia at (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Atlas_of_North_American_English); the page gives dialect group options like ‘The North’, ‘The South’.

There is a more detailed scheme, still based on ANAE, at a different Wikipedia location (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/North_American_English_regional_phonology#Classification_of_regional_accents). The ANAE is not perfect—see (Thomas, E. R. (2016). The Atlas of North American English and its impacts on approaches to dialect geography. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 20(4), 489-497.)—but it is a major, classic source.

In the interest of giving an actual answer here, and not only a link, here is a 6-way labeling used by Clopper et al. (Clopper, C. G., Pisoni, D. B., & De Jong, K. (2005). Acoustic characteristics of the vowel systems of six regional varieties of American English. The Journal of the Acoustical society of America, 118(3), 1661-1676.):

  • West
  • North
  • New England
  • Midland
  • Mid-Atlantic
  • South

It is not clear in your question how small or specific you want the dialect groupings to be, so I’ll simply mention that some of the more famous local varieties have their own names (e.g. ‘Pittsburghese’), especially for non-technical use.

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