Acoustic characteristics of the vowel systems of six regional varieties of American English

Cynthia G. Clopper, David B. Pisoni, Kenneth De Jong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

160 Scopus citations


Previous research by speech scientists on the acoustic characteristics of American English vowel systems has typically focused on a single regional variety, despite decades of sociolinguistic research demonstrating the extent of regional phonological variation in the United States. In the present study, acoustic measures of duration and first and second formant frequencies were obtained from five repetitions of 11 different vowels produced by 48 talkers representing both genders and six regional varieties of American English. Results revealed consistent variation due to region of origin, particularly with respect to the production of low vowels and high back vowels. The Northern talkers produced shifted low vowels consistent with the Northern Cities Chain Shift, the Southern talkers produced fronted back vowels consistent with the Southern Vowel Shift, and the New England, Midland, and Western talkers produced the low back vowel merger. These findings indicate that the vowel systems of American English are better characterized in terms of the region of origin of the talkers than in terms of a single set of idealized acoustic-phonetic baselines of General American English and provide benchmark data for six regional varieties.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1661-1676
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of the Acoustical Society of America
Issue number3 I
StatePublished - Sep 2005

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Acoustics and Ultrasonics

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