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Phonetic Analysis of the New Orleans Dialects


Although the New Orleans dialectic group belongs to the vast family of North American accents, it has its own unique character. The New Orleans dialect represents a whole group of dialects, individual features of which are completely different from nearby regional ways of pronunciation. The dialect situation in New Orleans is unique in that the state lacks an established, recognizable pronunciation. The historical specificity of class and social division according to a particular area or ward characterizes the eclectic pronunciation of the New Orleans. The peculiarities of New Orleans English make this place unlike any other in America, creating a unique setting for the dialect researcher.

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The task of this analysis is to find and establish common characteristic dialectical features. The complexity of the task is due to the diversity and dissimilarity of accents and their class affiliation. Speech fragments are taken from a 1980s documentary about dialects in the city and the social divisions and contradictions that this phonetic eclecticism hints at (YouTube, 2008). The objectives of the study are to compare the two accents – the more standardized, upscale New Orleans and the street style of the less privileged members of society. The analysis will focus on vowels and diphthongs and differences in their pronunciation. It should be noted that the New Orleans dialects are so dispersed and large in number and small differences that this imposes forced restrictions on the study. It is required to take for analysis two fragments of speech, categorized as Uptown, that is, a dialect of the upper class, and Yat, more typical of the middle and lower class. The number of social divisions and minor offshoots of accents in New Orleans is so great that it makes sense to focus on comparing the pronunciation of the vowels in these two dialects.


The first sample to analyze is an example of Upper Class pronunciation in New Orleans. Historically, it is not unique to the city and is a copy of the Classic Southern accent, however it has some specific properties. A special difference of this accent, as can be seen from the sample, is the so-called The Southern Drawl (Preeshl & Wahl, 2018). This is a special property of speakers of this dialect to stretch and extend vowels by adding /ə/ (schwa) – a middle vowel sound of the middle rise pronunciation.

One more characteristic feature of the Southern accent in the upper class of New Orleans is the ingliding of vowels from the STRUT group of Wells’ lexical set. The sound /ʌ/ open-mid back unrounded is supplied with an additional schwa, that is, it is extended and diphthongized. In the sample attached to the study, you can find a number of examples of this specific vowel extension – “of” is pronounced with a small stretch (/ʌəv/). Vowel additions also occur in BATH and TRAP lexical sets, where two sounds ɪ and ə are added to the æ diphthong, forming a specific extended sound.

From the TRAP set, the speaker uses the word “locale”, where the American pronunciation is further enhanced and extended by additional vowels. This suggests that the upper-class Southern accent in New Orleans is based on standard American pronunciation. As proof of this, the strong influence of New York on the city and on the language should be mentioned, since the cities have been linked by close trade and working relations since the 19th century (Carmichael & Becher, 2019). Therefore, the study does not have the task of focusing on general pronunciation. In particular, this is important for the pronunciation of the lexical sets BATH and TRAP, since in the American pronunciation the difference between them is erased (Yang, 2021). The following table shows examples of changes made by a speaker to words from this group during a segment of speech in the analyzed sample.

Table 1. Vowel Elongation in New Orleans Upper-Class Dialect

Spelling American Pronunciation New Orleans Southern Accent
camp kæmp kæɪəmp
and ænd æɪənd
at æt æɪət
That ðæt ðæɪət

The contraction of the slip in the diphthong aɪ to the truncated /aɪ̆/ is also observed in the analyzed speech in the pronunciation of the word “decide”. In spite of the reduction of the second sound, the first part of the diphthong is extended and stretched, that is, it still has the same feature of the Southern accent. “Think” (original pronunciation /θɪŋ/) when pronounced by a New Orleans Upper-class speaker distorts the vowel and replaces it with the sound ɛ in front of the nasal consonant.

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Southern Drawl is also an integral part of the Yat accent, which is associated with less favored conditions in New Orleans. Taking the second sample presented as an example, it is noticeable that the words “have”, “canal”, “way”, referring to the mixed BATH-TRAP Americanized group, are prolonged in vowel pronunciation. However, it is when listening to this sample that a clear nasalization of vowels is noticeable, unusual for a more aristocratic accent.

In particular, the speaker pronounces the word “and” with the help of a sharply nasalized /ɛ/. A similar case is described in a consolidated analysis of Louisiana accents, where it is established that such a pronunciation may be traced back to a French-influenced Cahun accent (Dajko & Walton, 2019). Despite some similarities between the Southern accent and Yat, in particular the Southern Drawl, the Yat has a specificity that goes back to multinational ethnic influences.

Thus, this study demonstrates a high degree of eclecticism and diversity in the pronunciation of New Orleans. The types of pronunciation obviously depend on the class status of the speaker – class and ethnicity characterize speech and accent. This work could be improved by the presence of a more extensive database on the subject – these dialects, especially Yat, are unpopular and remain unexplored in sufficient detail. The availability of authentic voice samples is also a problem due to their overall lack. The quality of the recording of a Yat speaker leaves much to be desired and does not have a transcript, due to which its analysis is further complicated. However, this is precisely why the proposed passages seem worthy of phonetic analysis, demonstrating the unique characteristics of


Carmichael, K., & Becker, K. (2018). The New York City–New Orleans connection: Evidence from constraint ranking comparison. Language Variation and Change, 30(3), 287-314.

Dajko, N., & Waltom, S. (2019). Language in Louisiana: Community and culture. University Press of Mississippi.

People Like Us – The CNAM Channel. (2008). A variety of New Orleans accents from YEAH YOU RITE! [Video]. YouTube. Web.

Preeshl, A., & Wahl, K. (2018). Yat, Uptown, and Cajun French accents in English. Voice and Speech Review, 1–16.

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Yang, J. H. (2021). The TRAP-BATH split in RP: A linguistic index for English learners. International Review of Applied Linguistics in Language Teaching, 59(2), 153-179. Web.

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