English language prevalence in the United States. Darker shades of blue indicate higher concentrations of native English speakers in the corresponding states
American English (AmE, AE, AmEng, USEng, en-US), sometimes called United States English or U.S. English, is the set of varieties of the English language native to the United States. It is considered one of the most influential dialects of English globally, including on other varieties of English.
English is the most widely spoken language in the United States and is the common language used by the federal government, to the extent that all laws and compulsory education are practiced in English. Although not an officially established language of the whole country, English is the de facto official language and given official status by 32 of the 50 state governments. As an example, while both Spanish and English have equivalent status in the local courts of Puerto Rico, under federal law, English is the official language for any matters being referred to the United States district court for the territory.
The use of English in the United States is a result of British colonization of the Americas. The first wave of English-speaking settlers arrived in North America during the 17th century, followed by further migrations in the 18th and 19th centuries. Since then, American English has developed into new dialects, in some cases under the influence of successive immigration waves, especially of Europeans of diverse language backgrounds, to the United States.
American English varieties form a linguistic continuum of dialects more similar to each other than to English dialects of other countries, including some common pronunciations, vocabulary, spelling, and other features found nationwide. Any North American Englishaccent perceived as free of noticeably local, ethnic, or cultural markers is popularly called "General" or "Standard" American, a fairly uniform standard of broadcast mass media and the highly educated. Otherwise, according to William Labov, with the major exception of Southern and some Inland Northern accents, regional accents throughout the country are not yielding to this standard, and historical and present linguistic evidence does not support the notion of there being one single "mainstream" American accent. On the contrary, the sound of American English continues to evolve, with some local accents disappearing, but several larger regional accents emerging.
While written American English is largely standardized across the country and its dialects are mutually intelligible, there are several recognizable regional and ethnic accents and lexical differences.
The regional sounds of present-day American English are reportedly engaged in a complex phenomenon of "both convergence and divergence": some accents are homogenizing and levelling, while others are diversifying and deviating further away from one another.
The most marked accents of the country are New York City and Southern accents. Southern speech is defined by the aɪ/ vowel losing its gliding quality to approach [aː~äː], the initiation event for a complicated Southern vowel shift, including a "Southern drawl" that makes short front vowels into distinct-sounding gliding vowels. The strongest Southern sub-varieties exist in southern Appalachia and certain areas of Texas. Non-Southern Americans tend to stereotype Southern accents negatively, as "hick," "hillbilly," or "country" accents, while Southerners themselves tend to have mixed judgments of their own accents, including positive associations of easygoingness and humility. Southern accents, plus those spoken in the "Midland" (the vast band between the traditional dialect regions of the North and the South), tend to front the vowels of GOOSE, GOAT, MOUTH, and STRUT.
Below, ten major American English accents are defined by their particular combinations of certain vowel sounds:
In 2010, William Labov noted that Great Lakes, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and West Coast accents have undergone "vigorous new sound changes" since the mid-nineteenth century onwards, so they "are now more different from each other than they were 50 or 100 years ago", while other accents, like of New York City and Boston, have remained stable in that same time-frame. However, a General American sound system also has some debated degree of influence nationwide, for example, gradually beginning to oust the regional accent in urban areas of the South and at least some in the Inland North. Rather than one particular accent, General American is best defined as an umbrella covering any American accent that does not incorporate features associated with some particular region, ethnicity, or socioeconomic group. Typical General American features include rhoticity, the father–bother merger, Mary–marry–merry merger, pre-nasal "short a" tensing, and other particular vowel sounds.[note 1] General American features are embraced most by Americans who are highly educated or in the most formal contexts, and regional accents with the most General American native features include North Midland, Western New England, and Western accents.