See Your Speech

Vowel variation

In English, much of our perception of "accent" comes from how we pronounce our vowels. This is different from Spanish, for example, where much of the regional and national variation happens in consonants.

Linguists often think of vowels as living in a two dimensional "vowel space", as shown below. This space maps roughly to the tongue's placement in the mouth.

Vowel variation is very complicated, but one thing we see sometimes is that if there's a change happening in a given place, people sometimes think of the newer pronunciation as being younger or more trendy and/or the older ones as being more formal. Check out your vowel patterns below and look for some of these possible changes. Do you show them at all? If you do, do you do them more in one version than another?

  • Everyone: UW moving front (left)
  • Northern Ohio: TRAP moving up and front
  • Northern Ohio: LOT moving front
  • Central Ohio: LOT and THOUGHT merging (sounding the same)

    You can learn more about vowel plots and see some belonging to different regions here.