The Baltimore accent, also known as Baltimorese (sometimes pseudophonetically written Baldimorese, Bawlmerese, or Ballimerese), is an accent and dialect of Mid-Atlantic American English that originated among the white blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore, Maryland. It is identical in many ways to the Philadelphia accent. The most notable characteristics of Baltimore English are the fronted "oh" sound (occasionally written out as "eh-ew" or "ao") and the usage of the endearment "hon".
It is spoken mostly in Baltimore City and surrounding areas (Essex, Dundalk and Middle River). It is also heard in other parts of the nearby counties – Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford, and Howard. While the dialect is localized in these areas, it is not limited to them and can be heard as far west as Frederick and Hagerstown, as far north as Elkton, as far east as Ocean City, and as far south as Calvert County.
Due to Maryland's small size and its proximity to a variety of strong cultures, the farther one gets from Baltimore, the more the local speech is influenced by these other cultures. For example, the speech of Western Maryland is influenced by Appalachia, Northeast Maryland by Delaware Valley and the Eastern Shore of Maryland by the Tidewater accent. Families who migrated out of the city along the Maryland Route 140 and Maryland Route 26 corridors brought the dialect and in some cases pronunciations melded with local colloquialisms such as the word "bixicated" referring to someone who is silly or simple.
Baltimore English closely resembles blue-collar Philadelphia-area English pronunciation in many ways. These two cities are the only major ports on the Eastern Seaboard never to have developed nonrhotic speech among European American speakers; they were greatly influenced in their early development by Hiberno-English, Scottish English, and West Country English. Due to the significant similarity between the speeches of Baltimore, Philadelphia, Delaware and southern New Jersey, some sociolinguists refer to them collectively as the Mid-Atlantic dialect.
The Bawlmerese or Ballimerese dialect that originated among the White blue-collar residents of South and Southeast Baltimore is not the only accent found in Baltimore. There is also an accent found among African American Baltimoreans. Notable characteristics include vowel centralization before /r/ (words such as "carry" are often pronounced like "curry") and the centralization of /ɑ/ to schwa, particularly in the word "dog" (often pronounced as "dug").
- /oʊ/ shifts to [ɘʊ] or even [eʊ].
- // becomes [ɑ] before /r/; fire is pronounced as [fɑɻ]
- As in Philadelphia, the word "water" is often pronounced as "wooder" [ˈwʊɾəɻ] or, more uniquely, [ˈwɔɻɾəɻ].
- No "cot–caught" merger: The words "cot" /ɑ/ and "caught" /ɔ/ do not rhyme. Other dissimilar word pairings are "don" and "dawn," "stock" and "stalk," "tock" and "talk." The word "on" rhymes with "dawn," but not "don."
- As in most Mid-Atlantic cities, the short a is pronounced with a phonemic split: for example, the word "sad" /æ/ does not rhyme with the word "mad" /eə/. Pronunciation is dependent upon a complex system of rules that differ from city to city. For more details on the Philadelphia, New York, and Baltimore systems see phonemic /æ/ tensing in the Mid-Atlantic region or click "show" below.
- Epenthetic /r/; notably, "wash" is pronounced as [wɑɻʃ], popularly written as "warsh," and Washington is pronounced as "Warshington."
- Elision is common
- There is a consistent distinction between the pronunciation of "can" (to be able to) [kʰɛn] and "can" (aluminum/tin) [ˈkʰæːn].
- As is common in many US dialects /t/ is frequently elided after /n/, thus hunter is pronounced [ˈhʌnɚ]
- [ə] is often eliminated entirely from a word; (e.g. Annapolis = Naplis, cigarette = cigrette, company = compny)
- L-vocalization is common. The sound /l/ is often replaced by the semivowel or glide [w] and/or [o] or [ʊ]. Pronunciation of words like "middle" and "college" become [ˈmɪdo] and [ˈkɑwɪdʒ] respectively.
The following is a list of words and phrases used in the Baltimore area that are used much less or differently in other American English dialects.
- 'bureau - commonly pronounced beer-o (example: Federal Beer-o of Investigation)
- oil - commonly pronounced "awl" or "ool" (rhymes with pool)
- iron/Irish - commonly pronounced "arn" and "Arsh"
- mirror - commonly pronounced "mere" or "mere-roe"
- pavement (commonly pronounced "payment") – means "sidewalk" (which is used rarely).
- hon – a popular term of endearment, often used at the end of a sentence (short for "honey").
- natty boh – local slang for the beer originally brewed in Baltimore, National Bohemian.
- words with ow - (pronounced quickly) dayown (down), hayow (how).
- words ending in ow" - on the contrary, some words ending in ow are pronounced with an A; e.g., pilla for pillow, winda for window.
- d(ay)own the ocean – acceptable in place of "down to/on/at the ocean", whereas ocean most likely refers to Ocean City, Maryland. More commonly shortened to "d(ay)owny ocean.
- O's – refers to the MLB team the Baltimore Orioles - frequently used: "dem O's".
- ok – Commonly used involuntarily to begin sentences. With the O often dropped and pronounced "Kay."
- liar', wire' & 'fire - commonly pronounced "larr", "warr" & "far" - popular Baltimore Christmas joke: "Why were the three Wise men covered with soot?" "Because they came from afar."
- went up (shortened from "went up to heaven") - commonly used when an appliance dies; e.g., our refrigerator went up
Notable examples of native speakers
- Ben Cardin - Senator of Maryland (2007-present)
- Mary Pat Clarke - Baltimore City Councilwoman (1975-present)
- Divine - Actor/Performer
- Barbara Mikulski - Senator of Maryland (1987-2017)
- John Waters - Actor/Filmmaker
In popular culture
The films of John Waters, many of which have been filmed in and around Baltimore, often attempt to capture the Baltimore accent, particularly the early films. For example, John Waters uses his own Baltimore accent in the commentary during his film Pink Flamingos. John Travolta's character in the 2007 version of John Waters's Hairspray spoke with a thick East Baltimore accent which may sound exaggerated to non-Baltimoreans. Likewise, several of the films of Barry Levinson are set in and around Baltimore during the 1940s-1960s, and employ the Baltimore accent. Michael Tucker who was born and raised in Baltimore, speaks with a West Baltimore accent.
Television drama series Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire were both set in Baltimore. In an early episode of the former ("Three Men and Adena"), a suspect, Risley Tucker, describes how he can tell whereabouts in or around the city a person comes from simply by whether they pronounce the city's name as "Balti-maw", "Balti-moh", or "Bawl-mer".
In Season 4, Episode 7 of The Tracey Ullman Show, Baltimore actor, Michael Tucker, portrayed father to Ullman's JoJo. The skit was set in a Baltimore row house. Tucker advised Ullman to "take a Liverpool accent and Americanize it."
Whether it was on his ESPN Radio show or SportsCenter at Night, Scott Van Pelt always ended his segments with Tim Kurkjian by mentioning in a Baltimore accent names featuring at least one pronounced letter O which was guaranteed to elicit laughter.
Singer-songwriter Mary Prankster uses several examples of Baltimore slang in her song, "Blue Skies Over Dundalk," from the album of the same name, including, "There'll be O's fans going down the ocean, hon."
- Britton, Holly and, Heidi Faust. "Welcome to Baltimore, Hon: Exploring Hon as a Linguistic and Identity Marker in Baltimore". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- Phonological Atlas of North America
- DeShields, Inte'a. "Baldamor, Curry, and Dug': Language Variation, Culture, and Identity among African American Baltimoreans". Podcast. Retrieved 17 July 2011.
- New York City and the Mid-Atlantic States
- The actual 30 Rock scene involving Elizabeth Banks' parody of the Baltimore accent.
- Bartel, Jordan (October 15, 2014). "'American Horror Story': The curious case of Kathy Bates' Baltimore-ish accent". The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
- Schremph, Kelly (October 8, 2014). "Kathy Bates' Accent on 'AHS: Freak Show' Is an Enigma That Needs to Be Unraveled". Bustle. Retrieved 25 November 2015.
- Fang, Ken. "Scott Van Pelt Makes Tim Kurkjian Laugh for the 3,452,745th Time," Awful Announcing, Tuesday, August 2, 2016.
- "The Mid-Atlantic Dialects", Evolution Publishing
- Baltimore Hon
- Baltimorese (with some audio)
- In March 2011, the VOA Special English service of the Voice of America broadcast a 15-minute feature on Bawlmerese, written and voiced by longtime VOA Special English announcer, photographer, voice-over artist, and Baltimore native Steve Ember. A transcript and MP3 of the program – intended for those want to learn American English – can be found at An Extended Lesson in Bawlmerese