The most recent volume of the Publication of the American Dialect Society (PADS), “Speech in the Western States, Volume 1: The Coastal States,” edited by Valerie Fridland, Tyler Kendall, Betsy Evans, and Alicia Wassink, presents a collection of new articles investigating what is perhaps the most understudied American dialect region, the American West. In an attempt to remedy this dearth of descriptive work on Western United States dialects, this volume brings together research undertaken by a combination of established and up-and-coming scholars across the West to focus on the phonetic changes occurring in vowel systems across the coastal region, California, Oregon, and Washington. The following volume will move the lens of inquiry to vowel patterns in the Interior West.
Though pointing to several shared “Western” features, these chapters force us to reconsider the dialect uniformity often assumed for these states, pointing to key differences between California and the states in the Pacific Northwest. In contrast, surprising similarity was discovered among the vowel systems of minority and majority ethnic groups in these states. In surveying the research presented here, we come away with a sense of a region still in the process of dialect formation—a process that is creating both similarity and difference within the region—but it also seems clear that the West, at least along the coast, is not a unitary dialect region as often reported, but one characterized by features that have arisen only within the last 50 to 100 years, features that have already begun to display the local character of the people that live within its boundaries. The research presented here begins to fill in some of the gaps in our understanding of what the Coastal states of the continental Western United States sound like and how they fit into the larger picture of United States dialect diversity and the studies lay the groundwork for further research on the speech patterns of the Western United States.