Introduction to American Dialects
| Southern Drawl
| Tawking the Tawk in Noo Yawk
New England's Wicked Good Accent | Philly Talk and Pittsburghese
The Midwestern 'Non-Accent' | Da Chicago Dialect and the Northern Cities Vowel Shift
Nawh the trumpets summen us agin, not as a call to beah ahms, though ahms we need, not as a call to battle, though embattled we ahh, but a cahhl to beah the burrdin of a long twilight struggle... my fellow Americans, ayusk nawt what yawr country can do fah you - ayusk what you can do fah yah country!
-From John F Kennedy's First Inaugural address, helpfully butchered by this Researcher.
The New England accent, more popularly known as the Boston accent, is one of the more easily recognisable American accents. A strong Boston accent can actually be sort of...overpowering and vulgar-sounding to those not used to the sound. However, the New England way of talking is part of the way of life, to widely varying degrees, for the people of Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine.
If you want to hear a good Boston/New England accent, listen to a speech by President John F Kennedy (or his brothers Ted and Robert). There are some decent Boston accents to be found in popular fiction as well. The character Cliff Clavin exhibited a Boston dialect in the television show Cheers. Indeed, he was the only major character to have a Boston accent, despite the fact that the show was set in Boston. There is also the character Mayor Quimby from the animated TV show The Simpsons. Author Stephen King, himself a native New Englander, sets many of his novels in New England, and much of his dialogue is phonetically written with a New England accent.
New Englanders still have many of the characteristics of British pronunciation that are dying out elsewhere along the American East Coast. However, pronunciation has also been greatly affected by Irish immigrants who settled in Boston in droves in the 19th Century. The Irish influence has become a defining cultural characteristic of Boston, linguistically as much as anything.
However, Bostonians will tell you that their particular accent is much different from the accents of people throughout other parts of Massachusetts and New England. To untrained outside ears, they all sound pretty much alike, and are branded with the label 'Boston accent'. However, it seems that there are not only subtle differences in accents throughout New England (Maine's is fairly distinctive) but also in neighbourhoods throughout Boston. The dialects of the North End and East Side of the city are heavily influenced by Italian immigrants, which creates a speech pattern more like that of New York City. The South Boston accent is more Irish and is closer to the stereotypical Boston accent.
The Boston 'Brahmin' accent is the subset of the New England accent associated with the upper-class Boston Brahmins, which were a group of wealthy, white Anglo-Saxon Protestant families descending from the English settlers who founded Boston. They kept themselves separate from Irish families and therefore their brand of Boston accent tends to have a closer relation to British English than does the typical Irish-infused Boston accent.
Speaking the New England accent prop-ah-lee can be difficult, but here are some important points about it.
The 'r' sound is dropped whenever possible. 'Pahk the cah at Hahvahd yahd' (Park the car at Harvard yard) is a common way to remember this rule/make fun of New Englanders.
In words like 'park', 'calf' and 'car', the tongue is raised while making the 'a' sound, which broadens and emphasises the sound considerably. 'Calf' becomes 'caaaf'. 'Car' is 'caaah'.
Words ending in '-er' or '-ar' sound like '-ah' at the end ('disappear' becomes 'disappeah', 'after' becomes 'afta').
At the end of a word, the suffix '-ure' tends to get replaced with a '-sha' sound so that 'capture' becomes 'capsha' and nature becomes 'nate-sha'.
Especially common in Maine and other parts of New England is the habit of putting an '-er' sound at the end of words that end in 'a'1. For example, 'I have an idear, let's get in the cah and drive to Canader and then fly to Havanner, Cuber!'
You Won't Bon Heah - Placenames
The region known as 'New England' didn't get its name for nothing. New England, and Massachusetts in particular, can trace many of the names of its oldest cities to even older towns in England. What sets New England cities apart from their British twins (other than the Atlantic Ocean) is the pronunciations that New Englanders insist on giving to their place names. If you're lost travelling through New England, don't try to get verbal directions from a local or you'll drive around for an hour looking for a sign that says 'Conk-id' (Concord). Ask native speakers to point to a map or write the name down.
The largest city in New England and Massachusetts is Boston, which is of course pronounced 'Bahs-tin'. It is sometimes referred to as 'Bean Town' by people who don't live there. The second largest city in Massachusetts is Worcester, which, like its British namesake, is pronounced 'Woo-stah' (even if a non-native can divine the fact that there's supposed to be an 'r' sound at the end of the city's name, the other two consonant sounds and vowel sound are entirely missing from the local pronunciation). Similarly, the city of Gloucester, north of Boston, is pronounced 'Gloss-tah'.
Some other odd city pronunciations include: Ri-vee-yah (Revere), Quinz-ee (Quincy), Bed-fud (Bedford), Lole/Lowl (Lowell), Rozzie (Roslindale), and Win-thrup (Winthrop). In and around Boston, Copley Square is 'Cop-uh-lee Squay-uh'. The Boston neighborhood of Dorchester is pronounced 'Dah-ches-tah', 'Dahs-sta' or simply 'Dot'. Getting around Boston, the word 'avenue' might be shortened to 'av', so street named Massachusetts Avenue might come out as 'Mass-av'. Alternatively, if you're looking to get out of urban settings, the popular vacation destination Cape Cod is simply known as 'the Cape'.
There are many words that are unique to New England's dialect. To start with, a local greeting rarely found outside New England is 'What's doin'?'. A local word for a rubber band is 'elastic', which can be pronounced ''lastic'.
In New England, the culinary vocabulary is distinct. New England clam chowder is famous, and people take their 'chowda' seriously. The local word for a submarine sandwich is a 'grinder' or 'sub'. In Maine, a lobster is a 'bug'. If New Englanders need something to wash that down, their carbonated beverages are 'tonics'2 or 'soda', and a water fountain is a 'bubbla' (bubbler). When you're all done with your food, you deposit it in the barrel (trash can). When you get hungry again and go to the grocery store, you use your 'carriage' (shopping cart) to carry all the food.
Of particular note when discussing New England vocabulary is the all purpose intensifier 'wicked' (like a witch), popularly used by younger New Englanders in place of the word 'very'. 'That was wicked awesome' can be heard on the streets of Boston3. If something in particular was extremely good, then it was a 'wicked pissa'.
In baseball, most New Englanders root for the Boston Red Sox, a team that from 1918 to 2004 never won the baseball World Series. Their plight was unrelenting for 86 years, and inspired a well known story about the ghost of famous baseballer Babe Ruth haunting the Red Sox. The Red Sox Nation remained loyal for nearly a decade. They generally blamed all their ills and shortcomings on the 'Damn Yankees', referring to the New York Yankees, the archrivals of the Red Sox. For that reason, it is not uncommon Bostonians and New Yorkers to trade insults. In Boston, the phrase 'that crime-ridden cesspool' (or some such) would generally refer to New York City. Undoubtedly, many colourful New England insults were spawned by angry fans in Fenway Park (the home of the Red Sox). When New Englanders refer to the Red Sox, they may shorten it to 'Sox', which sometimes comes out sounding more like 'Sahx'.
New England also has an NFL Football franchise - the Patriots. Based out of Foxborough, Massachusetts, New England is their home rather than Boston, which is not the case with many other local sports teams - who New Englanders support for lack of anyone else to support. The Patriots are colloquially called the 'Pats', or the 'Patsies' if they're losing.
In basketball, Boston has an NBA team called the Celtics, the name referring to the strong Irish influence on the city of Boston. Some Bostonians whittle the name down to 'the Seltz', which does glide off the tongue a bit more easily. The Celtics play in TD Banknorth Garden, or 'the Gahhden'. Previously, they had played in the famous Boston Garden ('Bah-stin Gahh-den') and won 16 NBA championships, which is more than any other team.
The local NHL Hockey team are the Bruins, colloquially knowns as 'the B's' or 'the Broons'.