how to fake a new england accent
November 29, 2004 1:17 AM   Subscribe

AccentFilter: Any tips for faking New England? [mi]

I have no control over the words. And I'll be singing. I'm absolute crap with accents generally (and my singing voice is very, very English), so I'm after a little guidance on the very basic shapes I need.
posted by monkey closet to Writing & Language (23 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Well there are several different types of New England accent -- none of which are particularly singable.

Boston: Probably the classic. Too dark to park the car = Too dahk to pahk the cah. Also they tend to add r's at the end of words like "idea-er".

Connecticut: Strongly nasal and forward. Instead of using the 't' sound in the middle of words, people here use a glottal stop. So Britain = Bri-in (Bri like bris without the "S") and important = impor-in . The "in" in both cases only gets the attack part of the "n" sound, no decay.

Vermont is fairly normal, and relaxed. New Hampshire is nasal, but I don't have much experience with it. Maine is sort of Vermont meets Canada.

But as for shape. Gosh, probably just forward, wide, and flat, by the nose. Much more two-dimensional than British. And don't worry at all about the ends of words.
posted by ontic at 1:38 AM on November 29, 2004

No offense, but I think the "pahk the cah" advice is responsible for more awful fake New England accents than anything else. I'm trying to think of better example but it's difficult without knowing age as well. Boston alone has a couple of different accents depending on age. Murph in the DPW truck talks differently from some kid from Door-chest-AH.
posted by yerfatma at 4:20 AM on November 29, 2004

Best answer: Vermont is fairly normal, and relaxed. New Hampshire is nasal, but I don't have much experience with it. Maine is sort of Vermont meets Canada.

That's absolutely the worst description I've ever heard of New England accents. No hyperbole. The worst ever. New Hampshire is "nasal"? Maine is "Vermont meets Canada"? WTF?

I grew up in Maine as the child of Massachusetts parents and lived in Back Bay for 6 years. I still live in Massachusetts. Here's my advice: pronounce every vowel as far back in your throat as possible. That's the big secret to a New England accent-- the "R" is dropped because your tongue is too far back to form it.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:24 AM on November 29, 2004

Best answer: And yerfatma is right, but to non-native speakers of New England dialect, they all sound about the same. He or I can easily tell if someone is from Maine/New Hampshire versus Boston, but your audience can't.

If your singing voice is very, very English, then think of this: Your vowels are already back. Now try to make them with your tongue set as low in your mouth as possible. That will be close enough if you practice to yourself a bit today.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:29 AM on November 29, 2004

If you're planning to fake your way through an accent, you might as well dress the part.
posted by Smart Dalek at 4:37 AM on November 29, 2004

Here's a recording of me reading the first paragraph of chapter four of Ulysses, should you want something that you can follow along with to practice.

(I tried to do a "standard" accent, but there's definitely a Maine influence owing to the fact that I spoke so slowly for clarity and that's one of the marks of the Maine subdialect, and that's where I'm from. And the "lispy" sound to the esses is because of my crappy mic.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:00 AM on November 29, 2004 [1 favorite]

Curley's right, I can tell if you're from New Hampshire or Vermont by your accent but most people in the US can't, especially in other countries. When you ask someone from Australia to "do an American accent" they all come out sounding like John Wayne. I think when a lot of people think New England, they think JFK and even though he spoke in an upscale Boston accent, his speech patterns are recognizable. You can listen to him speaking, likely ad nauseum, from these sound files at the JFK library. On preview, not entirely different from how Curley sounds.
posted by jessamyn at 5:10 AM on November 29, 2004

Of course, there's also a great candid Maine accent in the Schwartzenegger calls a Mainer prank call. (NSFW but hilarious.)
posted by Mayor Curley at 5:47 AM on November 29, 2004

There's chowder in my trousers.
posted by Prince Nez at 6:26 AM on November 29, 2004

I don't think it's possible to sing with a New England accent. Not if you're actually trying to sing and sound good, rather than do a sing/speak thing. I wouldn't bother worrying about it.
posted by ludwig_van at 6:40 AM on November 29, 2004

Just listen to Car Talk for a few hours...
posted by drpynchon at 7:10 AM on November 29, 2004

And Mayor Curley, I love you. Best Ulysses reading ever. If you could do it from start to finish, I'd be in your debt.
posted by drpynchon at 7:12 AM on November 29, 2004

Personally I shouldn't worry about whether you sound like you're from New England.

You'll be singing, that alone takes away a lot of regional/international accent. Especially if you're singing in the same language as the locale.

I'm from Vermont, myself and always wondered why those people from other parts of the country sounded so funny.
posted by kamylyon at 7:17 AM on November 29, 2004

I'm with Mayor Curley and yerfatma: if you follow ontic's advice, a general audience will be amused and know what you're trying to get at, but any actual New Englanders will just be annoyed if you claim to be representing a particular state. Maine is Vermot meets Canada?! Maybe in the County, where many residents have the bizaare New Brunswickian "French" as their native language.

But having lived in five different Maine towns (Camden, Rockland, Limestone, Kittery Point, and Lovell) I can tell you that at least to me and other Mainers, there are certianly different accents by region just in one state. I think the fact that the spelling of "Chowdah" has been co-opted by resturants along Rt. 1 trying to attract people From Away makes us sensitive to how one tries to "fake" our way of speaking.

Mayor Curley does a much better demonstration/explaination than I could of a classic Maine accent, the slowness is actually appropriate. I know mine is actually fairly light, likely because I lived in New Hamshire and Cape Cod as a child as well. However, my Canadian friends tell me I pronounce "room" to sound like "rum" and I say the word "tour" to sound like "tore" if that helps at all.

What I consider a Boston accent is nothing as extreme as movies make it out to be, I'd reccomend listening to the recordings at the bottom of this Wiki entry, there is a difference in ages as yerfatma mentions.

I'm curious why you would need to fake a New England accent while singing?
posted by nelleish at 8:07 AM on November 29, 2004

Don't fall into the trap where you put an "ah" in everything. It's not "Bah-stin", it's "Baw-stin". The former is actually more of a Chicago/midwestern accent.

As others have said, there are plenty of sub-regional accents and, as yerfatma says, it also differs by age. My mother has a decidedly different accent than I do. (She swims in a POOell and teaches at a SKOOell. She takes a "bahth".)
posted by jpoulos at 10:08 AM on November 29, 2004

Good luck trying to fake an accent. I'm from Canada and whenever I attempt to fake a Baw-stin accent, my New England born-and-bred boyfriend ends up giggling for hours in amusement.

My advice? Hope for a stroke that leaves you with a New England accent. That way you wouldn't have to worry about faking it.
posted by carabiner at 10:33 AM on November 29, 2004

ALERT! For the record, I was affecting an accent. I have only the most pervasive New England vocal traits when speaking normally-- "aunt" pronounced "ahn-t", etc.
posted by Mayor Curley at 10:35 AM on November 29, 2004

I'm thinking that if you want to do Maine, you might try listening to some Marshall Dodge.
posted by plinth at 11:20 AM on November 29, 2004

my singing voice is very, very English

In that case, ignore what everyone is going on about boston dialects and worry about other details - British Received Pronunciation (if you can do that) is actually much closer to the Boston dialect with respect to r-deletion/r-intrusion than most American dialects. It's just the rest of the accent that you have to worry about. In addition to listening to some of the sound files, you might also want to go to a university library and do a search for american dialects - there will be many linguistic books which might be too technical, but there are also usually a bunch of books for actors etc. I assume these will have approachable descriptions of how to approximate various dialects.
posted by advil at 11:25 AM on November 29, 2004

Lifetime MA resident, descendant of many many generations of MA residents here. I think that the Wiki entry is pretty solid on Boston accents.

As for other New England accents--there are some fine recordings of Robert Frost reading his own poetry, which I think are a pretty good representation of a pretty representative New Hampshire accent. (Yes, I know that Frost was born in Massachusetts, but I still think that, by the time he was an old guy, he sounded like a NH native.)

If you want to hear some priceless Vermont accents, I strongly recommend finding the movie Man With A Plan.

And there is no point trying to imitate a Maine accent without first listening to Marshall Dodge or some of the other people who have recorded Dodge's material.

If you only have time to listen to one sample recording, I recommend listening to a recording of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Yes, it's true that Roosevelt was from New York, but that accent is pure New-England-Brahmin (apparently the years at Groton and Harvard left their mark on his speech). It's probably easier to find a recording of FDR than any of the other folks I mentioned.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:35 PM on November 29, 2004

Also, the only good accent on Cheers was Cliff Klavan (the know-it-all mailman). I have a neighbor who sounds exactly like Cliff, which makes it hard for me to listen to him for any stretch of time.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:37 PM on November 29, 2004

Yes, I can see I should have resisted making the claims about Maine's accent -- I have about as little information about it as I do for New Hampshire. Mostly younger college students who haven't swallowed their vowels just yet. I will stand by my Connecticut advice.

But I join with everyone else in saying that there is no one real New England accent, mostly regional and even then subdivided by age.
posted by ontic at 5:03 PM on November 29, 2004

Here's my advice: pronounce every vowel as far back in your throat as possible.

I would just like to mention that I attempted to do this just now, and Marlon Brando's voice from Apocalypse Now inexplicably came out of my mouth.
posted by scody at 5:34 PM on November 29, 2004

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