AccentFilter: What makes a New England accent recognizable?
September 1, 2007 6:30 PM   Subscribe

AccentFilter: What makes a New England accent recognizable?

Having lived in the New England (i.e Boston area.) since my childhood, I've probably acquired some local speech quirks. However, I thought that my accent was pretty much standard American since I don't have the Boston habit of leaving out the R in many words. (In fact, I don't believe I have anything resembling what people think of as a Boston accent.) One time though, an Internet chatter, pegged me down as someone from the Northeast by the way I spoke. Since then, I've wondered whether there is some pronunciation features that make New Englanders stand out to people from other parts of the US. (BTW: I mean New Englanders who don't drop their Rs and think that they speak a very standard, non-local American English.)
posted by gregb1007 to Writing & Language (21 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: my first thought is the 'flat a'. it's not so much that you may or may not drop your Rs, but that you pronounce the 'ar' combo with a bit of a, shall we say, legato on the 'a'.

mr. lfr does this and he grew up in connecticut. and he doesn't drop Rs, but the day i met him i said 'hey you're from New England, aren't you?' people from new england also have, for lack of a better term, what i'd refer to as 'clipped' speech; i.e. they talk fast and sort of bite the ends of their words off.

people still pick up on the fact that i'm from the rural ohio/midwest region because when i'm not paying strict attention i have 'lazy' Os: 'ahia' for 'OhiO', and do things such as 'tell' for 'tAIl. it's very subtle as i haven't lived there in years, but i still do it.
posted by lonefrontranger at 6:44 PM on September 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

There are a lot of other, less noticeable features you may have, such as pronouncing "cot" and "caught" differently (which are indistinguishable in most American accents). This page gives examples of some of the vowel differences in addition to the rhoticity issue. Sample recordings are included.

(Also, more than anyone would want to know about the sounds of New England speech.)
posted by wintersweet at 6:53 PM on September 1, 2007

The ahh sound is definitely it. Also they seem to have trouble with their R's. Most words that end in R sound like they end in ahh. There are several words that don't have an R in them, but sound like they end in 3R's when spoken by a New Englander.
posted by sanka at 6:54 PM on September 1, 2007

By new England do you mean Bangor, Portland, Boston, Worcester, Providence or Woonsocket? Because each accent is very different. You may however been outed not by your accent, but rather a coloquialism. I say tonic, in Worcester it is a pop, elsewhere a soda. Some people can peg you by your use of frappe when they mean a milkshake. YMMV
posted by Gungho at 7:24 PM on September 1, 2007

Response by poster: Gungho.. I really mean Boston area.......
posted by gregb1007 at 7:26 PM on September 1, 2007

posted by LobsterMitten at 7:32 PM on September 1, 2007

you asked what makes a New Englander stand out... try asking for a frappe in Baltimore, They'll have no idea. Try asking for a coffee milk in Boston, same story.
posted by Gungho at 8:23 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Gungho, I am interested in the particularities of the pronunciation of New Englanders (or Boston-area) English speakers rather than their word choice... But the frappe vs. "coffee milk" is an interesting tidbit of information.
posted by gregb1007 at 8:57 PM on September 1, 2007

Best answer: As a native of Arlington Mass transplanted to Ohio at the age of eleven I can tell you that a Boston accent can lurk in the interstices of one's speech in the form of slightly flattened a's, multi-syllablic long O's (grab the oars!) and things I am probably not aware of even though I now live in Connecticut where all sorts of accents coexist.
posted by longsleeves at 10:24 PM on September 1, 2007 [2 favorites]

Well, y'kin pahk yuh cah in Hahvahd Yahd... or you can park your car in Harvard Yard. That's stereotypical, of course, but those broad, flat "a"s are the most obvious signifier of a New England accent.

Take a look at the links from wintersweet and LobsterMitten (after you take a moment to admire the latter's eponyfection).
posted by vetiver at 10:39 PM on September 1, 2007

So sorry, gregb1007! Lazy, late-night skimming of your question and a lazy, stupid answer. But I did click through on the links from the aforementioned members and I do think (even post-non-preview) that they'll be useful.

And, really, how can you not trust the word of a LobsterMitten on such an issue?
posted by vetiver at 10:46 PM on September 1, 2007

Best answer: My college roommate from Boston once took me to task because, in my flat Midwestern accent, the words "marry," "merry," and "Mary" are all homophones. Ditto for the names "Erin" and "Aaron." To a New Englander, those words are all subtly different. To me, not so much.
posted by web-goddess at 11:29 PM on September 1, 2007

I've posted in AskMe before about the Speech Accent Archive, but in case you don't know about the SAA, I suggest you take a look at this page and click on these samples from Boston-area speakers, such as this woman and this man.

If you feel like listening to non-Bostonian New Englanders, you can look through the list of all English speakers (it's not in any sort of order, though--you'll have to search through it).

I love that site--it is addictive, and I've spent many an hour listening to people say, "Please call Stella..."!
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 11:30 PM on September 1, 2007 [1 favorite]

I have noticed that sometimes "r" is added to the end of words that do not end in "r" and left off of words that do....
posted by Womanscientist at 8:01 AM on September 2, 2007

Womanscientist, while apparently missing an important part of the question, does add one very, very important point: The additional r's. (There's a word for that, but I can't think of it.)

If one word ends in a vowel, and the subsequent word begins with one, New Englanders (Bostonians in particular) tend to stick an r in between them.

And then of course there are r's in the middles of words, too. How are you pronouncing those ones?
posted by Reggie Digest at 11:54 AM on September 2, 2007

I've been told that a signature of the Connecticut accent is sort of a glottal stop or swallowed "T" in the middle of words like 'fountain' and 'Clinton'. They end up sounding more like "foun'in" and "Clin'in" (not to mention "Cuhneddigkit" itself), and people, like Martha Stewart, who pronounce those Ts crisply sound rather prissy and uptight.
posted by xo at 1:02 PM on September 2, 2007

You pronounce "quarter" as "kwor-tah" instead of "court-er".

Or at least Norm Abrams does.
posted by lisaici at 10:57 PM on September 2, 2007

It's been mentioned already, but I have a lot of family from Maine and Massachusetts, and they have no idea they end words with an 'R' sound when it doesn't apply.

posted by doppleradar at 7:50 AM on September 3, 2007

Response by poster: lisaci, i thought quarter was definitely supposed to be pronounced with a kwor... do people really pronounce it with a cour like in court? Never noticed...
posted by gregb1007 at 12:24 PM on September 3, 2007

You also will be outed for saying "wicked", "bang a u-ie" and "I just went to the packy to get a handle".

I get outed all the time as being from Boston, despite living in the suburbs. Most of the time, it's for saying "wicked". I never realized how often I used that word until I moved to PA, where it's use elicits a response of "omg, you really do say wicked in New England?!"
posted by nursegracer at 8:03 AM on September 4, 2007

ditto lonefrontranger, and ditto Reggie Digest. I didn't know I said "I sawrit" until my non-New England friends made fun of me.

Another thing I don't see mentioned: words that end in "oom." Words like room and broom? That "oo" doesn't sound like the "oo" in root. It sounds like the "oo" in book.

I also drop Ts in the middle like xo points out. I thought most Americans did that, though.
posted by lampoil at 11:23 AM on September 4, 2007

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