Eastern New England English

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Eastern New England English, historically known as the Yankee dialect since at least the nineteenth century,[1][2] is the traditional regional dialect of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts.[3][4] Features of this variety once spanned an even larger dialect area of New England, for example, including the eastern half of Vermont as recently as the mid-twentieth century.[5] Studies vary as to whether the distinctive dialect of Rhode Island falls within the Eastern New England dialect region.[6]

Eastern New England English (here, including Rhode Island English) is historically associated with sound patterns such as non-rhoticity (or r-dropping after a vowel); both variants of Canadian raising, including a fairly back starting position of the // vowel (as in loud);[7][8] and some or total resistance to the mary–marry–merry merger.[9] Some traditional aspects of Eastern New England speech are receding, due to some younger Eastern New Englanders avoiding them, especially non-rhoticity,[10][11] which they perceive as old-fashioned, rural-sounding,[12] or negatively associated with Boston.[13]

Overview of phonology[edit]

The sound system of traditional Eastern New England English includes:

  • Non-rhoticity: The r sound may be "dropped" or "silent" if it is not before a vowel; therefore, in words like car, letter, horse, poor, etc. The feature is receding and is not found in many younger speakers,[14] for example, in virtually no speakers born since the mid-1900s in southeastern New Hampshire.[13]
    • Linking and intrusive r: The non-rhotic r may be pronounced after all if it is followed by a vowel, even a vowel that begins the next word in the sentence. Also, any word that ends in /ə/ (as in Cuba), /ɑː/ (as in spa), or /ɔː/ (as in law) can be followed by an unwritten r sound when followed by a vowel sound in the next word: thus, law and public safety sounds like Lauren public safety.
  • Fronting of /ɑːr/: The vowel of words like car, park, heart, stark, etc. is pronounced farther to the front of the vocal tract than in most other dialects, so that car, for example, is something like [kʰäː~kʰaː]. This, plus non-rhoticity, is often associated with the shibboleth "Park the car in Harvard yard." This fronting is seldom reported in Rhode Island, in which car is more often [kʰɑː].[15]
  • Backing of //: The vowel of goose, rude, coup, etc. remains pronounced relatively far back in the mouth.[16]
  • Horse–hoarse merger in transition: The vowel of words like war versus wore, or morning versus mourning, are mostly produced either very close or the same in Eastern New England; however, as of the early 2000s, such vowels may still be pronounced differently by some Eastern New England speakers, especially in Maine.[17] Conversely, the merger of the vowels is largely complete elsewhere in the United States.
  • Full Canadian raising: The tongue is raised in the first element of the gliding vowel // (About this sound listen) as well as // (About this sound listen) whenever either appears before a voiceless consonant.[18] Therefore, a word like house /hs/ is often [hɜʊs~hɐʊs].
  • Backing of //: The vowel of gouge, loud, town, power, etc. has a relatively back-of-mouth starting position: thus, something like [äʊ].[17]
  • Lack of mary–marry–merry merger: The sounds /ɛər/, /ær/, /ɛr/, for example, in the words Mary, marry, and merry, are pronounced each with distinct vowels. However, recent studies have shown that there is an emerging tendency in Northeastern New England to merge them to some extent. In contrast, Southeastern New England (namely, Rhode Island) continues to keep them all separate, as in the New York City area and Britain.[17]
  • "Short a" nasal system: The "short a" sound /æ/ may be tensed in various environments, though most severely before a nasal consonant; therefore, in words like man, clam, Annie, etc.

Overview of vocabulary[edit]

The terms "frappe" to mean "thick milkshake";[19] "bubbler" (also found in Wisconsin) to mean "water fountain";[20] and "tonic" to mean "sweet carbonated soft drink" (called "soda" elsewhere in New England),[21] are largely unique to northeastern (and, to a lesser extent, southeastern) New England English vocabulary. Using "jimmies" to mean "(chocolate) sprinkles" is primarily a phenomenon of the Boston area.[22] In addition to the widespread term "wicked," the word "pisser," often phonetically spelled "pissa(h)," is another Northeastern New England intensifier (plus sometimes an uncountable noun) for something that is very highly regarded by the speaker.

Northeastern New England English[edit]

Northeastern New England English, popularly recognized as a Boston or Maine accent, in addition to all the above phonological features, further includes the merger of the vowel in cot and caught to [ɒː~ɑː], often with a slightly rounded quality, but a resistance to the merger of the vowels in father versus bother, a merger that is otherwise common throughout North America. Also, for speakers born before 1950, the words half and pass (and, before World War II, also ask and can't) are pronounced with a "broad a," like in spa: [häːf] and [pʰäːs].


Boston, Massachusetts is the birthplace and most famous site of Eastern New England English. Historically, a Northeastern type of New England English spread from metropolitan Boston into metropolitan Worcester, the bulk of New Hampshire, and central and coastal Maine.[23] Boston speech also originated many slang and uniquely local terms that have since spread throughout Massachusetts and Eastern New England.[24] Although mostly non-rhotic, the modern Boston accent typically pronounces the r sound in the NURSE vowel, /ɜːr/, as in bird, learn, turkey, world, etc.


The old Maine accent, the closest remnant today to an old Yankee regional accent, includes the phonology mentioned above, plus the breaking of /ɛər/ (as in there), /ɪər/ (as in here), and /r/ (as in more) each into two syllables: they-uh, hee-yuh, and moh-uh; some distinct vocabulary is also used in this accent.[25] Maine is one of the last American regions to resist the horse–hoarse merger. This continued resistance was verified by some speakers in a 2006 study of Bangor and Portland, Maine,[17] yet contradicted by a 2013 study that reported the merger as embraced by Portland speakers "of all ages".[26] The traditional horse–hoarse separation means that words like war and wore may sound different: war rhyming with law, and wore rhyming with boa. Unlike the Boston accent, this traditional Maine accent may be non-rhotic entirely: even in the pronunciation of /ɜːr/.

Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

Southeastern New England English[edit]

Southeastern New England English, popularly recognized as a Rhode Island accent, in addition to all of the features mentioned under the phonology section above, further includes a sharp distinction in the vowels of Mary, marry, and merry, as well as in the vowels in cot [ɑ] versus caught [oə],[38] plus the pronunciation of /ɑːr/, as in car, far back in the mouth as [ɑː~ɑə], all of which makes this New England accent noticeably similar to a New York accent.[39][40] A few words are unique only to this area, such as the older word cabinet to mean milkshake.[19]

Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

French-American Manchester[edit]

An ethnic local accent has been documented among self-identifying French Americans in Manchester, New Hampshire.[44] The accent's most prominent pronunciation features are th-stopping (pronouncing thin like tin and there like dare) and, variably, word-initial h-dropping (so that hair may sound like air).[45]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Robert Hendrickson (2000). The Facts on File Dictionary of American Regionalisms. Infobase. p. 326. 
  2. ^ Sletcher, Michael (2004). New England. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. p. 264
  3. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:137)
  4. ^ Stanford et al. (2012: 130)
  5. ^ Stanford et al. (2012: 161)
  6. ^ See, for example, that Labov's 2006 Atlas of North American English frequently includes Providence/Rhode Island under this general dialect, yet his 1997 Regional Telsur Map does not.
  7. ^ Nagy & Roberts (2004:276)
  8. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:154, 227)
  9. ^ Stanford et al. (2012: 154)
  10. ^ Stanford et al. (2014: 120)
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:226)
  12. ^ Stanford et al. (2012: 160-1)
  13. ^ a b Platt, Melanie, "Do you "park your car" or "pahk your cah?: The Changing Dialect of Southern New Hampshire" (2015). Inquiry Journal 2015. 5. http://scholars.unh.edu/inquiry_2015/5
  14. ^ [1]
  15. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:111)
  16. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:154)
  17. ^ a b c d Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:227)
  18. ^ Boberg, Charles (2010). The English Language in Canada: Status, History and Comparative Analysis. Cambridge University Press. p. 156. 
  19. ^ a b Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "What do you call the drink made with milk and ice cream?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  20. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "What do you call the thing from which you might drink water in a school?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  21. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "What is your generic term for a sweetened carbonated beverage?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  22. ^ Jan Freeman (March 13, 2011). "The Jimmies Story: Can an ice cream topping be racist?". boston.com. Retrieved March 4, 2015. 
  23. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg2006:225)
  24. ^ http://www.universalhub.com/glossary/
  25. ^ Fowles, Debby (2015). "Speak Like a Mainer". About Travel. About.com. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  26. ^ Ryland, Alison (2013). "A Phonetic Exploration of the English of Portland, Maine". Swarthmore College.
  27. ^ Shapiro, Leonard (June 2, 2010). "Top 10: Dialing up the best in Washington sports radio". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  28. ^ Metcalf, A. (2004). Presidential Voices. Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush. Boston, MA: Houghton Mifflin. pp. 150.
  29. ^ Sullivan, Jim (2001-04-18). "Lenny Clarke Deftly Handles Nightschtick". The Boston Globe. 
  30. ^ Calhoun, Ada (2004-03-29). "Did You Hear The One About The @&%#! Comic?". New York. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  31. ^ Healy, Patrick (2009-09-02). "A Mannah of Speaking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  32. ^ Concannon, Jim (May 12, 2009). "Mel's Vision". The Boston Globe. 
  33. ^ King, Dennis (1989). Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. New York: Doubleday. p. 306. 
  34. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (2006-02-19). "The nonpolitician who would be governor". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  35. ^ Gardner, Amy (2009-02-11). "A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  36. ^ Bizjak, Marybeth (February 2007). "Mr. Fix-It". Sacramento Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  37. ^ Jensen, Sean (2004-12-03). "Despite his unlikely build, Vikings' Wiggins gets it done at tight end". Saint Paul Pioneer Press. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  38. ^ "Guide to Rhode Island Language Stuff". Quahog.org. Retrieved May 30, 2007. 
  39. ^ "This phonemic and phonetic arrangement of the low back vowels makes Rhode Island more similar to New York City than to the rest of New England".Labov, Ash & Ash (2006:226)
  40. ^ Boberg, Charles (2001). "The Phonological Status of Western New England". American Speech. 76 (1): 28, 3–29. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-1-3. 
  41. ^ Brady, James (1997). "Don't Spend Any Time Trying to Detonate John Chafee". Advertising Age. 
  42. ^ "Raffert Meets the Press". John Carroll University. 2011. 'Pauly D has the thickest Rhode Island accent I've ever heard,' [Brian] Williams told us. 
  43. ^ De Vries, Hilary (1990). "Spalding Gray : His New Favorite Subject--Him". Los Angeles Times. 
  44. ^ Nagy & Roberts (2004:278)
  45. ^ Nagy & Roberts (2004:296)


  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006), The Atlas of North American English, Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter, ISBN 3-11-016746-8 
  • Nagy, Naomi; Roberts, Juli (2004), "New England phonology" (PDF), in Schneider, E., K., B. Kortmann, R., and C.; Burridge, K.; Mesthrie, R.; Upton, C., Handbook of Varieties of English, 1, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, pp. 270–281 
  • Stanford, James N.; Leddy-Cecere, Thomas A.; Baclawski Jr., Kenneth P. "Farewell To The Founders: Major Dialect Changes Along The East-West New England Border." American Speech 87.2 (2012): pp. 126–169. Communication & Mass Media Complete. Web. 2 Nov. 2015.
  • Stanford, James N.; Severance, Nathan A.; Baclawski Jr., Kenneth P. "Multiple vectors of unidirectional dialect change in eastern New England." Language Variation and Change (2014) Vol.26(1), pp. 103–140.