Our next stop in the American accents tour is the City of Boston.
The Boston accent is unique and one of the most difficult accents to replicate. It shares commonalities with other New England accents such as dropping r’s.
Yet, the Boston accent changes and varies so much that it’s all about knowing when to drop the r, add an r or round a vowel.
This article will take you through the origins of the Boston accent, Boston accent features and some Boston accent examples to help you practice.
Why is there a Boston accent?
To the untrained ear, the Boston accent sounds nearly the same as other accents across New England. In fact, some people will use the term New England accent and Boston accent interchangeably. But the Boston accent is unique and is a result of different threads of history and culture.
The origins of the Boston accent can be traced back to the earliest English colonists that settled in the area in the 17th century. Pilgrims and later Puritans brought with them English accents from areas such as Gloucester and Lancashire. This is a possible explanation for why Boston – and other New England accents – drop the “r” in certain words. This is a common characteristic of British pronunciation.
A hundred years later, Boston had developed an upper class called the Boston Brahmins. The Boston Brahmins tried to preserve their English connections with an Anglo-American culture in the way they dressed, lived and spoke.
This upper crust of Boston society would produce many US presidents, including John F Kennedy who famously spoke with a Boston accent. The Boston Brahmins became so synonymous with class and elegance that an intentional fusion of British English and upper-class Boston accents became the famous Mid-Atlantic accent, which was copied and used by movie stars of the mid-20th century.
Over the course of the 19th century, Irish and Italian immigrants came to Boston. Versions of the Boston accent vary as a result. The north and east sides of the city were influenced by Italian immigration. The south side Boston accent was influenced by Irish immigration.
How to do a Boston accent
The Boston accent is one of the most difficult American accents to recreate. While it may have origins in aristocratic society, it is now associated with the working class of Boston.
Let’s break down some elements in a quick Boston accent guide that will help you learn how to do a Boston accent.
Most noticeably, Bostonians will drop their R’s. In standard American pronunciation almost all R’s are pronounced, but not in Boston.
- Park /pak/
- Car /ka/
- Harvard /ha vid/
- Yard /yad/
An “r” will be added as a linking sound between a word that ends in a vowel and the next word that begins in a vowel. This is known as an intrusive or linking “r.”
- /Is mar upstas/ (Is mom upstairs)
- /Dis tuner iz gud/ (This tuna is good)
- /I hav no idear if its gud/ (I have no idea if it’s good)
In the Boston accent, the “ah” vowel sound (as in “hot”) without an “r” gets more rounded and sounds like “aw”.
- Cloth /klawth/
- Tonic /tawnic/
- God /gawd/
- Forty /fawty/
But not always. Sometimes the Boston accent will use a less round “ah” sound instead:
- Boston /bah stun/
- Lobster /lahb stah/
These subtleties and changes are what make the Boston accent unique.
Boston accent examples
You have to listen carefully to the Boston accent if you want to reproduce it. Authentic examples of the Boston accent in movies and TV are sometimes hard to find. Matt Damon and Ben Affleck are from Boston and have heavy accents in Good Will Hunting.
The boy group of the 80s, New Kids on the Block, was also from Boston. All five members have quite strong Boston accents.
“So don’t I”
“So don’t I” is a unique slang in this area. It means “me too” to agree with a positive sentence. Technically it’s grammatically incorrect, but it doesn’t stop Bostonians from using it.
“I love lobster /i lov lahb stah/”, “So don’t I /so doan nay/”
“Park the car in Harvard yard”
The stereotypical phrase for dropping r’s is “park the car in Harvard yard.” Listen to locals say it, then practice it yourself.
Wicked pissah means amazing or great.
“Yaw pah dee is wicked pissah.” (Your party is great).
The Boston accent: wicked pissah
At its lightest, the Boston accent is just a bit different. At its most colorful, you might not understand a word.
Learning the accent and phrases like “so don’t I” can go a long way in helping you visit or live in the Boston area. If you ever meet a Bostonian out in the world, you can always say “wicked pissah” and they’ll love it.
Alison Maciejewski Cortez is Chilean-American, born and raised in California. She studied abroad in Spain, has lived in multiple countries, and now calls Mexico home. She believes that learning how to order a beer in a new language reveals a lot about local culture. Alison speaks English, Spanish, and Thai fluently and studies Czech and Turkish. Her tech copywriting business takes her around the world and she is excited to share language tips as part of the Lingoda team. Follow her culinary and cultural experiences on Twitter.