Their history stretches back 400 years to the earliest European colonies in the area. In this article, we break down the differences and similarities in the various New England accents.
What is the New England accent?
Before we can talk about the New England accent we need to talk about New England. New England is the most northeastern corner of the United States. It encompasses six states: Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Connecticut, Delaware, and Massachusetts.
The largest city in the area is Boston with 4.9 million people in the metropolitan area. Geographically, the states of New England are the smallest states in the USA. World-renowned Harvard and Yale Universities are located in New England.
New England got its name from the English colonists that arrived in the early 17th century. These English colonists brought with them various accents from across England such as Yorkshire and Lancashire.
Over four hundred years and thousands of miles removed from England, these accents developed into the unique New England accents of today. Different waves of immigration from Ireland, Portugal, and Italy also contributed to the ethnic diversity of the area and linguistic changes.
The New England accent isn’t just one accent: it’s actually several accents. Common traits of New England accents are non-rhotic or “r-dropping” pronunciation and a nasal-a sound. The “r-dropping” such as father /fa tha/ may come from the influence of English colonists.
Southern New England Accent
The southeastern New England accent is typified by the Rhode Island accent. Fans of the cartoon Family Guy can hear the Rhode Island accent in the voice of Peter Griffin. The Rhode Island accent will:
- Drop r’s: Peter → /pee tah/
- Not merge cot-caught: cot /kot/ and caught /kawt/
- Round some “a” or “o” sounds similar to a /ͻ/ sound in “oar”: Always → /ͻl ways/
- Merge father-bother: father /fa thah/ and brother /ba thah/
Rhode Island also has its own slang and vocabulary. Rhode Islanders will call a milkshake a “cabinet” and a water fountain known as a “bubbler.” They would pronounce it /bub lah/.
Eastern New England English
The Boston, Maine and New Hampshire accents make up the accents of southeastern New England. They share a lot of characteristics as well as slang. For example, you’ll hear the local emphasis slang “wicked” used across this region.
- Drop r’s: park → /pak/
- Nasal-a: ma /mah/ (mom)
- Add r’s: /Is mar upstas/ (Is mom upstairs?)
- Merge cot-caught: cot /kawt/ and caught /kawt/
The Boston accent has less rounded vowels than the New York accent. A New Yorker would round the “a” vowel like “oar”, so “water” becomes /woar duh/. Whereas a Bostonian would make the “a” nasal like /wah da/.
In Maine, the vowels in “year” or “hard” will be pronounced more like the vowel in “air” /εr/: /yεr/ and /hεrd/.
You might also hear the “s” and “z” consonants change to a “sh” sound. Instead of “I spent my days”, it might sound like /I shpent muh daysh/.
New Hampshire accent
The New Hampshire accent has similar characteristics to other New England accents. People from New Hampshire will:
- Drop r’s: father /fa thah/
- Make diphthongs in words ending with r + vowel: there → /the yah/, dear → /dee yah/
- Add r’s: idea → /i de yer/
- Make a nasal-a: after → /ahf tah/
The locals will pronounce the state name “n’ham shah.” The state capital, Concord, is pronounced /konk’d/.
New England accents are wicked
The New England accent is rich in history and complex in its pronunciation. Whether you’re visiting, going to school or just curious, learning about the accent will help you understand the folks that live in New England. And who knows: maybe you’ll pick up a bit of the New England accent for yourself.
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.