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New England English

The Northeastern (NENE), Northwestern (NWNE), Southwestern (SWNE), and Southeastern (SENE) New England dialects are represented here, as mapped by the Atlas of North American English on the basis of data from major cities.

New England English collectively refers to the four major varieties of North American English originating in the New England area. Natives of much of Connecticut, western Vermont, and western Massachusetts,[2] as well as some members of the current younger generation in other parts of New England, tend to speak with an accent that is closer to General American; however, the other New England dialects exhibit unique characteristics. The four major New England English varieties are most simply defined as follows:


  • Overview 1
    • Phonological characteristics 1.1
      • Distinctions 1.1.1
      • Commonalities 1.1.2
      • Influence on the Inland North 1.1.3
    • Lexical characteristics 1.2
  • Northeastern New England 2
    • Phonological characteristics 2.1
    • Lexical characteristics 2.2
    • Notable lifelong native speakers 2.3
  • Southeastern New England 3
    • Phonological characteristics 3.1
    • Lexical characteristics 3.2
    • Notable lifelong native speakers 3.3
  • Northwestern New England 4
    • Phonological characteristics 4.1
    • Notable lifelong native speakers 4.2
  • Southwestern New England 5
    • Phonological characteristics 5.1
  • See also 6
  • References 7
  • Further reading 8
  • External links 9


Phonological characteristics


New England English is not a single American dialect, but a collective term of convenience for the four dialects or major varieties that are close geographic neighbors within New England, but which differ on a spectrum that divides New England English into a unique north versus south (specifically, a northern merger of the vowels and , versus a southern distinction between these vowels), as well as a unique east versus west (specifically, an eastern pronunciation of the "r" sound only before vowels, versus a western pronunciation of all "r" sounds). Regarding the former feature, all of northern New England (most famously including Boston, but going as far southeast as Cape Cod and as far north as central Maine) historically merges together the open and open-mid back rounded vowels (so that, for instance, pond and pawned are pronounced the same, which linguists commonly call the cot–caught merger), while southern coastal New England (including Rhode Island) historically maintains a noticeable distinction between these two vowels. Regarding the second feature, all of eastern New England is historically non-rhotic (famously pronouncing "car" like "kah"), while all of western New England is historically rhotic (or "r-ful"). Therefore, four combinations of these two features are possible, and coincidentally all four exist among New England English speakers, largely correlated with the exact geographic quadrant in New England in which a speaker was raised (and excluding cases where the speaker has learned a General American accent).


All of New England raises the tongue in the first element of the diphthong before voiceless consonants; eastern New England, specifically, also raises the first element of before voiceless consonants.[7]

All the local dialects of New England are also known for commonly pronouncing the unstressed sequences and (for example, found in "sitting" or "Britain" ) as [ʔən] (  ). This form of t-glottalization (especially the form) is found commonly in other parts of the country as well (including General American), like in the word "Britain" (sometimes represented along the lines of Brih'in); however, the characteristic is most prevalent in New England.

The extent that speakers raise the tongue in the English "short a" vowel varies widely in New England; however, across the board, New England speakers demonstrate a definite "nasal" short-a system, in which the vowel is always raised the absolute strongest whenever occurring before the nasal consonants and [8] (so that, pan, for example, nearly approaches the sound of the word paean). In all of New England except Rhode Island and southern Connecticut, the short a may also be noticeably raised in many other environments.[9]

The red areas are those where non-rhotic pronunciation is found among Caucasians in the United States. AAVE-influenced non-rhotic pronunciations may be found among African-Americans throughout the country.[10]

Influence on the Inland North

Western New England English is closely related to and influential on, but more conservative (i.e. preserving more historical features) than, the Inland North dialect which prevails farther west,[11] and which has altered away from western New England English due to an entirely new chain shift of the vowels since the 1900s. Western New England, though, does show conditions that favor the beginnings of this chain shift.

Lexical characteristics

The following terms originate from and are used nearly exclusively throughout New England: "grinder" (except in Maine, whose local term is "Italian sandwich") to mean "submarine sandwich"[12] and "package store" (less common in Vermont)—or, informally in Massachusetts, "packie"—to mean "liquor store,"[13] and "tag sale" to mean "garage sale."[14]In New England, and elsewhere in the northeastern United States, "sneakers" is the primary term for "athletic shoes," and "rotary" is the primary term for either "traffic circle" or "roundabout."[15][16] Common typically before adjectives or adverbs, the intensifier "wicked" is used in central and northern New England, originating from the Boston area.[17]

Northeastern New England

Phonological characteristics

The northeastern New England dialect (popularly recognized as a "Boston accent" or "Maine accent") is spoken in a region that includes much of eastern Massachusetts, New Hampshire, coastal Maine, and areas of southwestern Nova Scotia.[18][19] It is traditionally marked by its non-rhoticity: the "dropping" or "deleting" of the r-sound in words like car, card, fear, chowder (  ), etc., though this feature is receding throughout most of the rest of the United States. The phoneme is specifically realized more centrally as the non-rhotic [äː].[21] The phrase park the car in Harvard Yard—dialectally transcribed [pʰäːk ðə ˈkʰäːɹ‿ɪn ˈhäːvəd ˈjäːd]—is commonly used as a shibboleth for the non-rhotic northeastern New England accent, which contrasts with the generally rhotic accents elsewhere in North America.[22]

There are several systems of pronouncing "short a" (the /æ/ in pack or bad) attested in the region, including the "nasal" system, remnants of the "broad-a" system, and "Northern breaking."[23] A feature that some Boston English speakers, especially older ones, share with England's Received Pronunciation is the so-called broad a: in a specific set of words that in other American accents have [æ], such as half and bath, that vowel is replaced with [äː]: [häːf], [bäːθ]. Fewer words have the broad a in Boston English than in Received Pronunciation, and fewer and fewer Boston speakers maintain the broad-a system as time goes on, but it may still be noticeable. Instead, since the mid-1900s, the broad a has been completely replaced by "Northern breaking," in which the short a is slightly raised and has an in-glide in almost all environments (i.e. [ɛə]), for example, so that half /hæf/ becomes [hɛəf].[24]

Speakers of the northeastern New England dialect typically maintain a distinction between the /ɑ/ vowel in father or calm (pronounced as [a]) versus the round-lipped /ɒ/ vowel as in dog or hot, a pair that is merged in virtually all other North American accents, but still differentiated in most of England's accents.[19] However, some speakers may use [ɒ] for the word dog but [a] for frog, hog, log, etc., a distinction that is present in most North American English dialects. In northeastern New England, the vowels of words like caught and cot are pronounced identically (thus, both are   ).[25] These vowels are not merged, however, in southeastern and southwestern New England.

Northeastern New England speakers participate in "Canadian raising," raising the tongue at the start of the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ towards [ɐɪ] and [ɐʊ] (  ), respectively, before voiceless consonants, causing a distinction between the vowels in words like bowed and bout (  ) or between the noun house and the verb house.[7]

There is some evidence that New Hampshire has been shifting over time away from the mainstay northeastern New England dialect. Younger speakers have begun to merge the vowels, mentioned above, in father ([a]) and dog ([ɒ]).[26] New Hampshirites have also grown to pronounce /r/ with greater frequency than speakers in Massachusetts,[27] and have moved towards a system of "short-a" pronunciation that is distinct from Boston speakers.[23]

Lexical characteristics

The terms "frappe" to mean "thick milkshake";[28] "bubbler" (also found in Wisconsin) to mean "water fountain";[29] and "tonic" to mean "sweet carbonated soft drink" (called "soda" elsewhere in New England),[30] 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.[31] Aside from "wicked," the word "pisser," often phonetically spelled "pissa(h)," is another northeastern New England intensifier and sometimes an uncountable noun for something that is very highly regarded.

Notable lifelong native speakers

  • Ken Beatrice — "... the New England native with the pronounced Boston accent"[32]
  • Lenny Clarke — "a Cambridge-raised verbal machine gun with a raspy Boston accent"[33]
  • Nick DiPaolo — "thick Boston accent"[34]
  • Edward "Ted" Kennedy — "No one else from Boston, or anywhere in New England, has imprinted the regional accent on the national consciousness as Senator Kennedy did."[35]
  • Mel King — "he has the soft R's of a deep Boston accent"[36]
  • Lyndon LaRouche — "a cultivated New England accent"[37]
  • Christy Mihos — "speaks unpretentiously in a variation of a Boston accent, and drops the 'g' in words like talking or running."[38]
  • Brian and Jim Moran— "The Moran brothers share[...] an unmistakable Massachusetts accent"[39]
  • Tom Silva — "New England accent"[40]
  • Jermaine Wiggins — "skin as thick as his East Boston accent"[41]

Southeastern New England

Phonological characteristics

The southeastern New England dialect (popularly recognized as a "Rhode Island accent" or "Providence accent") historically includes all of Rhode Island and limited neighboring areas outside of Rhode Island, such as Bristol County, Massachusetts and extreme eastern Connecticut.

The traditional southeastern New England dialect appears to blend many sounds of both the New York City and Boston (northeastern New England) accents. Like the most traditional speakers of both of these accents, Rhode Island English is (historically) non-rhotic,[42] uses the linking and intrusive R sounds, and keeps the pronunciations of Mary, marry, and merry distinct. Other features include that /ɑr/ (e.g. in car), through non-rhoticity, becomes [ɑə];[20] there is a noticeable tendency to raise the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ toward [ɐɪ] and [ɐʊ], respectively, before voiceless consonants (as in Boston); /ɔː/ is relatively close and approaches [ɔə][43] (as in New York City); and the cot–caught merger is absent[44][45](as in New York City).

Lexical characteristics

The terms "frappe," "bubbler," and "tonic" are almost entirely confined to the vocabulary of eastern New England. Specifically, the word "cabinet" (in place of "frappe" or "milkshake") is an exclusively southeastern New England term.[28]

Notable lifelong native speakers

Northwestern New England

Phonological characteristics

The northwestern New England dialect (popularly recognized as a "Vermont accent") is fully r-pronouncing, and the cot–caught merger is largely complete north of Northampton, Massachusetts, towards [ɑ]. Seven of the eight Vermont speakers in a recent study from Labov, Ash, and Boberg fully merged the two vowels.[49]

For some Burlington speakers, words like bad and stack are pronounced with [eə] (similar to the Inland North dialect), and nasal words like stand and can are pronounced [ɛə].[50] Labov (1991: 12) suggests that unified raising of words like "trap," "bath," and "dance" is a pivot point for the NCVS (the Northern Cities Vowel Shift).[51] Charles Boberg further argues that the NCVS may thus have had its beginnings in northwestern New England.[52] The existence of this raising pattern is surprising if one accepts the lack of "bath"-raising in the LANE data (Kurath 1939-43), especially given that Labov, Ash and Boberg do not show this to be an incipient vigorous change: older speakers show more raising than younger speakers, for example, in Rutland, Vermont.[53][54]

This dialect shows consistent fronting of /ɑː/ before /r/, therefore towards [aɻ~äɹ], in words like car or barn. The phoneme (e.g. in "goat") remains low and lax, similar to [o̞ʊ~ɔʊ], and sometimes with no glide as monophthongal [o̞].[55] Especially rural speakers pronounce "milk" as .

A dwindling, generally both rural and male segment of the northwestern New England population (and especially in northwestern Vermont) pronounces with a higher starting point as [ɛʊ] (e.g. in "cows";   ), and an older segment of this same population pronounces (e.g. in "lie") with a lower and/or more rounded starting point as [ɔɪ~əɪ].[56] These speakers may retain vestigial elements of the trap-bath split, backing and lowering in certain environments,[57] particularly in function words like that and have. A deep retroflex approximant for "r" is a common characteristic among many rural northwestern speakers. All these characteristics appear to be inherited from West Country[58] and Scots-Irish ancestors.[57] On the whole, Western New England had more West Country settlers than did eastern New England.[58]

Notable lifelong native speakers

Southwestern New England

Phonological characteristics

Spoken in the western half of Massachusetts, most of Connecticut, southernmost Vermont, and just outside of New England in the adjoining region of New York State, southwestern New England English is fairly variable and inconsistent, except for having uniform rhoticity and all the major vowel mergers associated with mainstream U.S. speech ("General American");[1] therefore, it is the New England variety most difficult for American laypersons and even dialectologists to identify by any "distinct" accent.[60] In fact, General American derives from a sound system widely heard (at least, before the 1900s) in the "Inland North" or "Midwest," which itself derives from the English of western New England,[61] whose more conservative features today still exist in many speakers of southwestern New England.

In 2001, Charles Boberg discussed the concept of southwestern New England English as its own unique dialect, instead hesitantly proposing that it be regarded as a "subtype" of the Inland North dialect, based on Inland North pronunciation commonalities with older southwestern New England speakers: namely, the universal raising of the short a and the absence of the cot–caught merger.[4] However, younger southwestern New England speakers have diverged away from both of these features, which Boberg at least partly foresaw;[62] these variables are all discussed in greater detail below.

Regarding the cot–caught merger, southwestern New England speech has historically lacked the merger, before entering a transitional state of the merger in the mid-1900s.[63] A "cot–caught approximation" now prevails especially in Springfield and western Massachusetts,[64] but is variable from one speaker to the next with no apparent age-based correlation, except that some of the youngest speakers now demonstrate a full merger.[64] Recent data from Labov, Ash, and Boberg has all western Connecticut speakers keeping cot and caught distinct, resembling the Inland North pattern; however, again, a definite tending towards the merger may be found among younger speakers.[55] Some local working-class white speakers of southwestern Connecticut (especially Greater Bridgeport, and to a lesser degree, Greater New Haven) and the adjacent Hudson Valley area of New York, are more strongly influenced by the neighboring New York City dialect. These speakers' accents continue to resist the cot–caught merger.

Another variable feature in the English of the Hartford (CT) and Springfield (MA) areas is that older speakers show more instances of universal raising of the short a , while younger speakers show more instances of raising this vowel only before nasal consonants,[53][54] as with most U.S. English speakers.[52] The Atlas of North American English confirms that this raising phenomenon is highly variable in the region, though studies agree that raising always occurs strongest before nasal consonants.

Some speakers in southwestern New England shows the basic tendency of the Northern Cities Shift (the defining feature of the Great Lakes region's Inland North dialect) to centralize both /ɛ/ (to [ɛ~ɜ]) /ɑ/ (to [ɑ~ä]). This suggests that this region is the original source of the Northern Cities Shift that has become more advanced in the Midwest, a general region just beyond New England (to its west). Though inconsistent among southwestern New England speakers themselves, these features occur just enough to act as the "pivot conditions" of the Shift.[65]

See also


  1. ^ a b Labov (2006), p. 227, 229, 231.
  2. ^ Herman, Lewis; Shalett Herman, Marguerite (1997). "The New England Dialect". American Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers. Routledge. p. 25.  
  3. ^ a b c d Labov (2006), p. 225.
  4. ^ a b Boberg (2001), p. 28.
  5. ^ In a 2001 article, Charles Boberg considered the matter of southwestern New England English as its own dialect, but instead hesitantly labelled it a "subtype" of the Inland North dialect,[4] though it is an inconsistent dialect region and one very much in transition, as the article demonstrates.
  6. ^ Labov (2006), p. 61.
  7. ^ a b  
  8. ^ Labov (2006), p. 84.
  9. ^ Labov (2006), p. 82.
  10. ^ Labov (2006), p. 48.
  11. ^ Nagy, Naomi; Roberts, Julie (2004). "New England phonology". In Edgar Schneider, Kate Burridge, Bernd Kortmann, Rajend Mesthrie, and Clive Upton. A handbook of varieties of English. Volume 1: Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 270–281. 
  12. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "What do you call the long sandwich that contains cold cuts, lettuce, and so on?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  13. ^ Vaux, Bert and Marius L. Jøhndal. "What do you a call a store that is devoted primarily to selling alcoholic beverages?" Cambridge Online Survey of World Englishes. University of Cambridge.
  14. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "Which of these terms do you prefer for a sale of unwanted items on your porch, in your yard, etc.?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  15. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "What do you call a traffic situation in which several roads meet in a circle and you have to get off at a certain point?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  16. ^ Vaux, Bert and Scott Golder. 2003. "What is your *general* term for the rubber-soled shoes worn in gym class, for athletic activities, etc.?." The Harvard Dialect Survey. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Linguistics Department.
  17. ^ Szelog, Mike. "Ayuh, the Northern New England Accent in a Nutshell." The Heart of New England.
  18. ^ Schneider, Edgar; Bernd Kortmann (2005). A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multi-Media Reference Tool. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 270.  
  19. ^ a b Kurath, Hans; Raven Ioor McDavid (1961). The Pronunciation of English in the Atlantic States: Based upon the Collections of the Linguistic Atlas of the Eastern United States. University of Michigan Press.  
  20. ^ a b Labov (2006), p. 227.
  21. ^ ;[20] also, see Map 16.4
  22. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Natalie Schilling-Estes (1998). American English: Dialects and Variation. Wiley-Blackwell.  
  23. ^ a b Wood, Jim (2011). "Short-a in Northern New England". Journal of English Linguistics 39 (2): 135–165.  
  24. ^ Wells (1982), p. 523.
  25. ^ Fitzpatrick, Jim (2006). "Beantown Babble (Boston, MA)". In W. Wolfram and B. Ward. American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Wiley-Blackwell.  
  26. ^ Nagy, Naomi (2001). ""Live Free or Die" as a linguistic principle". American Speech 76 (1): 30–41.  
  27. ^ Nagy, Naomi; Irwin, Patricia (2010). "Boston (r): Neighbo(r)s nea(r) and fa(r)". Language Variation and Change 22 (2): 241–278.  
  28. ^ 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.
  29. ^ 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.
  30. ^ 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.
  31. ^ Jan Freeman (March 13, 2011). "The Jimmies Story: Can an ice cream topping be racist?". Retrieved March 4, 2015. 
  32. ^ Shapiro, Leonard (June 2, 2010). "Top 10: Dialing up the best in Washington sports radio". The Washington Post. Retrieved January 18, 2015. 
  33. ^ Sullivan, Jim (2001-04-18). "Lenny Clarke Deftly Handles Nightschtick".  
  34. ^ Calhoun, Ada (2004-03-29). "Did You Hear The One About The @&%#! Comic?".  
  35. ^ Healy, Patrick (2009-09-02). "A Mannah of Speaking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  36. ^ Concannon, Jim (May 12, 2009). "Mel's Vision". The Boston Globe. 
  37. ^  
  38. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (2006-02-19). "The nonpolitician who would be governor". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  39. ^ Gardner, Amy (2009-02-11). "A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  40. ^ Bizjak, Marybeth (February 2007). "Mr. Fix-It".  
  41. ^ Jensen, Sean (2004-12-03). "Despite his unlikely build, Vikings' Wiggins gets it done at tight end.".  
  42. ^ Labov (2006), p. 68.
  43. ^ "Guide to Rhode Island Language Stuff". Retrieved May 30, 2007. 
  44. ^ "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".
  45. ^ Labov (2006), p. 226.
  46. ^ Brady, James (1997). "Don’t Spend Any Time Trying to Detonate John Chafee".  
  47. ^ "Raffert Meets the Press".  
  48. ^ De Vries, Hilary (1990). "Spalding Gray : His New Favorite Subject--Him". Los Angeles Times. 
  49. ^ Nagy, Naomi; Roberts, Julie (2004). "New England phonology". In Edgar Schneider, Kate Burridge, Bernd Kortmann, Rajend Mesthrie, and Clive Upton. A handbook of varieties of English. Volume 1: Phonology. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 2591. 
  50. ^ Walsh, Molly. "Vermont Accent: Endangered Species?". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  51. ^ Labov, William (1991). "The three dialects of English". In  
  52. ^ a b Boberg (2001), p. 11.
  53. ^ a b Boberg (2001), p. 19.
  54. ^ a b Kurath, Hans (editor) (1939–43). Linguistic Atlas of New England (3 vols). Brown University. 
  55. ^ a b Nagy, Naomi & Roberts, Julie (2004). "New England Phonology". University of Toronto (online). pp. 260–1. 
  56. ^ Zind, Steve (2002). "Examining the Vermont Accent." Vermont Public Radio. Colchester, Vermont.
  57. ^ a b MacQuarrie, Brian (12 February 2004). "Taking bah-k Vermont". The Boston Globe. 
  58. ^ a b  
  59. ^ Colton, Michael (1998). "Fred Tuttle for Senate: Why Not?".  
  60. ^ Boberg (2001), p. 3.
  61. ^ Mencken, H. L. (1963). The American Language. 4th ed. New York: Knopf. p. 455.
  62. ^ Boberg (2001), p. 26.
  63. ^ Labov (2006), pp. 25-26, 61.
  64. ^ a b Boberg & 2001 ("All seven of the Springfield speakers showed a reduction in their perceptual distinction between the [cot–caught] vowels."), p. 23.
  65. ^ Boberg (2001), p. 26-27.

Further reading

  • Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; and Boberg, Charles (2006).  
  • Boberg, Charles (2001). "The Phonological Status of Western New England". American Speech 76 (1): 3–29.  

External links

  • Szelog, Mike. "Ayuh, the Northern New England Accent in a Nutshell". The Heart of New England. 
  • "International Dialects of English Archive". Age: 34, Providence, Rhode Island male Caucasian 
  • List of shibboleths at Wiktionary
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