Eastern New England English, historically known as the Yankee dialect since at least the nineteenth century, is the traditional regional dialect of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts. Features of this variety once spanned an even larger dialect area of New England, for example, including the eastern halves of Vermont and Connecticut for those born as recently as the early twentieth century. Studies vary as to whether the unique dialect of Rhode Island falls within the Eastern New England dialect region.
Eastern New England English (here, including Rhode Island English) is classically associated with sound patterns such as non-rhoticity (or dropping r when not before a vowel); both variants of Canadian raising, including a fairly back starting position of the /aʊ/ vowel (as in MOUTH); and some variation of the PALM–LOT–THOUGHT vowel distinctions, the marry–merry distinction, or both. Certain Eastern New England English characteristics are retreating as some younger Eastern New Englanders avoid them, particularly non-rhoticity and the aforementioned distinctions, which they tend to perceive as old-fashioned, overly rural-sounding, or even overly urban-sounding with regards to Boston. New Hampshire speakers on the whole are particularly well-documented as retreating from those features since the mid-twentieth century onwards.
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 retreating and is not found in many younger speakers, for example, in virtually no speakers born since the mid-1900s in southeastern New Hampshire.
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), /ɑ/ (as in spa), orɔ/ (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.
Backing of /u/: The vowel of goose, rude, coup, etc. remains pronounced relatively far back in the mouth.
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. Conversely, the merger of the vowels is largely complete elsewhere in the United States.
Backing of /aʊ/: The vowel of gouge, loud, town, power, etc. has a relatively back-of-mouth starting position: thus, something like [ɑ̈ʊ].
Lack of mary–marry–merry merger: Before intervocalic /r/, the vowels /ɛə/ (/eɪ/ in rhotic varieties), /æ/ and /ɛ/ (as in Mary, marry, and merry) are distinguished from one another. 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.
Fronting of PALM/START: The vowel of words like palm, spa, car, park, etc. is pronounced farther to the front of the vocal tract than in most other dialects, so that car, for example, is something like [kʰa]. 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 backed [kʰɑ].
Overview of vocabulary
The terms frappe to mean "thick milkshake";bubbler (also found in Wisconsin) to mean "water fountain"; and tonic to mean "sweet carbonated soft drink" (called "soda" elsewhere in New England), 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, though also stably reported in Maine, Rhode Island, and New Hampshire. In addition to the widespread term wicked, the word pisser, often phonetically spelledpissa(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
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 [ɒ~ɑ], 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: [haf] and [pas].
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. Boston speech also originated many slang and uniquely local terms that have since spread throughout Massachusetts and Eastern New England. Although mostly non-rhotic, the modern Boston accent typically pronounces the r sound in the NURSE vowel, /ɜr/, 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 loss of the phonemic status of /ɛə/ (as in there), /ɪə/ (as in here), and /oə/ (as in more) all of which are broken into two syllables (/eɪə, i.ə, oʊə/): they-uh, hee-yuh, and moh-uh; some distinct vocabulary is also used in this accent. 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, yet contradicted by a 2013 study that reported the merger as embraced by Portland speakers "of all ages". The traditional horse–hoarse separation means that words like war and wore may sound different: war/wɒ/ rhyming with law/lɒ/, and wore/ˈwoʊə/ rhyming with boa/ˈboʊə/. Unlike the Boston accent, this traditional Maine accent may be non-rhotic entirely: even in the pronunciation of /ɜr/ as [ɜ].
A cultivated New England accent, sometimes known as a "Boston Brahmin accent" within Boston, was once associated with members of wealthy New England families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it is now essentially extinct. Notable example speakers included many members of the Kennedy family born in this time period, including President John F. Kennedy, whose accent is not a common Boston accent so much as a "tonyHarvard accent". This accent retained an older cot–caught distinction, a less fronted START vowel, non-rhotic NURSE, and a TRAP–BATH split ([æ] versus [a]). This accent corresponds in its sound and time-frame with the cultivated American accent promoted in prestigious Northeastern boarding schools and theatrical elocution courses in the same era.
Notable lifelong native speakers
Ken Beatrice — "... the New England native with the pronounced Boston accent"
The traditional Southeastern New England English accent, popularly known as a Rhode Island accent, is spoken in Rhode Island and the western half of Bristol County, Massachusetts. In addition to all the features mentioned under the phonology section above, the Rhode Island accent also includes a sharp distinction in the vowels of Mary, marry, and merry and in the vowels in cot[ɑ] versus caught[oə], plus the pronunciation of /ɑr/, as in car, far back in the mouth as [ɑ~ɑə]—these three features making this New England accent noticeably similar to a New York accent. These features are often unlike the modern Northeastern New England (NENE) dialect of Boston, as is Rhode Island's feature of a completed father–bother merger, shared with the rest of the country outside of NENE. A few terms are unique only to this area, such as the word cabinet to mean "milkshake" (particularly, coffee cabinets),pizza strips (Italian tomato pie strips served cold without cheese), and coffee milk.
^ abJohnson, Daniel Ezra (2010). "[danielezrajohnson.com/johnson_2010.pdf Stability and Change Along a Dialect Boundary: The Low Vowels of Southeastern New England]". American Dialect Society 95. p. 100.
Nagy, Naomi; Roberts, Juli (2004), "New England phonology"(PDF), in Schneider, E., K., B. Kortmann, R., and C.; Burridge, K.; Mesthrie, R.; Upton, C. (eds.), 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.
Stanford, James. 2019. New England English: Large-scale acoustic sociophonetics and dialectology. Oxford University Press. 367 pages.