New England English

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New England English collectively refers to the dialects of American English originating in the New England area. Natives of much of Connecticut, western Vermont, and western Massachusetts,[1] 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, and research by William Labov suggests that these dialects as a whole are growing more distinct and diverse from those elsewhere in the United States.[2] The four major New England dialects are broadly defined as follows:


The pronunciation system of eastern New England is historically non-rhotic, while that of western New England is historically rhotic. Much of eastern New England possesses the so-called cot–caught merger (a merger of open back vowels), yet Rhode Island preserves a severe distinction; and western New England exhibits a continuum from full merger in northern Vermont to full distinction in western Connecticut. The western New England varieties are closely related to and influential on, but more conservative than, the Inland North accent which prevails farther west.[4]

All the local dialects of New England are known for commonly pronouncing the unstressed sequences /tɪŋ/ and /tən/ (for example, found in "sitting" /ˈsɪtɪŋ/ or "Britain" /ˈbrɪtən/) as [ʔən]. This form of t-glottalization (especially the /tən/ form) is found commonly in other parts of the country as well (including General American), like in the word "button" or "Clinton" ; however, the characteristic is most prevalent in New England. Nevertheless, even in New England the extent of this varies. Some may have it in "button" or "fountain", but not in "Clinton" or "Downton." In the end, it has significant idiolectal variation.

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. Map based on Labov, Ash, and Boberg (2006:48)

Northeastern New England[edit]

Further information: Boston accent

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.[5][6] It is traditionally marked by its non-rhoticity (i.e. the "dropping" or "deleting" of the r-sound in words like car, card, fear, etc.), though this feature is receding throughout most of the rest of the United States. The phoneme /ɑr/ is specifically realized more centrally as the non-rhotic [äː], for example, in the word car.[7] 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.[8]

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."[9] A feature that some Boston English speakers share with England's Received Pronunciation is the so-called broad a: in a specific set of words that in other accents have [æ], such as half and bath, that vowel is replaced with [aː]: [haːf], [baːθ]. (In Received Pronunciation, the Broad A vowel is almost identical to [ɑː].) 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.[citation needed]

Speakers of the northeastern New England dialect typically maintain a distinction between the /ɑ/ vowel in father or calm (pronounced as [a]) versus /ɒ/ as in dog or hot, a pair that is merged in virtually all other North American accents, but still differentiated in most Anglo-English accents.[6] However, some speakers may use [ɒ] for the word "dog" but [a] for "frog", "hog", "log" etc., a distinction that is present in many North American English dialects. In northeastern New England, the vowels of caught and cot are pronounced identically (as [ɒː]), which is also the case in most of Canada and the Western United States, but not in conservative General American and several other dialects.[10] These vowels are not merged, however, in southeastern and southwestern New England.

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]).[11] New Hampshirites have also grown to pronounce /r/ with greater frequency than speakers in Massachusetts,[12] and have moved towards a system of "short-a" pronunciation that is distinct from Boston speakers.[9]

Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

Southeastern New England[edit]

The southeastern New England dialect (popularly recognized as a "Rhode Island accent") historically includes Rhode Island and areas in neighboring states such as extreme eastern Connecticut and Bristol County, Massachusetts.

The traditional southeastern New England dialect shares many features with the New York City and northeastern New England (Boston) dialects. Like both of these dialects, Rhode Island English is (primarily) non-rhotic,[22] uses the linking R, and keeps the pronunciations of Mary, marry, and merry distinct. Other features include that /ɑr/ (e.g. in car), through non-rhoticity, becomes [ɑə];[7] 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 lowered and approaches [ɔə][23] (as in New York City); and the cot–caught merger is absent[24] (as in New York City). The final item also distinguishes the dialectal region from northeastern New England, including Boston.

Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

Northwestern New England[edit]

The northwestern New England dialect (popularly recognized as a "Vermont accent") is 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.[28]

For some speakers, words like bad and stack are pronounced with [eə] (similar to, but not as severe as the Inland North dialect), and nasal words like stand and can are pronounced [ɛə].[29][better source needed] 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).[30] Boberg (2001: 11) further argues that the NCVS may thus have had its beginnings in northwestern NE.[31] 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. (Boberg 2001: 19).[31][32] Recent data from Labov, Ash, and Boberg has all western Connecticut speakers keeping cot and caught distinct, resembling the Inland North pattern.

This dialect shows consistent fronting of /ɑː/ before /r/, therefore towards [aɻ], 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].[33]

A dwindling, small, generally older segment of the northwestern New England population pronounces // (e.g. in "cow") as [ɛʊ~ɪʊ] and // (e.g. in "lie") as [ɔɪ~əɪ]. This same group may retain vestigial elements of the trap-bath split, backing and lowering /æ/ in certain environments.[34] A deep retroflex approximant for "r" is a common characteristic among these and many rural northwestern speakers. All these characteristics appear to be inherited from West Country[35] and Scots-Irish ancestors.[34]

Southwestern New England[edit]

The southwestern New England dialect is the New England variety that is most similar to conservative General American in that it is both rhotic and lacking in the cot-caught merger. Labov, Ash and Boberg demonstrated that older speakers show more raising of the short a /æ/ than younger speakers in Hartford, CT and Springfield, MA (Boberg 2001: 19).[31][32] Recent data from Labov, Ash, and Boberg has all western Connecticut speakers keeping cot and caught distinct, resembling the Inland North pattern. Also similar to the Inland North, a study of western New England found raising of /æ/ in all environments and tensing (as well as raising) before nasals, as in General American (Boberg 2001: 17-19).[31] This dialect (i.e. Greater Springfield and south) shows the basic tendency of the Northern Cities Shift to back /ɛ/ and front /ɑː/. Western New England had more West Country settlers than did eastern New England.[35] As a result, some traces of a West Country accent remain.[examples needed]

Some local dialects in working-class areas of southwestern Connecticut (especially Greater Bridgeport, and to a lesser degree, Greater New Haven) are more strongly influenced by the neighboring New York City dialect.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Herman, Lewis; Shalett Herman, Marguerite (1997). "The New England Dialect". American Dialects: A Manual for Actors, Directors, and Writers. Routledge. p. 25. ISBN 978-1-135-85694-6. 
  2. ^ Labov, William (2007). "Transmission and Diffusion". Language 83 (2): 344–387. doi:10.1353/lan.2007.0082. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; and Boberg, Charles (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 225. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  4. ^ 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. 
  5. ^ Schneider, Edgar; Bernd Kortmann (2005). A Handbook of Varieties of English: A Multi-Media Reference Tool. Mouton de Gruyter. p. 270. ISBN 978-3-11-017532-5. 
  6. ^ 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. ISBN 0-8173-0129-1. 
  7. ^ a b Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 227. ISBN 3-11-016746-8Note: see Map 16.4 
  8. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Natalie Schilling-Estes (1998). American English: Dialects and Variation. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-20487-3. 
  9. ^ a b Wood, Jim (2011). "Short-a in Northern New England". Journal of English Linguistics 39 (2): 135–165. doi:10.1177/0075424210366961. 
  10. ^ Fitzpatrick, Jim (2006). "Beantown Babble (Boston, MA)". In W. Wolfram and B. Ward. American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 1-4051-2109-2. 
  11. ^ Nagy, Naomi (2001). ""Live Free or Die" as a linguistic principle". American Speech 76 (1): 30–41. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-1-30. 
  12. ^ Nagy, Naomi; Irwin, Patricia (2010). "Boston (r): Neighbo(r)s nea(r) and fa(r)". Language Variation and Change 22 (2): 241–278. doi:10.1017/S0954394510000062. 
  13. ^ Sullivan, Jim (2001-04-18). "Lenny Clarke Deftly Handles Nightschtick". The Boston Globe. 
  14. ^ Calhoun, Ada (2004-03-29). "Did You Hear The One About The @&%#! Comic?". New York. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  15. ^ Healy, Patrick (2009-09-02). "A Mannah of Speaking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  16. ^ Concannon, Jim (May 12, 2009). "Mel's Vision". The Boston Globe. 
  17. ^ King, Dennis (1989). Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. New York: Doubleday. p. 306. 
  18. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (2006-02-19). "The nonpolitician who would be governor". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  19. ^ Gardner, Amy (2009-02-11). "A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  20. ^ Bizjak, Marybeth (February 2007). "Mr. Fix-It". Sacramento Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  21. ^ 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. 
  22. ^ Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 68. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  23. ^ "Guide to Rhode Island Language Stuff". Retrieved May 30, 2007. 
  24. ^ Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 226. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 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 
  25. ^ Brady, James (1997). "Don’t Spend Any Time Trying to Detonate John Chafee". Advertising Age. 
  26. ^ X (2011). "Raffert Meets the Press". John Carroll University. 
  27. ^ De Vries, Hilary (1990). "Spalding Gray : His New Favorite Subject--Him". Los Angeles Times. 
  28. ^ 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. 
  29. ^ Walsh, Molly. "Vermont Accent: Endangered Species?". Burlington Free Press. Retrieved 2007-11-20. 
  30. ^ Labov, William (1991). "The three dialects of English". In Penelope Eckert. New ways of analyzing sound change. Academic Press. 
  31. ^ a b c d Boberg, Charles (2001). "The Phonological Status of Western New England". American Speech 76 (1): 3–29. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-1-3. 
  32. ^ a b Kurath, Hans (editor) (1939–43). Linguistic Atlas of New England (3 vols). Brown University. 
  33. ^ Nagy, Naomi & Roberts, Julie (2004). "New England Phonology". University of Toronto (online). pp. 260–1. 
  34. ^ a b MacQuarrie, Brian (12 February 2004). "Taking bah-k Vermont". The Boston Globe. 
  35. ^ a b Fischer, David Hackett (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506905-1. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]