New England English

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New England English refers to a group of dialects of English spoken in the New England area, especially in speakers born during the early and mid-19th century, prior to the proliferation of the General American accent. The regional dialects are spoken in Maine, Rhode Island, eastern Massachusetts, extreme eastern Connecticut, eastern Vermont, and parts of New Hampshire.[1]

New England English broadly includes the Eastern New England dialect (ENE), the Western New England dialect (WNE), and some sub-dialects within these two regions. Research by William Labov suggests that these dialects are growing more distinct and diverse from those elsewhere in the United States.[2]


Eastern New England speech is historically non-rhotic, while Western New England is historically rhotic. Much of Eastern New England possesses the so-called cot–caught merger, but Rhode Island does not possess the merger at all; and Western New England exhibits a continuum from full merger in northern Vermont to full distinction in western Connecticut. The Western New England accent is closely related to the Inland North accent which prevails further west.[3]

Regional variances[edit]

The red areas are those where non-rhotic pronunciation is found among some whites 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)

Within New England English exist a number of dialects.

Eastern New England[edit]

Eastern New England was originally marked by non-rhoticity in car, card, fear, etc. Though this feature is receding, it is still strong in the area ranging from Bangor, Maine to Providence.

There are several systems of pronouncing "short-a" (the /a/ in pack or bad) attested in the region, including the "nasal" system, remnants of the "broad-a" system, and "Northern breaking".[4]

The Eastern New England dialect region includes much of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, and areas of south-western Nova Scotia, and is frequently said to include Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut.[5][6] Characteristic phonological features include non-rhoticity and a distinctive set of low vowels.

The phrase park the car in Harvard Yard is commonly used as a shibboleth to caricature the non-rhotic eastern New England accent, which contrasts with the generally rhotic accents common elsewhere in North America.[7]

Eastern New England maintains a distinction between the vowel [a] as in father or calm versus [ɒ] as in dog or hot, a pair that is merged in virtually all other North American accents.[6] In some parts of Eastern New England, the vowels of caught and cot are pronounced identically, as is the case in most of Canada and the western United States, but not in the southern United States, New York city, Philadelphia, or much of the US Great Lakes region.[8] These vowels are not merged, however, in southeastern New England.

There is evidence that New Hampshire has been shifting over time away from other Eastern New England dialects. Younger speakers have begun to merge the vowels, mentioned above, in father ([a]) and dog ([ɒ]).[9] New Hampshirites have also come to pronounce /r/ with greater frequency than speakers in Massachusetts,[10] and have moved towards a system of "short-a" pronunciation that is distinct from Boston speakers.[4]

Rhode Island[edit]

The Rhode Island dialect historically includes Rhode Island and areas nearby it in neighboring states such as eastern Connecticut.

Traditional Rhode Island English shares many features with New York City English and Boston English. Like both of these dialects, Rhode Island English is non-rhotic, uses the linking R, strongly applies the "nasal short-A system," and lacks the mary–marry–merry merger. Another feature is that /ɑr/ (e.g. in car) becomes [ɑː] or [äː]; /ɔː/ is lowered and approaches [ɔə] (as in New York City); and there is a noticeable tendency to raise the /aʊ/ diphthong (as in Boston). As with many historical Eastern Seaboard accents (other than Boston), Rhode Island English has not experienced the cot–caught merger. This also distinguishes the region from Northeastern New England.

Western New England[edit]

Western New England is r-pronouncing. A study of WNE found raising of /æ/ in all environments and tensing (as well as raising) before nasals (Boberg 2001: 17-19).[11]

Some speakers of the Western New England dialect—especially those from the region surrounding the major cities of Springfield, Massachusetts and Hartford, Connecticut, along the Connecticut River—replace intervocalic "t" with a glottal stop and replace "-ing" with "in'". This would mean that those who do such would pronounce (for example) "sitting" as "sih-in'", New Britain as "New Brih-nn", and Clinton as "Clin-nn," etc. T-glotalizing is found in other parts of the country as well (and in General American), to varying degrees; however, it is prevalent in Southwestern New England.

Telephone survey data show that the Western New England accent is heard as far south as suburban Hartford, Connecticut; as far east as suburban Springfield, Massachusetts; as far west as suburban Albany, New York, and nearly as far north as Burlington, Vermont. In the latter small city, the dialect is French-Canadian influenced.[12] Words like bad and stack are pronounced with [eə], and words like stand and can are pronounced [ɛə].

Labov (1991: 12) suggests that unified raising of TRAP/BATH/DANCE is a pivot point for the NCVS (the Northern Cities Vowel Shift).[13] Boberg (2001: 11) further argues that the NCVS may thus have had its beginnings in northwestern NE.[11] 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 does not show this to be an incipient vigorous change: older speakers show more raising than younger speakers in Hartford, Springfield, and Rutland, Vermont. (Boberg 2001: 19).[11][14] Recent data from Labov, Ash, and Boberg has all western Connecticut speakers keeping cot and caught distinct, resembling the Inland North pattern. However, seven of the eight Vermont speakers have completely merged the two vowels.

As was mentioned earlier, the northern half of this region (i.e. north of Northampton, Massachusetts) shows the cot–caught merger, along with consistent fronting of /ɑː/ before /r/. Southwestern New England, (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.[15] As a result, some traces of a west country accent remain.

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

Links to Sussex in the UK[edit]

Phoebe Earl Griffiths, an American writer in the 19th century, commented that Sussex dialect has considerable similarities with the dialect of New England at the time.[16] Phrases common to Sussex such as "you hadn't ought to" or "you shouldn't ought", the use of "be you?" for "are you?" and "I see him" for "I saw him" were common in New England as well.[16] Other phrases that may appear to be Americanisms were widely used in Sussex dialect including the use of "the fall" for autumn, "mad" for "angry" and use of "I guess" and "I reckon".[16] Significant numbers of Sussex people moved to the United States in the 18th and 19th centuries.[16] The Quaker and founder of the Province of Pennsylvania, William Penn, left Sussex for New England, taking around 200 Sussex Quakers with him.[16] For several years, Penn lived at Warminghurst Place in Sussex, worshipping near Thakeham.[17]

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. ^ Lewis Herman; Marguerite Shalett Herman (2014). American Dialects. Routledge. p. 25. 
  2. ^ Labov, William (2007). "Transmission and Diffusion". Language 83 (2): 344–387. 
  3. ^ 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. 
  4. ^ a b Wood, Jim (2011). "Short-a in Northern New England". Journal of English Linguistics 39 (2): 135–165. doi:10.1177/0075424210366961. 
  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. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Natalie Schilling-Estes (1998). American English: Dialects and Variation. Wiley-Blackwell. ISBN 0-631-20487-3. 
  8. ^ 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. 
  9. ^ Nagy, Naomi (2001). ""Live Free or Die" as a linguistic principle". American Speech 76 (1): 30–41. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-1-30. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ a b c Boberg, Charles (2001). "The Phonological Status of Western New England". American Speech 76 (1): 3–29. doi:10.1215/00031283-76-1-3. 
  12. ^ Labov, William; Sharry Ash, Charles Boberg (2006). The atlas of North American English. Mouton. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  13. ^ Labov, William (1991). "The three dialects of English". In Penelope Eckert. New ways of analyzing sound change. Academic Press. 
  14. ^ Kurath, Hans (editor) (1939-43). Linguistic Atlas of New England (3 vols). Brown University. 
  15. ^ Fischer, David Hackett (1989). Albion's Seed: Four British Folkways in America. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-506905-1. 
  16. ^ a b c d e Hare, Chris (1995). A History of the Sussex People. Worthing: Southern Heritage Books. ISBN 978-0-9527097-0-1. 
  17. ^ "Welcome to the Thakeham Quaker Meeting". Thakeham Quaker Meeting. Retrieved 30 March 2010.