Boston English: Wikis


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Boston English is a dialect of American English spoken in the city of Boston, Massachusetts and much of eastern Massachusetts. The Boston accent and closely related accents can be heard commonly in an area stretching into much of Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Maine. These regions are frequently grouped together with Rhode Island by sociolinguists under the cover term Eastern New England accent. The best-known features of the Boston accent are non-rhoticity and broad A. It is most prominent in blue collar—and often traditionally Irish or Italian—Boston neighborhoods, such as Charlestown, South Boston, West Roxbury, Hyde Park, Dorchester, East Boston and Brighton, as well as in nearby cities such as Somerville, Revere, Everett, Malden, Saugus, Woburn, and Medford. The accent is also quite prevalent in the South Shore suburbs, the North Shore, as well as working-class cities throughout the Greater Boston area, such as Quincy, Lowell, Dracut, Lynn, Brockton, Worcester, Haverhill, Beverly, Salem, Gloucester, and Peabody.


Phonological characteristics

All phonetic transcriptions in the International Phonetic Alphabet (see Help:IPA for English). For example:

are [äː]


The traditional Boston accent is non-rhotic; in other words, the phoneme /r/ does not appear in coda position (where in English phonotactics it must precede other consonants, see English_phonology#Coda), as in some types of British English; card therefore becomes [kaːd]. After high and mid-high vowels, the [r] is replaced by [ə] or another neutral central vowel like [ɨ]: weird [wiɨd], square [skweə]. Similarly, unstressed [ɝ] ("er") is replaced by [ə], [ɐ], or [ɨ], as in color [kʌlə]. A well-known shibboleth is park the car in Harvard Yard, where the words are pronounced [paːk], [kaː], [haːvəd], and [jaːd]. This is exactly like Australian English.

Although not all Boston-area speakers are non-rhotic, this remains the feature most widely associated with the region. As a result, it is frequently the butt of jokes about Boston, as in Jon Stewart's America, in which he jokes that the Massachusetts Legislature ratified everything in John Adams' 1780 Massachusetts Constitution "except the letter 'R'". (Note, however, that this quote should not be taken to mean that the present state of affairs regarding rhoticity is the same as it was in 1780.)

In the most traditional and old-fashioned Boston accents, what is in other dialects [ɔr] becomes a low back vowel [ɒ]: corn is [kɒːn], pronounced the same or almost the same as con or cawn.

For some old-fashioned speakers, stressed [ɝ] as in bird is replaced by [ʏ] ([bʏd]); for many present-day Boston-accent speakers, however, [ɝ] is retained. More speakers lose [r] after other vowels than lose [ɝ].

The Boston accent possesses both linking R and intrusive R: That is to say, a [r] will not be lost at the end of a word if the next word begins with a vowel, and indeed a [r] will be inserted after a word ending with a central or low vowel if the next word begins with a vowel: the tuner is and the tuna is are both [ðə tunərɪz]

Some speakers who are natively non-rhotic or partially non-rhotic attempt to change their accent by restoring [r] to word-final position. For example, on the NPR program Car Talk, hosted by the Boston-native Magliozzi brothers, one host has castigated the other on air for saying [kaː] instead of [kɑɹ]. Occasionally such speakers may hypercorrect and "restore" [r] to a word that never originally had it. This usage is frequent when a word ending in a vowel is followed by a word starting with a vowel. Speakers will say "I have no idea," but add an r if they say "The idea-r is..." (which is an intrusive R). With the hypercorrection, "I have no idea-r" is used even at the end of an utterance.

There are also a number of Boston accent speakers with rhoticity, but they occasionally delete [r] only in unaccented syllables, e.g., mother or words before a consonant, e.g., car hop.


The Boston accent has a highly distinctive system of low vowels, even in speakers who do not drop [r] as described above. Eastern New England is the only region in North America where the distinction between the vowels in words like father and spa on the one hand and words like bother and hot on the other hand is securely maintained: the former contain [aː] ([faːðə], [spaː]), and the latter [ɒː] ([bɒːðə], [hɒːt]). This means that even though heart has no [r], it remains distinct from hot because its vowel quality is different: [haːt]. By contrast, the accent of New York uses the same or almost the same vowel in both of these classes: [ɑː]. The Received Pronunciation of England, like Boston English, distinguishes the classes, using [ɑː] in father and [ɒ] in bother.

On the other hand, the Boston accent merges the two classes exemplified by caught and cot: both become [kɒːt]. So caught, cot, law, water, rock, talk, doll, and wall all have exactly the same vowel, [ɒː]. For some speakers, as mentioned above, words like corn and horse also have this vowel. By contrast, New York accents and southern New England accents have [kɔːt] for caught and [kɑːt] for cot; Received Pronunciation has [kɔːt] and [kɒt], respectively.

Some older Boston speakers – the ones who have a low vowel in words like corn [kɒːn] – do not undergo the so-called horse-hoarse merger, i.e., they maintain a distinction between horse and for on the one hand and hoarse and four on the other. The former are in the same class as corn, as [hɒːs] and [fɒː], and the latter are [ˈhowəs] and [ˈfowə]. This distinction is rapidly fading out of currency, as it is in almost all regions of North America that still make it.

Boston English has a so-called "nasal short-a system". This means that the "short a" vowel [æ] as in cat and rat becomes a mid-high front diphthong [eə] when it precedes a nasal consonant: thus man is [meən] and planet is [pleənət]. Boston shares this system with the accents of the southern part of the Midwest. By contrast, Received Pronunciation uses [æ] regardless of whether the next consonant is nasal or not, and New York uses [eə] before a nasal at the end of a syllable ([meən]) but not before a nasal between two vowels ([plænət]).

A feature that some Boston English speakers share with Received Pronunciation is the so-called Broad A: In some 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 is still noticeable. The word aunt, however, remains almost universally broad.

Laferriere (1977) also reports a productive, phonological process raising TRAP and BATH to [ɛə] demonstrated by her younger speakers.

Boston accents make a greater variety of distinctions between short and long vowels before medial [r] than many other modern American accents do: Boston accents maintain the distinctions between the vowels in marry [mæri], merry [mɛri], and Mary [meəri], hurry [hʌri] and furry [fɝri], mirror [mɪrə] and nearer [niərə], though some of these distinctions are somewhat endangered as people under 40 in neighboring New Hampshire and Maine have lost them. Boston shares these distinctions with both New York and Received Pronunciation, but the Midwest, for instance, has lost them entirely.

The nuclei of the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ may be raised to something like [ɐ] before voiceless consonants: thus write has a higher vowel than ride and lout has a higher vowel than loud. This effect is known usually as Canadian raising, though it is less extreme in New England than in most of Canada. Furthermore, some Boston accents have a tendency to raise the /aʊ/ diphthong in both voiced and voiceless environments and some Boston accents may raise the /aɪ/ diphthong in certain voiced environments.

The nuclei of /oʊ/ and /uː/ are significantly less fronted than in many American accents.

Non-rhoticity elsewhere in New England

Non-rhoticity outside of the Boston area decreased greatly after World War II. Traditional maps have marked most of the territory east of the Connecticut River as non-rhotic, but this is highly inaccurate for contemporary speakers. The Atlas of North American English, for example, shows none of the six interviewed speakers in New Hampshire (a historically non-rhotic area) as having more than 10% non-rhoticity.

Use in media

As a conspicuous, easily identifiable accent, the Boston accent is routinely featured in Boston area films such as Good Will Hunting, Mystic River, The Departed, and Gone Baby Gone. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, a character mentions the accent in parody, giving his "best regahds". Television series like Boston Public have also featured it. Simpsons character Mayor Quimby talks with a Boston accent as reference to John F. Kennedy Jr. and former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci on whom he is mainly based.[citation needed]

Well-known speakers of/with the Boston accent


Some words used in the Boston area but not in many other American English dialects (or with different meanings) are:

  • blinker - a directional on a car
  • barrel - a trash can, garbage can
  • Hoodsie – A small cup of ice cream, the kind that comes with a flat wooden spoon (from HP Hood, the dairy that sells them.)[38] Elsewhere occasionally known as a dixie cup.
  • "Is that right?"  – Used to confirm a notable point during conversation, in place of "Really?" or "You don't say!"
  • jimmies– 'ice cream sprinkles'[39]
  • milk shake – 'drink composed of milk, iced milk and flavored syrup, without ice cream[40]'
  • tonic– 'soft drink'; the term has retreated in favor of soda among younger speakers.[42]
  • wicked- 'very' [43]
  • shopping carriage - elsewhere known as a shopping cart.

Recordings of the Boston accent

See also


  1. ^ Gibson, David (1996-02-22). "Get Out Your Power Tools: Norm Speaks, Nesters Listen". The Record. 
  2. ^ Hendrix, Steve (2002-03-03). "TV's high priest of home repair is woodworker at heart". The Olympian. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  3. ^ Keefe, Patrick Radden (2007-10-22). "Ben Affleck's Boston". Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  4. ^ a b c Roberts, Sam (2006-01-16). "Mayor's Accent Deserts Boston for New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  5. ^ Rubin, Joel (2008-12-07). "Police chief says he still has plenty to prove". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  6. ^ Sullivan, Jim (2001-04-18). "Lenny Clarke Deftly Handles Nightschtick". The Boston Globe. 
  7. ^ Mitter, Siddhartha (2008-02-29). "A banjo, a piano, and two willing masters". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  8. ^ Cumbie, Ty (2004-10-30). "Chick Corea". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  9. ^ a b Hiscock, John (2007-03-27). "My battles with Scorsese". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  10. ^ Murray, Rebecca (2007). "Matt Damon Talks About The Departed". Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  11. ^ Calhoun, Ada (2004-03-29). "Did You Hear The One About The @&%#! Comic?". New York. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  12. ^ Sletcher, Michael, ed (2004). New England: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 186. ISBN 031332753X. 
  13. ^ "John F. Kennedy". Encyclopædia Britannica. 2009. 
  14. ^ Metcalf, Allan A. (2004). Presidential Voices: Speaking Styles from George Washington to George W. Bush. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 291. ISBN 0618443746. 
  15. ^ O'Brien, Michael (2005). John F. Kennedy: A Biography. Macmillan. p. 436. ISBN 0312281293. 
  16. ^ a b Simon, Scott (2004-08-27). "Listening Again to Lt. John Kerry on Vietnam". NPR. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  17. ^ Healy, Patrick (2009-09-02). "A Mannah of Speaking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  18. ^ King, Dennis (1989). Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. New York: Doubleday. pp. 306. 
  19. ^ Gilbert, Matthew (2008-05-23). "But who's counting". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  20. ^ Timberg, Bernard M. (2002). Television Talk: A History of the TV Talk Show. University of Texas Press. p. 152. ISBN 0292781768. 
  21. ^ "Jay Leno: Biography". Yahoo! TV. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  22. ^ Littlefield, Kinney (2008-07-01). "Radio's 'Car Talk' guys reluctantly tackle TV". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  23. ^ Leibovich, Mark (2005-05-04). "Oh, Brother: 'Car Talk' Guy Puts Mouth in Gear". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  24. ^ Bonin, Liane (2002-10-18). "Teacher's Met".,,366113,00.html. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  25. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (2006-02-19). "The nonpolitician who would be governor". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  26. ^ a b Gardner, Amy (2009-02-11). "A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  27. ^ Ellin, Abby (2007-05-13). "Girth and Nudity, a Pictorial Mission". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  28. ^ Allis, Sam (2004-01-25). "It's tough to talk like a true Bostonian". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  29. ^ Bizjak, Marybeth (Fevruary 2007). "Mr. Fix-It". Sacramento Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  30. ^ Cromelin, Richard (2007-02-18). "A role of his lifetime". The Los Angeles Times.,0,6068724.story. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  31. ^ 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. 
  32. ^ Campbell, Dave (2004-10-22). "Free agent Wiggins filling important role for Vikes". Sporting News. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  33. ^ Keelaghan, Bob (2003-01-16). "Steven Wright". FFWD Weekly. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  34. ^
  35. ^
  36. ^ Frappe Definition at
  37. ^ "milk shake" in the American Heritage Dictionary
  38. ^ Hoodsie Glossary at
  39. ^ a b
  40. ^ Milkshake Definition at
  41. ^ Dictionary of American Regional English
  42. ^ Labov et al., Atlas of North American English
  43. ^

External links


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