Boston accent

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
  (Redirected from Boston slang)
Jump to: navigation, search
"Boston English" redirects here. For the school, see The English High School.

The Boston accent is a regional accent of Eastern New England English, centered specifically on the city of Boston, its suburbs, and much of eastern Massachusetts. Eastern New England English also traditionally includes New Hampshire and Maine, though some uniquely local phonological and lexical characteristics appear only on the eastern coast of Massachusetts.[1][2]

Phonological characteristics[edit]


The traditional Boston accent is non-rhotic, particularly in the early 1900s. Recent studies have shown that younger speakers tend less towards non-rhoticity than older speakers (younger speakers use more rhotics than older speakers from the Boston region).[3]

The phoneme /r/ does not appear in coda position (where in English phonotactics it must precede other consonants, see English phonology#Coda), as in many dialects of English in England and all dialects of Australian English; card therefore becomes [kʰaːd]. After high and mid-high vowels, the /r/ is replaced by [ə] or another neutral central vowel like [ɨ]: weird [wiɨd], square [ˈskweə]. Similarly, unstressed /ɝ/ ("er") is replaced by [ə], [ɐ], or [ɨ], as in color [ˈkʰʌɫə]. A famous example is "Park the car in Harvard Yard", pronounced [pʰaːk ðə ˈkʰaːɹ‿ɪn ˈhaːvəd ˈjaːd], or as if spelled "pahk the cah(r) in Hahvuhd Yahd".[4][5] Note that the r in car would usually be pronounced in this case, because the following word begins with a vowel (see linking R below).

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'"[citation needed].

In the most traditional, "old-fashioned", Boston accents, what is in other dialects /ɔr/ becomes a low back vowel [ɒ]: corn is [kʰɒːn], 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 (generally as [ɚ] or [əɹ]).

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 tʰuːnəɹɪz]

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 vowel phonemes exemplified by father and bother is widely maintained. Example include words like father and spa which contain [äː] ([ˈfäːðə], [späː]) and bother and dock which contain [ɒː] ([ˈbɒːðə], [dɒːk]). This means that even though dark has no [ɹ], it remains distinct from dock because its vowel quality is different: [daːk] vs. [dɒːk]. By contrast, most US English uses the same or almost the same vowel in both of these classes: [ɑː].[8] The Received Pronunciation of England, like Boston English, distinguishes the classes, using [ɑː] in father and [ɒ] in bother.

The Boston accent merges the two classes exemplified by caught and cot: both become [kʰɒːt]. So caught, cot, law, water, rock, talk, doll, and wall all have the same vowel, [ɒː]. By contrast, New York accents and southern New England accents have [kʰɔət] for caught and [kʰɑt~kʰät] for cot; The UK's Received Pronunciation has [kʰɔːt~kʰoːt] and [kʰɒt~kʰɔt], respectively. In Boston and some other parts of New England, a few words ending in /t/, e.g., hot and got, can be exceptions, sounding instead like hut and gut, respectively.

Some older Boston speakers – the ones who have a low vowel in words like corn [kʰɒːn] – do not undergo the so-called horse–hoarse merger, i.e., they maintain a distinction between both horse and for, and hoarse and four. The former are in the same class as corn, as [hɒːs] and [fɒː], and the latter are [ˈho(w)əs] and [ˈfo(w)ə]. This distinction is rapidly fading out of currency, as it is in almost all regions of North America that still make it. Regardless, for some Boston speakers, the words tot, tort, and taught may all be homophones.

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 (but also, on a continuous scale in some other environments); thus, man is [meən] and planet is [ˈpʰɫeənət]. Boston shares this system with the accents of the southern part of the Midwest and the major cities of the West, though the raising of this vowel in Boston tends to be more noticeable and extreme than elsewhere. By contrast, England's Received Pronunciation uses [æ] regardless of whether the next consonant is nasal or not, and New York City uses [eə] before a nasal at the end of a syllable ([meən]) but not before a nasal between two vowels ([ˈpʰɫænət]).

A feature that Boston speakers once shared with England's standard "Received Pronunciation," though now uncommon, is the so-called "broad a": In particular words that in other American accents have the "short a" as in half or bath pronounced as [æ], that vowel was replaced in the nineteenth century (if not earlier and often sporadically by speaker) with [aː~ɑː]: [haːf], [baːθ].[9] 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. Boston speakers born before about 1930 used this broad a in the words half, path, ask, and can't. Speakers born between about 1930 to 1950 use the broad a only in half and pass, otherwise slightly raising and diphthongizing the vowel of this set of words (and, variably, other instances of short a) to [ɛə].[9] Speakers born since 1950 typically have no broad a whatsoever and, instead, slight /æ/ tensing across the board (i.e. [ɛə]), for example, in craft, bad, math, etc.[9] The word aunt, however, remains almost universally broad.

Boston accents make a greater variety of distinctions between short and long vowels before medial [ɹ] than many other modern American accents do: hurry [ˈhʌɹi] and furry [ˈfɝɹi]; and mirror [ˈmɪɹə] and nearer [ˈniəɹə], 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 (one of the two phenomena of) 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. /uː/ may be diphthongized to approximately [ʊu] or [ɵu].


The more deeply urban varieties of the Boston accent may use the dental stops [t̪, d̪] to replace the normal English dental fricatives [θ, ð].

Non-rhoticity elsewhere in the New England area[edit]

Non-rhoticity north 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[edit]

As a conspicuous, easily identifiable accent, the Boston accent is routinely featured in Boston-setting films such as The Friends of Eddie Coyle, Good Will Hunting, Ted, Mystic River, The Departed, Blow, The Town, Blown Away, The Fighter, and Gone Baby Gone. In 2001: A Space Odyssey, a character mentions the accent in parody, giving his "best regahds". Television series based within a Boston setting such as Boston Public and Cheers have featured the accent. Simpsons character Mayor Quimby talks with an exaggerated Boston accent as reference to the former US Senator Ted Kennedy.[10] In The Heat, FBI Special Agent Sarah Ashburn meets the family of Shannon Mullins, who (except Shannon) all speak with the Boston accent and momentarily left Ashburn confused when one of them asked if she was a narc (pronounced as "nahk"). 30 Rock character Nancy Donovan speaks with a pronounced Boston accent. In the video game Team Fortress 2, the character Scout, who is himself a Boston native, talks with a distinct Boston accent. Many elements of the Boston accent can be heard on the animated TV series Family Guy, which is set in the fictional city of Quahog, Rhode Island. The Saturday Night Live sketch The Boston Teens with Jimmy Fallon (who is imitating) and Rachel Dratch (who really does use it) also uses it frequently.[citation needed]

Although little known in his native country, Bostonian Loyd Grossman is a household name in the UK, through cooking programs such as Masterchef and ITV's Through the Keyhole. His accent is frequent target for British impressionists.

Notable lifelong native speakers[edit]

  • William J. Bratton[11] — "thick Boston accent"[12]
  • Lenny Clarke — "a Cambridge-raised verbal machine gun with a raspy Boston accent"[13]
  • Chick Corea[14] — "his speech still carries more than a trace of a Boston accent"[15]
  • Nick DiPaolo — "thick Boston accent"[16]
  • Jack Haley[17]
  • 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."[18]
  • Mel King — "he has the soft R's of a deep Boston accent"[19]
  • Lyndon LaRouche — "a cultivated New England accent"[20]
  • Tom and Ray Magliozzi[21] — "like drunk raccoons with Boston accents"[22]
  • Rocky Marciano — "He spoke with distinct traces of a Boston accent"[23]
  • Gina McCarthy — "Obama's nominee to head the EPA has that spectacular South Boston accent"[24]
  • Joey McIntyre — "his authentic Boston accent"[25]
  • Christy Mihos — "speaks unpretentiously in a variation of a Boston accent, and drops the 'g' in words like talking or running."[26]
  • Thomas Menino — Former mayor "Mumbles" Menino was known for both his enunciation and pronunciation. “The question of how he pronounces things is obscured by the fact that he doesn’t say anything very distinctly.” His accent was from the working class west side of the city.[27]
  • Brian and Jim Moran— "The Moran brothers share[...] an unmistakable Massachusetts accent"[28]
  • Alex Rocco — "grew up in blue-collar Cambridge"[29]
  • Tom Silva — "New England accent"[30]
  • Marty Walsh — Walsh’s speech represents the generational shift that occurred after World War II. Linguists cite his speech as the "authentic" Boston accent that actors so unsuccessfully try to imitate.[27]
  • Jermaine Wiggins — "skin as thick as his East Boston accent"[31]


Some words used in the Boston area are:

automobile directional signals (also U.K., Australia and New Zealand).[32] The Massachusetts Department of Transportation has displayed signs reminding motorists to "Use Yah Blinkah",[33] a phonetic representation of the phrase as spoken with a Boston accent.
bubbler (or water bubbler)
drinking fountain.[34][35] This term is also used in Wisconsin and Australia.
a beverage mixed with milk and ice cream, a.k.a. milkshake (in most other places). From French, meaning "shaken or stirred".[36] or if in Rhode Island (and especially if coffee flavored), called a "cabinet"[37]
A small cup of ice cream, the kind that comes with a flat wooden spoon (from HP Hood, the dairy that sells them.)[38] Also (very offensive slang), a teenage girl.[32] Elsewhere occasionally known as a dixie cup.
ice cream sprinkles[39] Also common in the Philadelphia area.
liquor store (from "package store")[40][41]
means something akin to "great" either realistically or sarcastically. Also spelled 'pissah'. This is from the word "pisser" with a Boston accent, but used as an adjective. Often combined with "wicked" to yield "wicked pissah".[42] (uncommon)
traffic circle[39]. These full-speed circular intersections are common in Greater Boston.
Generally means "very" or "super" and is used as an adverb. That kick flip was wicked awesome! It can also be used to infer tones and moods, for example, "Ugh, that guy is wicked slow."
A convenience store that has tonic on tap and (usually) sells sandwiches.[43][44][45][46][47]
soft drink; known elsewhere as soda[48]
a crew cut or male haircut done with electric clippers.[32]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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. 
  2. ^ Millward, C.M. (1996). A Biography of the English Language. Wadsworth Publishing. p. 353. ISBN 978-0-15-501645-3. 
  3. ^ Irwin, Patricia; Nagy, Naomi (10/01/2007). "Bostonians /r/ Speaking: A Quantitative Look at (R) in Boston". University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics.  Check date values in: |date= (help)
  4. ^ Vorhees, Mara (2009). Boston. Con Pianta. Ediz. Inglese. Lonely Planet. p. 52. ISBN 978-1-74179-178-5. 
  5. ^
  6. ^ Heggarty, Paul et al, eds. (2013). "Accents of English from Around the World". University of Edinburgh. 
  7. ^ Labov et al. (2006), p. 182.
  8. ^ Labov et al. 2006 The Atlas of North American English Berlin: DeGruyter
  9. ^ a b c Wells (1982), p. 523.
  10. ^ Brown, John Robbie (2 July 2007). "Kennedy backs city's 'Simpsons Movie' campaign". (NY Times Co.). 
  11. ^ Roberts, Sam (2006-01-16). "Mayor's Accent Deserts Boston for New York". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  12. ^ Rubin, Joel (2008-12-07). "Police chief says he still has plenty to prove". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  13. ^ Sullivan, Jim (2001-04-18). "Lenny Clarke Deftly Handles Nightschtick". The Boston Globe. 
  14. ^ Cumbie, Ty (2004-10-30). "Chick Corea". All About Jazz. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  15. ^ Mitter, Siddhartha (2008-02-29). "A banjo, a piano, and two willing masters". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  16. ^ Calhoun, Ada (2004-03-29). "Did You Hear The One About The @&%#! Comic?". New York. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  17. ^ Sletcher, Michael, ed. (2004). New England: The Greenwood Encyclopedia of American Regional Cultures. Greenwood Publishing Group. p. 186. ISBN 0-313-32753-X. 
  18. ^ Healy, Patrick (2009-09-02). "A Mannah of Speaking". The New York Times. Retrieved 2009-10-18. 
  19. ^ Concannon, Jim (May 12, 2009). "Mel's Vision". The Boston Globe. 
  20. ^ King, Dennis (1989). Lyndon LaRouche and the New American Fascism. New York: Doubleday. p. 306. 
  21. ^ Littlefield, Kinney (2008-07-01). "Radio's 'Car Talk' guys reluctantly tackle TV". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  22. ^ Leibovich, Mark (2005-05-04). "Oh, Brother: 'Car Talk' Guy Puts Mouth in Gear". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  23. ^ Roberts, Randy (2005). The Rock, the Curse, and the Hub: A Random History of Boston Sports. Harvard University Press. p. 222
  24. ^ NewSoundbites (YouTube user; uploaded 2013) "Boston accent goes national with President Obama's pick for EPA." YouTube. Excerpted from MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
  25. ^ Moraski, Lauren (2014-10-30). "Joey McIntyre on appeal of "The McCarthys," future of NKOTB". CBS News. 
  26. ^ Mooney, Brian C. (2006-02-19). "The nonpolitician who would be governor". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-26. 
  27. ^ a b Baker, Billy (2013-11-17). "In Walsh, students of Bostonese have found their avatah". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2015-06-15. 
  28. ^ Gardner, Amy (2009-02-11). "A Time to Reevaluate Family Ties". Washington Post. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  29. ^ Allis, Sam (2004-01-25). "It's tough to talk like a true Bostonian". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2009-02-27. 
  30. ^ Bizjak, Marybeth (February 2007). "Mr. Fix-It". Sacramento Magazine. Retrieved 2009-03-17. 
  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. ^ a b c Boston To English Dictionary at
  33. ^ "Boston drivers urged to 'Use Yah Blinkah'". AP. Retrieved 2014-06-07. 
  34. ^
  35. ^ "Bubbler map - Wisconsin Englishes". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  36. ^ [1]
  37. ^ Heller, Carolyn B. "Drinking a Cabinet: How to Talk Like a New Englander". C.B. Heller. Retrieved February 2, 2014. 
  38. ^ Hoodsie Glossary at
  39. ^ a b "Regional Vocabulary". The New York Times. 2006-03-17. Retrieved 2010-04-26. 
  40. ^ Dictionary of American Regional English
  41. ^ Gordon, Heather (2004). Newcomer's Handbook For Moving To And Living In Boston: Including Cambridge, Brookline, And Somerville. First Books. p. 14. ISBN 978-0912301549. 
  42. ^ Harrison, Mim (2011). Wicked Good Words: From Johnnycakes to Jug Handles, a Roundup of America's Regionalisms. Penguin. ISBN 978-1101543399. 
  43. ^ "Winship Spa - Brighton, MA". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  44. ^ "Montrose Spa - Porter Square - Cambridge, MA". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  45. ^ "Hillside Spa Cardoza Brothers - Beacon Hill - Boston, MA". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  46. ^ "Hodgkin's Spa - Somerville, MA". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  47. ^ "Sam's Spa Convenience - About - Google". Retrieved 2012-06-18. 
  48. ^ Labov et al., Atlas of North American English


External links[edit]

Recordings of the Boston accent