Maine accent

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The Maine accent is the local traditional accent of Eastern New England English spoken in parts of Maine, especially along the "Down East" and "Mid Coast" seaside regions.[1] It is characterized by a variety of features, particularly among older speakers, including r-dropping (non-rhoticity), resistance to the horse–hoarse merger,[2] and a deletion or "breaking" of certain syllables. The traditional Maine accent is rapidly declining; a 2013 study of Portland speakers found the older horse–hoarse merger to be currently embraced by all ages; however, it also found the newer cot–caught merger to be resisted,[3] despite the latter being typical among other Eastern New England speakers, even well-reported in the 1990s in Portland itself.[2] The merger is also widely reported elsewhere in Maine as of 2018, particularly outside the urban areas.[4] In the northern region of Maine along the Quebec and the New-Brunswick border, Franco-Americans may show French-language influences in their English.[5] Certain vocabulary is also unique to Maine.


One phonological feature of the traditional Maine accent, like in Eastern New England English generally, is that the "r" sound is only pronounced when it comes before a vowel, but not before a consonant or in any final position. For example, "car" may sound to listeners like "cah" and "Mainer" like "Mainah."[6]

Also, as in much New England English, the final "-ing" ending in multi-syllable words sounds more like "-in," for example, in stopping [ˈstɒpɪn] and starting [ˈstaʔɪn].[6]

Vowels of the Maine accent
Front Central Back
lax tense lax tense lax tense
Close ɪ i ʊ u
Mid ɛ ə ɜ ʌ
Open æ a ɒ
Diphthongs   ɔɪ  

Thus, Maine accent follows the pronunciation of Eastern New England English, like the Boston accent, but with the following additional features:

  • Resistance to the horse–hoarse merger makes a word like horse have a pure vowel /ɒ/, while hoarse has a centering diphthong or disyllabic /oʊə/. Together with non-rhoticity, this potentially yields a NORTHLOTTHOUGHT merger (expanding even beyond the cot-caught merger of all Northern New England English), so that tort, tot, and taught are phonemically all /tɒt/, while the FORCE vowel remains distinct. Thus, another two example words that would traditionally be distinguished in Maine are for /fɒ/ versus four /foʊə/.
  • NURSE /ɜː/, unlike in modern-day Boston, may be a pure vowel without r-coloring, much like in British Received Pronunciation: [əː]. This makes vowel length marginally phonemic in unstressed (but not stressed) syllables, so the second syllable of password is [wəːd] but of forward is [wəd]. (In rhotic General American English, these two syllables would not be distinguished.)
  • NEAR, SQUARE and FORCE are diphthongs or disyllabic sequences, consisting respectively of FLEECE, FACE, GOAT plus the schwa vowel (as in the end of COMMA): here /hiə/, there /ðeɪə/ and more /moʊə/, in all cases with a possible glide after the stressed vowel: [ˈhijə, ˈðeɪjə, ˈmoʊwə].[6]
  • Many speakers pronounce polysyllabic words with a dipping tone. The phrase "You can't get there from here," [ju kʰɛənʔ ˈɡɛʔ ˈðéɪə̀ fɹəm ˈhíə̀] coined in an episode of the mid-1900s collection of humorous Maine stories Bert & I, is a quintessential example of that. This resembles one variety of the pitch accent (called the acute accent or Accent 1) found in the Swedish language, as in anden [ˈánːdɛ̀n] 'the wild duck'.[citation needed]


The traditional Maine dialect has a fairly rich vocabulary. Much of this vocabulary is shared with other New England dialects, however some of it is specific to Maine. This vocabulary includes, but is not limited to, the following terms:

  • apiece[6] — an undetermined distance (as in "He lives down the road apiece")
  • ayuh[6][7] /ˈeɪə/ — yes; okay; sure; that's right
  • beater[8] — a (beaten up) motor vehicle with value so diminished by extensive road salt corrosion there is little concern about additional collision damage from driving on icy roads
  • blueback trout[9]arctic char (Salvelinus alpinus)
  • bug[6] — lobster
  • Kout![10] — a warning to be alert (Look out!)
  • chupta?[10] — What are you doing? (What are you up to?)
  • corner — the neighborhood surrounding an intersection of rural roads (usually prefixed by the surname of an early resident of that intersection, as in "Woodfords Corner")
  • culch[11] — trash or rubbish
  • cunning[6][7] — cute (as in "She's a cunnin' one, she is")
  • cutter — an active child or younger person (from comparison to the harbor behavior of small, maneuverable cutters among larger ships)
  • dinner pail [12] — lunch box
  • dite — a tiny amount (as in "Just a dite")
  • divan as a generic term for couch (as opposed to the more specific, non-dialectal meaning). Derived from French.
  • door yard (/ˈdoʊə jad/)[8] — the yard or occupant's space outside a dwelling's exterior door—sometimes decorated with ornamental plants, and often used for temporary storage of tools, toys, sleds, carts, or bicycles
  • Down East[7] — loosely refers to the coastal regions of Hancock and Washington counties; because boats traveled downwind from Boston to Maine, as well as east as they travelled farther north up the coast of Maine (as in "I'm headin' Down East this weekend") - also used in Canadian English, possibly as the aforementioned Maine counties are close to parts of Atlantic Canada.
  • dressing[12] — application of manure to a garden
  • dry-ki[13] — an accumulation of floating dead wood on the downwind shore of a lake
  • fart (old faht)[12] — an inflexibly meticulous individual
  • flatlander[7] — visitor from elsewhere, often from Massachusetts due to its flat topography
  • gawmy[14] — clumsy and awkward
  • honkin[14] — extraordinarily large
  • hot top[12] — asphaltic pavement
  • Italian sandwich or Italian[12]submarine sandwich
  • jimmies[12] — colored sugar dessert sprinkles
  • johnny[12] — hospital gown
  • kife[8] — to steal (usually a small, useful item of low cost)
  • lawn sale — yard sale
  • nippy[8] — cold enough to stiffen one's nipples
  • notional[12] — stubborn
  • numb[6] — dumb; stupid (as in "Numb son you got there")
  • pahtridgeruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) (from partridge)
  • pekid[10] — feeling unwell
  • pot[6] — lobster trap
  • prayer handle[6] — knee
  • quahog[6] — thick-shelled clam (Mercenaria mercenaria)

  • scrid[6] — a tiny piece; a little bit
  • right out straight[14] — too busy to take a break
  • spleeny[12] — overly sensitive
  • squaretail (/ˈskweɪəteɪl/) — brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
  • steamers[6]soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria)
  • stove in/stove upnautical term meaning bash in (as in "Stoved all ta hell")
  • toguelake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)

In popular culture[edit]

  • John Neal (1793–1876) was one of the first authors to feature regional American accents and colloquialisms in his writing,[15] some of which is considered primary source material for studies on the Maine accent.[16] His 1835 play, Our Ephraim, or The New Englanders, A What-d'ye-call-it?–in three Acts, is considered his most significant work in this regard.[17]
  • Maine humorist Marshall Dodge (1935–1982) based much of his humor from the Maine dialect, beginning first with his involvement with the series Bert & I, a "Down East" collection of humor stories created during the 1950s and 1960s.
  • Well-known author, musician, and former television broadcaster Tim Sample is known nationally for his use of Maine vernacular.[citation needed]
  • Jud Crandall, main character in Stephen King's 1983 novel Pet Sematary, is written to have a thick Down East accent, his pronunciations often spelled phonetically throughout the novel.


  1. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Ward, Ben (eds.) (2006). American Voices: How dialects differ from coast to coast. Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 73.
  2. ^ a b Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006), The Atlas of North American English, Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter, pp. 226–7, ISBN 3-11-016746-8
  3. ^ Ryland, Alison (2013). "A Phonetic Exploration of the English of Portland, Maine". Swarthmore College.
  4. ^ Kim, Chaeyoon et al. (2018). "Bring on the crowd ! Using online audio crowdsourcing for large-scale New England dialectology and acoustic sociophonetics". American Speech Volume 94, Issue 2. Duke University Press.
  5. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Ward, Ben (eds.) (2006). American Voices: How dialects differ from coast to coast. Malden, MA; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 74-75.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Fowles (2015)
  7. ^ a b c d VisitMaine (2015)
  8. ^ a b c d Norman, Abby (June 2015). "The Outta Statah's Guide to Maine Slang". BDN. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  9. ^ Mallard, Bob. "The Mythical Blueback Trout of Maine". Orvis News. Retrieved July 17, 2021.
  10. ^ a b c Thieme, Emma. "The 25 Funniest Expressions in Maine". matador network. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  11. ^ Erard, Michael. "What it Means to Talk Like a Mainer". Down East. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reid, Lindsay Ann. "English in Maine: The Mythologization and Commodification of a Dialect". University of Toronto. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  13. ^ Burnham, Emily (March 8, 2012). "Dictionary includes words only a Mainer would use". BDN. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  14. ^ a b c Fowles, Debby. "Speak like a Mainer". about travel. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  15. ^ Kayorie, James Stephen Merritt (2019). "John Neal (1793–1876)". In Baumgartner, Jody C. (ed.). American Political Humor: Masters of Satire and Their Impact on U.S. Policy and Culture. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. p. 90. ISBN 9781440854866.
  16. ^ Fleischmann, Fritz (1983). A Right View of the Subject: Feminism in the Works of Charles Brockden Brown and John Neal. Erlangen, Germany: Verlag Palm & Enke Erlangen. p. 145. ISBN 9783789601477.
  17. ^ Sears, Donald A. (1978). John Neal. Twayne's United States Author Series. Boston, Massachusetts: Twayne Publishers. p. 92. ISBN 9780805772302.

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