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Boston accent

"Boston English" redirects here. For the school, see The English High School.

The Boston accent is a regional accent of the American English dialect spoken in northeastern New England—particularly the city of Boston and much of eastern Massachusetts. Sociolinguists had grouped regions to include Rhode Island and eastern Connecticut for completeness; however, the phonological center forming what is considered the Eastern New England dialect region consists primarily of the southern eastern coast region of Maine, assimilating down through southern eastern New Hampshire where it picks up some of its most prominent linguistic characteristics, through eastern coast of northern Massachusetts but then drops off significantly before Cape Cod and the island region.[1][2]

The best-known features of the Boston accent are non-rhoticity and broad A. It is most prominent in often traditionally Irish or Italian Boston neighborhoods and surrounding cities and towns.[citation needed]

Phonological characteristics

Non-rhoticity

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 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".[3] 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'".

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.

Vowels

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 dock on the other hand is securely maintained: the former contain [äː] ([ˈfäːðə], [späː]), and the latter [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].[6] 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 [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 [kʰɔːt] for caught and [kʰɑːt] for cot; Received Pronunciation has [kʰɔːt] and [kʰɒt], 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 speakersTemplate:Spaced ndashthe ones who have a low vowel in words like corn [kʰɒːn]Template:Spaced ndashdo 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 [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]).