Tuesday, December 17, 2019

#4 - On The New Hampshire Accent/Dialect

My fourth-most visited post over the years, even though it is not very thorough. From January 2007.


Taking some “r’s” out and adding others in is the notorious characteristic of the New Hampshire/Northeastern Massachusetts dialect.(Correction 2019: Includes RI and coastal Maine) The new datter gave him a new idear. Or to use Fritz Wetherbee’s excellent phrase: Mistah waitah, now or late-ah, bring a glass of be-ah he-ah. Though these forms may be slowly disappearing, merging into that standard American accent from Medina, Ohio, they can still be heard, particularly among older and rural residents. I was in fifth grade before I read the word parka, and concluded it must be the correct form of our word pahker. In the women’s name “Martha,” you get the same even trade: Mahther.

Even among youngah folk, you might catch an added r in special situations if you listen closely. When the next word begins with a vowel, a soft r sound will be inserted: Lawrand order. Linderand I went downtown. Cuber is just south of Flohridder, and Nashuar is west of Reveah.

From Worcester to Portland you still might hear an older person ask for a tonic, meaning a soft drink or get a milk shake made without ice cream (with ice cream it’s a frappe). Forty years ago, no one in NH ever ate a hero, hoagie, submarine, or Italian sandwich. We ate grinders, and have since also allowed the word subs, though grudgingly. You can still drink from a bubbler (and surprisingly, they also kept it in Wisconsin),  originally a brand name – but that’s “bubblah” here . Everywhere else in the country you have to drink from a fountain or drinking fountain. Older folks still say dungarees and sneakers, as well.

Everyone used to go down cellah in northern New England, but the use of basements for bathrooms in city schools or the bottom floor of buildings with elevators has pushed cellar into a more specialized use: the bottom floor of a house, if less-finished or unfinished. It's still mixed.  Basement was so closely associated with public lavatories that in 1950 a child in Manchestah could ask “Wheah’s the basement?” and be told “It’s up on the second flo-ah.”

We say many vowels a little more precisely in other cases. Flohridder has the “oh” not “aw” sound, and a crayon or centaur is just that, not a crayan or a centarr. 

New Hampshah Hospital is located in CONcuhd, even though no one ever conquhd CONcuhd NH. If that sounds strange, well, they don’t always have much concord in conCORD NC or CA either, do they? BUHlin and MI-lan ahnt close to BerLIN or MiLAN, neither in pronunciation nor geography, but Lebanun is a pronunciation wicked close to Lebanon, ahn't it? (Update 2019: I wrote about the origins of "wicked" in our dialect a few years later.)

You won’t see a blowdown or a hahd-top road, anymoah, but youah mothah’s sistah, who lives kittycorner across the street will still be yoah aunt, pronounced just like it’s spelled, thank you. We had a perfectly good second-person plural all to ourselves, but now you guys all ovah the North are using it. Jeezum crow, stop stealing ouah regional distinctives, wouldja? (Additional note 2019: As "you guys" became more common, it became more controversial.  I don't know if that would have happened had it remained merely a New England phrasing.)


Jerub-Baal said...

Oh, that's music to my eauhs!

I feel younger now, thanks for reminding me of how I used to sound!

GraniteDad said...

The new website at work for data programs is "datr." We assume that some developer not originally from New England is making fun of us, but it's still fun to say.

Ben Wyman said...

I still use a lot of those, and some of them I always will. I'm unlikely to ever abandon "aunt." The mispronouncing morons elsewhere can snicker all they want.

Do you have an estimate how long "aunt" will last in New England?

Assistant Village Idiot said...

At a minimum, what's the life expectancy of Jonathan and Heidi's projected youngest child?

GraniteDad said...

Dad, your comment assumes one of my brothers will get married.

Unknown said...

Great post, thanks so much for sharing this. I think my friends at Home Instead Assisted Living in Laconia will get an absolute kick out of this. I'll be sure to share it!

- Sue

sykes.1 said...

I grew up in Methuen, briefly Nantasket, and Dorchester, so I still think in terms of tonics, frappes etc. In 1966 I went to graduate school at Purdue from Northeastern. Talk about a culture shock! But I grew to like it, especially big time college football, which is missing from New England. You’re not really part of Greater America without big time college football. Of course, New England lacks the high quality public universities of the Big 10, ACC (BC doesn’t count), SEC, Big 12, or PAC12. Michigan, Texas, and Berkeley are on a par with Harvard. UMass, UConn, et al., are on a par with U. Akron.

In Indiana and Ohio there is a strong accent gradient from north to south, north being Medina, OH, and south being Appalachian. In McPherson’s great Civil War history, “Battle Cry of Freedom,” he distinguishes between the Southron culture of corn, pigs, and whiskey and the northern culture of cows, wheat, and milk. The line is roughly 41 N latitude, or about Mansfield, OH. That pretty much matches up with the Nine Nations.

For the last 35 years i have lived in the woods of north central Ohio. It is sorta rough country like eastern NH and MA. I like it, but I’ve gone feral. My family is mostly in southern NH, with some in MA, CT, and NC. My wife’s are in IL, WI, MN, and MO. Out here we have subs and milk shakes (with ice cream) and sodas. But bourbon is best.

Unknown said...

sykes.1 - when I started encountering undergraduates in Ohio, my thought was that it was more of a sudden change rather than a gradient -- same around Indianapolis, it seems you cross a county line, and suddenly the voices in the next diner could as easily be in suburban Kentucky. A particular example that springs to mind is from

I note that the 41°N latitude corresponds to the southern boundary of the "Connecticut Western Reserve" (https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/8b/Western_Reserve_Including_the_Fire_Lands_1826.jpg) so perhaps that has historic implications in settlement patterns.

When we moved to our current town, I felt "right at home" quite quickly in a way that I had not anticipated. In doing research about the town's history, I found that many of the earliest ethnic-European inhabitants 200+ years ago had come from a New-England town where I'd spent many summers, and even subsequently found that the earliest farmer/owner on our home's deed documents was also a transplant from the same place some 50 years later.

Christopher B said...

If you drive north to south through Indiana or Illinois you can see the westward migration patterns in the place names. There wasn't a lot of north-south movement until you got to the Missouri River, and people headed towards southern California.

Assistant Village Idiot said...

I had never heard of that pattern, but it makes intuitive sense. If you were heading out from the East to settle, you would have an idea of how much frontier you were willing to tolerate and head towards that. If you had wanted to go to southern Indiana to start with, you would have headed there. While some people might come up against as far as they wanted to go and would turn left, right, or back a bit to find somewhat more congenial digs, those would be few, and string out along the north-south line with odd distribution. If they were part of a group this would not change much. A loosely associated group of families from Vermont might decide the place they arrived at was not suitable and move in any direction, but they wouldn't go far.

As some had arrived via the Ohio River, those would also mostly move only through the NW quadrant from there.