If you’re new to America and were partying in Manhattan, don’t just assume you wandered off drunkenly into Brooklyn when you wake up in a pile of clam-chowder-infested vomit (how could you tell?) and get nabbed by a police officer who sounds like the above. Even to my somewhat experienced ears, it’s difficult for me to tell the difference between a New England accent (which covers several regions) and a Brooklyn, Noo-Yawker-type accent.
And this swings both ways. Even after several forced viewings of My Family, Gavin and Stacey and a few other sitcoms, my American-born other half watched an actor with a pretty thick Welsh accent the other day and said, “Is that a Scottish accent”? Best not take him to Wales in case something like this happens:
Americans are afraid of things that are different. Gay people can’t get married because it means they will ruin the sanctity of marriage, universal health care is a dirty commie plot that will rape your grandma and us immigents are derking your ferking jerrbs. So the best way to fit in is to try to cover up your accent entirely and only bring it out when you fly home to visit the ‘rents at Christmas.
Boston accents are a curious breed. Mostly because I like saying “curious breed”, but partly because they are difficult for a non-native to pin down, in the same way that Americans keep mixing up Australian, South African and English accents. The root of it is in the “R”s. Boston accents have the same non-rhotic qualities as Australian accents, in that they apparently do not pronounce a rhotic consonant (I cannot decipher anything on this page) in the same way that we do.
Basically, the whole “pahk the cah in Hah-verd Yahd” thing is totally true.
It’s a heavy accent, and the elongated (shut up) vowels will probably stretch your jaw and mouth more than you thought possible (shut up). This might be tough on the jaw at first (shut up), so take it easy when practising. You don’t want to end up like Garth.
Aside from the Rs, another important thing to remember is glottal stops. If you usually pronounce the t in the word “glottal” ( because you clearly say the word “glottal” every day), you will not be using them ever again. This comes in handy if you’re a fellow Portsmoovian. I sewed a “buh-in” onto my shirt.
Other, slightly less regional tips for pronunciation:
- It’s not “taken for granted”. It’s “taken for granite”, because it’s like your choices have been taken away from you and you’ve been set in stone with no Lando in sight.
- Add a “WR” after every “O” e.g. “would you like me to make you some coffee?” becomes, “go owrder some fahkin’ cowrrfee”
- It’s not “analyst”. It’s “Eeeahnalyst”. Do not forget to add on three Es before any word beginning with A and a consonant. Like “eeahnd”.
- Mary is short for “married”.
- Add the word “wicked” to everything. Use the term “wicked pissah” to describe things that are nice and not, in fact, things that are covered or should need to be covered in urine. Although you could indeed have a “wicked pissah toile-let”.
- A “pawn shop” is the same as a “porn shop”. Remember that when the ‘rents are visiting.
- Sara (Sahr-uh) and Sarah (Sair-uh) are the same name. In fact, the Indian name Sara doesn’t exist, despite having existed as a precursor to the modern pronunciation of Sarah before the Bible went and ruined everything. If you try to tell anyone here that it rhymes with Clara or Tara, do not bother citing Doc Brown’s pronunciation of Clara in Back to the Future: Part III as a helpful example. You will spend two hours drunkenly arguing outside of a youth hostel in Hollywood with a stoned South-east Asian man who will keep trying to convince you that your name doesn’t exist in English while he barks orders in broken English to a complete stranger that you’re both helping move house for some reason at 1am (yes, this really happened). People in the office gave up so I told them to call me Phil.
- Volume is everything. If in doubt, fire a couple of rounds into the ceiling.
- If you’re worried you can’t make a go of it, try to be as insulting, belligerent and obnoxious as possible. This conveys confidence, and confidence is everything. Along with the rest of that list.
- Every post-35 year-old female New Englander’s voice is gravelly and could replace nails on a chalkboard. If you can’t fake it, take up smoking or, like most New Englanders, drink heavily on a weeknight.
- If you live on the North Shore, just add the word
“fuck”“fahk” in every couple of words. Instead of the words “um” or “er”, use “fahkin'”.
If you’re more of an aural (shut up) learner, take a cue from some of the finest-performed Boston accents in celluloid history:
You can also add to your Rosetta Stone list:
- Julianne Moore’s horrifying accent in 30 Rock
- Everyone in Mystic River
- London actress Rosalie Crutchley’s butchering in The Haunting (“…in the night. In the dahk”)
- Robin Williams in Good Will Hunting
- The car from Knight Rider in Boy Meets World (who happens to be from Brooklyn IRL)
If you want to hear an authentic Boston accent, but can’t afford the plane fare, then just watch this video.
For the most part, Americans find a British accent cute and endearing, but only if we sound like Royalty. Any Dick Van Dyke or Eliza Doolittle impersonators will be met with bemusement. You should see me trying to order “bottled water” in my T-dropping, Portsmuthian accent. Funnily enough, it’s only the immigrants themselves (who barely speak any English) who can understand what the hell I’m saying. English accents are considered dashing and cute if they’re posh, and friendly and funny if you’re Cockney. It never occurs to them that there’s a heck of a lot further up north. I’ve yet to meet anyone who can understand a Geordie accent. Same goes for anyone I’ve met in America.
So regardless of your accent roots, it’s up to you whether or not you want to shed the dialect. But if both the former Mayor of New York and Hugh Laurie can do it, why the fahkin’ hell can’t you?