Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Another Language Observation: Accents etc.

When folks think of the Boston-and-area accent, they often think about the dropping of "r" sounds, as in the word "party" sounding more like "potty" and "car" or "park" sounding like "cah" or "pahk."

Below are two examples of less commonly known aspects of the accent, though interestingly, it should be noted that in terms of accent, there is a very large difference going just 15 miles in one direction or another. For example, the town Woburn is often pronounced by folks in the town as "Woo-bin." That's a north shore accent. In Boston or on the south shore, you'd hear something more along the lines of "Woo-burn."
  • The "ahh" sound doesn't just replace dropped "r"s. It is also the sound of many "a"s. However, it is very, very subtle and happens only in a portion of a Bostonian's speech, so you won't notice it right away. For example, "trash" is slightly more like "tr-ah-sh" (like "wash") and "fast" is slightly more like "fahst." The English influence perhaps?
  • "A"s are changed to "r"s almost as much as "r"s are changed to "a"s. For example, "Tina" often sounds like "teen-erh."

Probably the hardest city to pronounce in MA is Worcester. I still have not been able to perfect my pronunciation. The sounds can get very subtle. Fortunately for me, an acceptable twist on the name is "Whister" or "Whista." "Woostah" is another acceptable variety, but there is a subtle but noticeable difference in how townies say that vs. everybody else, and I wouldn't suggest that most folks who aren't from Worcester or the area attempt this version of the name. When I first moved to MA, I tried to do what the Worcester townies do and get the right blend of the word with something like the sounds in the sauce with a similar name. Big mistake. It never comes out right. People from out of town often do this (second to "Woorchester") saying things like "Wooshter" or something like that, and this would be considered an improper pronunciation of the town here. Like I said, fortunately for me, there is always "Whister" to call back on.

One term I never heard (at least not much) before moving to MA is "it is what it is." I hear that here a LOT! I even have heard it a few times on the news. This is a term that either rose significantly in use after we moved, or is fairly regional (either that, or I just hear it a lot because people don't think highly of me and the things I do LOL). G's translation is, "it's sh*t and it's sh*t." It's kind of like a verbal throwing-up-of-hands, an "oh-well" type thing to say. I think it is a spin off from the New England version of being polite, which is to give lots of space and privacy to other people. If G's translation is correct, it's a pretty non-confrontational way of saying something is sh*t.

Interesting, this language thing.


sf said...

These last few posts have been fun.
I loved reading all the Worcester vocab.
I don't have much of an accent either, maybe because we moved all the time. I love accents in others. Ya know what though? I HATE the sound of my own wouldn't guess to hear me talk though! I guess the feeling I have stuff to say outweighs my distaste!!!

Masasa said...

I don't like the sound of my voice either. So high pitched. And people have actually *told* me it is painful to listen to. Ouch!

Eventually I am going to do some vocal training to lower the pitch of my voice a bit. I've been trying to work on it on my own.

I like the sound of your voice! Maybe I can acheive something like that through vocal training :-).

hopalong said...

Ah, "Teen-ahr"; in NYC I was used to hearing "Jessicar" and "idear" a lot; I think the term might (might?) be rhotic-less, for an accent that chops "r"s off of some words and then adds them on to others -- but only when the next word starts with a vowel (i.e., "Jessicar and I" instead of "Jessicar went").

Your posts are making me wish I remembered more from my linguistics class!

hopalong said...

As to voice pitch, I spent a lot of time working on that when I first started French in college -- apparently, people generally speak lower in French? That did make for a funny contrast between my teacher's low, mature-sounding voice in French, and her sort of giddy, high-pitched English-speaking voice...