Eastern New England English, historically known as the Yankee dialect since at least the 19th century, is the traditional regional dialect of Maine, New Hampshire, and the eastern half of Massachusetts. Features of this variety once spanned an even larger dialect area of New England, for example, including the eastern halves of Vermont and Connecticut for those born as late as the early twentieth century. Studies vary as to whether the unique dialect of Rhode Island technically falls within the Eastern New England dialect region.
Eastern New England English, here including Rhode Island English, is classically associated with sound patterns such as: non-rhoticity, or dropping r when not before a vowel; both variants of Canadian raising, including a fairly back starting position of the /aʊ/ vowel (as in MOUTH); and some variation of the PALM–LOT–THOUGHT vowel distinctions, the marry–merry distinction, or both. Eastern New England (excluding Rhode Island) is also nationally recognized for its highly front PALM/START vowel.
As of the 21st century, certain traditional characteristics are declining due to many younger Eastern New Englanders avoiding them, particularly non-rhoticity and the aforementioned vowel distinctions, which they tend to perceive as old-fashioned, overly rural-sounding, or even overly urban-sounding with regard to Boston. New Hampshire speakers on the whole are particularly well documented as retreating from these older Eastern New England features since the mid-20th century onwards.
The sound system of traditional Eastern New England English includes:
See also: wikt:Appendix:Glossary of Boston slang
Some words or phrases most famously or strongly associated with Eastern New England are:
Many words common to Boston are also common throughout New England dialects: grinder for "submarine sandwich" (also, spuckie or spuky in East Boston), packie (or package store) for "liquor store", rotary for "traffic circle" (these full-speed circular intersections being common in Greater Boston), and yous as the working-class plural form of "you" (a word found throughout the urban Northeast with many spelling variants). Cellar, whose definition may have slight nuances nationwide, can also be a simple synonym for basement in Eastern New England and Massachusetts generally. In this same area, related expressions like down the cellar or even down-cellar are distinctive, meaning "down to the basement" or "down in the basement" (as in "She's getting some boxes down-cellar").
Northeastern New England English, popularly recognized as a Boston or Maine accent, in addition to all the above phonological features, further includes the merger of the vowel in cot and caught to [ɒ~ɑ], often with a slightly rounded quality, but a resistance to the merger of the vowels in father versus bother, a merger that is otherwise common throughout North America. Also, for speakers born before 1950, the words half and pass (and, before World War II, also ask and can't) are pronounced with a "broad a," like in spa: [haf] and [pʰas].
Main article: Boston accent
Boston, Massachusetts is the birthplace and most famous site of Eastern New England English. Historically, a Northeastern type of New England English spread from metropolitan Boston into metropolitan Worcester, the bulk of New Hampshire, and central and coastal Maine. Boston speech also originated many slang and uniquely local terms that have since spread throughout Massachusetts and Eastern New England. Although mostly non-rhotic, the modern Boston accent typically pronounces the r sound in the NURSE vowel, /ɜr/, as in bird, learn, turkey, world, etc.
Main article: Maine accent
A traditional Maine accent, the closest remnant today to a more widespread 19th-century Yankee regional accent, includes the phonology mentioned above, plus the loss of the phonemic status of /ɛə/ (as in there), /ɪə/ (as in here), and /oə/ (as in more) all of which are broken into two syllables (/eɪə, i.ə, oʊə/, respectively): they-uh, hee-yuh, and moh-uh; some distinct vocabulary is also used in this accent. Maine is one of the last American regions to resist the horse–hoarse merger. This continued resistance was verified by some speakers in a 2006 study of Bangor and Portland, Maine, yet contradicted by a 2013 study that reported the merger as embraced by Portland speakers "of all ages". The horse–hoarse separation means that words like war and wore may sound different: war /wɒ/ rhyming with law /lɒ/, and wore /ˈwoʊə/ rhyming with boa /ˈboʊə/. Unlike the Boston accent, this traditional Maine accent may be non-rhotic entirely: even in the pronunciation of /ɜr/ as [ɜ].
A cultivated New England accent, sometimes known as a "Boston Brahmin accent" within Boston, was once associated with members of wealthy New England families in the late 19th and early 20th centuries; it is now essentially extinct. Notable example speakers included many members of the Kennedy family born in this time period, including President John F. Kennedy, whose accent is not an ordinary Boston accent so much as a "tony Harvard accent". This accent retained an older cot–caught distinction, a less fronted START vowel in some speakers, non-rhotic NURSE, and a TRAP–BATH split ([æ] versus [a]). This accent corresponds in its time-frame and in much of its sound with a cultivated transatlantic accent promoted in prestigious northeastern boarding schools and theatrical elocution courses in the same era.
The traditional English-language accent of Southeastern New England, popularly known as a Rhode Island accent, is spoken in Rhode Island and the western half of Bristol County, Massachusetts. In addition to all the features mentioned under the phonology section above, the Rhode Island accent also includes a sharp distinction in the vowels of Mary, marry, and merry and in the vowels in cot [ɑ] versus caught [oə], plus the pronunciation of /ɑr/, as in car, far back in the mouth as [ɑ~ɑə]—these three features making this New England accent noticeably similar to a New York accent. These features are often unlike the modern Northeastern New England (NENE) dialect of Boston, as is Rhode Island's feature of a completed father–bother merger, shared with the rest of the country outside of NENE. A few terms are unique only to this area, such as the word cabinet to mean "milkshake" (particularly, coffee cabinets), pizza strips (Italian tomato pie strips served cold without cheese), and coffee milk.
An ethnic local accent has been documented among self-identifying French Americans in Manchester, New Hampshire. The accent's most prominent pronunciation features are th-stopping (pronouncing thin like tin and there like dare) and, variably, word-initial h-dropping (so that hair may sound like air).
'Pauly D has the thickest Rhode Island accent I've ever heard,' [Brian] Williams told us.