How to Do a Boston AccentFeb 15, 2021
The Boston accent is notoriously tough to replicate, and often reproduced with shaky results in Hollywood! It seems that about once a year a movie is absolutely skewered for its depiction of the Boston accent. However, there are a handful of films that make up for this shortfall in Boston representation. The Departed, The Fighter, Gone Baby Gone, and Spotlight all take home the de facto Boston accent gold medal & a bit of hometown glory, too.
But why even learn how to do a Boston dialect? Many of you may be here because you need to perfect the accent for an audition or a role. Still others may be interested in capturing that ever elusive prize of being able to say that you’ve mastered one of the trickiest accents in America.
You probably already know the classic phrase “park the car in Harvard Yard” - but have you ever tried to really ‘do’ a Boston accent? Do you know where to start? Read on to find out.
Location Location Location
A classic Boston accent is often thought of as coming from the south side of Boston. However, the accent fans out across New England and can be considered a wider New England sound with Boston as the epicenter and originator of the accent. So while this accent may be specific to Boston, don’t be surprised if you hear the accent further down the road in Massachusetts and even in New Hampshire.
The Dropped R
The Boston accent is famous for dropping the consonant R. This means that the consonant R will not always be pronounced when it’s written. Usually it will be dropped if it’s not followed by a vowel. Try this out on words that end in -er:
The popular professor carries a leather briefcase to hold his papers together.
The Boston accent is most famous for its R-dropping on the sound /a/ as in START.
/a/ as in START
Not only does the R disappear from this lexical set, but the vowel changes as well. Instead of the tongue resting low in the back of the mouth, the tongue pulls forward creating a more flat and forward /a/ sound. It may even feel as if you can sense vibration in the cheekbones when pronouncing this vowel.
Martha looks sharp in that scarf she bought at the market.
However, I hate to report that there really is no consistency to this R-dropping rule. Whereas most non-rhotic accents such as Cockney, Northern, or Australian follow a pattern where you only pronounce a consonant R before a vowel, the Boston accent simply does not adhere to this rule. Sometimes the consonant R will be pronounced, sometimes it won’t! Chalk this up to the accent being surrounded by other American accents, which tend to be rhotic (meaning pronouncing the consonant R everytime it’s written).
For example, contemporary speakers typically pronounce the consonant R in words like NURSE: turn, word, curse, bird, etc. You may also hear the consonant R pronounced before a consonant at times. It all depends on the speaker’s background and life experience.
The Intrusive R
Don’t be fooled by the R-dropping rule. Even with all those dropped Rs, Boston speakers will turn around and add some in! This phenomenon is called a linking R, and it happens when a word ends in a vowel and the next word begins with a vowel. In order to link the sounds together a consonant R is inserted between words. Try this practice:
Kara(r) and I both think that the tuna(r) in stores in America(r) is not the best.
/ɒ / as in LOT & THOUGHT
The vowels in words such as LOT & THOUGHT merge into one singular vowel sound. This vowel involves the tongue low and almost cupping at the back of the mouth. The lips will round forward slightly into the monophthong /ɒ/, or ‘aw’. This is very different from New York City, and a quick way to tell if you’re listening to a Boston speaker or a New Yorker. Try making these vowels the same in the next practice sentence:
Go get me a rock to help grab the doll caught between the cot and the wall.
/eə/ as in TRAP
The /æ/ as in TRAP vowel changes into a diphthong /eə/. A diphthong is a vowel created by the mouth moving between two different vowel sounds. In this case the mouth starts by making the /e/ vowel and then glides into the schwa /ə / . Think of the schwa as the sound your mouth makes when someone asks “What do you want to watch on TV tonight?” Your response: “uhhh”. Practice the glide first: “e→ uh”. Then practice it in context on the words in the practice sentences:
Give the man in the bath half a glass of Amaretto!
Boston Accent Examples
Here are a few examples to get you started. I’ve include a range of Boston speakers for some flavor:
Southie reacts to Whitey Bulger capture
Perfect Boston Accent
Barstool Pizza Review - listen to Dave Portnoy
Actor Learns a Boston Accent in 6 Hours
Master the Accent
The best way to master any accent is to listen, listen, listen. Get your ears on as many real-life Boston podcasts, recordings, and interviews. Then start to mimic. You can start slowly at first, but speaking aloud is key here. It’s necessary to take the accent on the road a bit so the more practice you have, the better.
If you want to really perfect the accent, the easiest way to do that is with a dialect coach. A coach will be able to point you in the right direction and give you specific actionable tips personal to YOU. Even 1 hour can point you in the right direction. You can find more info about 1:1 sessions with me on my website: