There has been so much debate on the Yankee accent, both about the origin, geographic cut-offs and the 'why's', that I feel the need to finally give it a rest and give you the truth.
The reason I find myself addressing New England so much lately is because of a certain television show, new this year, that has me thinking if us Yankee's are truly that despised throughout the country, as well as the South. I sure hope not because we certainly don't harbor resentment for any reason toward anyone, honestly! So let's begin by taking some truly ludicrous, too drawn out, too complicated and overly studied opinions, and studies, and give you the correct answer as to why we talk the way we do and everything in between.
Let's begin by, who I believe to be, a great American(and Yankee) lexicographer, Noah Webster and his American Dictionary. Many historians have mentioned that Noah's Dictionary was not American at all, but a New England dictionary. I think many scholars preconceived this before they even started reading it, just because of the preface. Noah stated "New Englanders spoke and spelled the purest and best form of English of any people in the world". Bravo Noah!
There is also a book that was printed in Boston in 1892, by Francis Underwood, called The Story of a Small Town. In this book, he offers observations regarding our dialect and accent in very unflattering terms, which I assume was the general perception of us Yankees at the time, if you have read my two previous posts:
"The Yankee Twang-
The nasal tone in New England, it is said, was caused by the severe climate and the prevalent catarrh; but those were not the sole causes. Catarrh debases speech, both in quality of tone and in distinctiveness of articulation; but the disease is more prevalent now than formerly, while the general speech is probably less nasal. Australians are said to have nasal voices, and they are not afflicted with catarrh. The New England drawl and the nasal tone were probably derived originally from the meeting-house and the prayer meetings; both defects became fixed by habit, and, of course, have been greatly heightened by climatic conditions.
The virtue constantly insisted upon in the old times by parents and religious teachers was humility, self-abnegation. In repeating passages of Scripture, or of the Catechism the one was subdued. The religious spirit was manifested in awe and reverence, seldom in cheerfulness, and never in exaltation-except in such exaltation as was accompanied with moistened eyes and "tears in the voice". It was "a dying world" in which our fathers lived; the expression of their ideas and feelings would not require the expansive lungs, nor heave the deep chest, of a vigorous and well-developed man. The noise, no less than the manner, of a burly fox-hunter and athlete, would be abhorrent to one whose soul was melted in penitence, and who in his daily devotions intoned in dragging minor intervals the prayers that he dare not address to the Dread Majesty of Heaven with steady eyes and many voice......
Let such usages of speech go on for generations, and the infection will pervade the community. The child will be soothed by a nasal lullaby, and will drawl from the time he leaves his cradle. He will drawl at his lessons, and make catarrhal yells in the playground. As a lover he will drawl to his mistress, and repeat loves litany through the nose. when his duet with her is finished, and his snuffy voice extinct, he will be drawn(slowly) to his grave, to drawl no more.
It appears to be certain that the nasal and drawling tone is in a large measure the result of two and a half centuries of Puritan training; just as the peculiarities of language, including local and obsolete terms, half-articulated contractions, and clipping or words, are the result of the fusion of many illiterate British dialects. The bucolic speech is dying out, for school-teachers are uprooting it, as farmers do thistles, but the tone hangs on, lie the scent of musk in Hosea Biglow's "draw"."
Here is another example of what others have said about our Yankee accent. A well known scholar from South Carolina:
"By Yankee I do not mean everybody from north of the Potomac and Ohio. Lots of them have always been good folks. The firemen who died in the World Trade Center on September 11 were Americans. The politicians and TV personalities who stood around telling us what we are to think about it are Yankees. I am using the term historically to designate that peculiar ethnic group descended from New Englanders, who can be easily recognized by their arrogance, hypocrisy, greed, lack of congeniality, and penchant for ordering other people around. Puritans long ago abandoned anything that might be good in their religion but have never given up the notion that they are the chosen saints whose mission is to make America, and the world, into the perfection of their own image."
Linguists and historians alike have stated various points, geographically, where our accent is most prevalent and where it starts to fade. Many agree that the Connecticut River forms the boundary where people start speaking "normally". See map with the pink line denoting the rough(very rough) passage of the Connecticut River.
These same "scholars" give the following distinctions, using the Connecticut River and the boundary for East New England(ENE) and West New England(WNE)
" 1. R-dropping. ENE speakers tend to show higher rates of r-dropping, as in pahk the cah in Hahvid yahd or New Hampshah, whereas in WNE these r’s are almost always pronounced.
2. The "broad a." Another highly recessive feature of ENE, this so-called "broad a" is often heard in words like aunt, father, laugh, half, can’t, etc. It’s also typically heard in "ar" words like car. For most older speakers, father and bother do not rhyme (the only area in North America where this is still true). For WNE speakers, father rhymes with bother and can’t rhymes with rant.
3. The horse-hoarse distinction in ENE. This characteristic is the most recessive of all, appearing only in the speech of older speakers, and is most prevalent in coastal areas (particulary in Maine). For these speakers, horse is pronounced like "hoss." Similarly, morning and mourning are not pronounced the same ("Good monnin’" is a common greeting in the area). Speakers also show this pattern in words like orange and Florida, whose first syllables do not sound like oar or floor, but rather use the vowel in fog."
Other linguists, studies and professionals declare something that just plain doesn't make any sense at all, such as Noreen Swanson in her The Influence of Settlement Patterns on the Dialects of New England. In this, she says that the port cities of New England would have been acquainted with various European emigrants and traders, therefore Yankee speech patterns "would not have been so prevalent". What???
Yet in Farewell to the Founders: Major Dialect Changes Along the East-West New England Border, states that three professional linguists say the that line separating people who drop their R's from those who don't is at the Vermont-New Hampshire border. The study’s authors — James N. Stanford, Thomas A. Leddy-Cecere and Kenneth P. Baclawski Jr. — also discovered an erosion of several other distinctive features of eastern New England speech, "including the different vowels for "father" and "bother" and for "Mary," "merry," and "marry." (The distinction between "horse" and "hoarse," however, seems to be hanging on.)"
Let's wrap this up, once and for all! Look at where we came from during the early colonization of New England. See map. The areas contained within the shapes are the places in New England where our speech pattern is most predominant.(read on).
I do agree with one study done in the 50s. the Survey of English Dialects ascertains that the non-rhoticity(the non-pronunciation of the "r" and the use of the 'schwa' sound in words such as bath is very predominant(even to this day) "throughout a huge band of Sothern England", which is exactly who most of the present day Yankee's are descended from. It has also been proven that these are the same counties in England that gave us New Englanders our dialect and accent. this area is called the NEME Triangle(New England-Mother England Triangle)
Map in background courtesy of mrsc through wikimedia
Over time, these ancestors children, and their children, moved inland and upward. A full 90 percent of these families were poor farmers and fishermen and chose to live on farms in the back country in order to raise their own crops and find land either free or cheap in which to farm. More often than not, land was granted to families who could clear a certain portion fit for crop, and could talk other families into following them. Many simply moved up the coast(which, of course, was the easiest route to travel) and fish for a living.
Because of their solitude, their speech patterns remained the same for many generations, only slightly varying or diminishing. Just visit any Downeast community to hear for yourself. As for the coastal communities one most often hears of our unique dialect. If there is one group of Yankees that is more stubborn than either a Yankee seaman or fisherman, I have never heard. So with stubbornness in mind, should I really tell you that there is no-one on the face of the earth that they will emulate? And although this sounds cartoonish, profiling, flippant and rhetorical, it is absolutely true!
I must cover one more quick item. I have read over and over again that New Englanders take out the 'R' in places and put it back in places where it doesn’t belong. As a new England Historian, I have never NEVER once come across that as being distinctively Yankee. Historians and linguists alike have said that we say 'warsh' instead of 'wash'. Where to *$^# did that come from?
We, as full blooded Yankees have a dry sense of humor(for example-it is said we don't like ghosts in our homes because they don't pay rent) and hold true to the adage "As stubborn as a Yankee". I think some generational hatred for us comes from the fact that we are also known for being very shrewd in our business dealings. Now mind you there is a different meaning between shrewd and unfair. We have always been fair, but we watch every penny. Shrewdness and cheapness go hand in hand. Many colonial fathers didn't take kindly to us Yankees simply because of our "shrewdness".
It is only a matter of geography, in the simplest form, that our dialect and accent fades at certain points in and out of New England. The further away you go from either the back-country or shore line, the less our way of speaking has been heard. That is because other people of differing nationalities and monetary classes took root. These people, of course, didn't talk Yankee. And as with anything in life, the less you hear it, the less you will say it. For example, if you were from Maine and called that fizzy beverage a 'Soda' growing up, and then spent the last 50 years of your life down South(for example), you will find yourself not only losing your accent, but referring to 'Soda' as 'Pop'. It really is that simple.
Sometimes you only need to find the simple solutions to difficult questions, and this is one of those times. One other reason why we don't pronounce our 'R's is because of laziness. Now don't be sending me a bunch of emails, because this is true! Sure, we DO know that we should be pronouncing the R, but why take that little bit of effort in something that just plain doesn't make a bit of difference? To make ourselves sound a little more genteel or aristocratic? Like I mentioned before, we just don't care. We don't care what people think of us most of the time. I know many families(including mine) that simply don't have anything to prove to anybody.
And there you have it. Where we get our speech pattern, where the cutoff points are, why we talk the way we do and why we are slow to change. I would love to give you a more exciting and scientific reason behind all that I have said, but sometimes, there isn't one, and this is one of those times. I must add one more item to this article however. And just to let you know. My family is so Yankee that I have tried many times to pronouce my r's but I simply fannot do it. I have tried many times, and told my producers, publicist, marketing agents, booking agents and anyone that is involved with my Yankee Chef persona that I want to pronounce it, but I just can't. It sounds quite foolish to even try. Want to hear my accent? Go to my media page on theyankeechef.com and listen to one of my interviews or videos. You will soon get the idea.
Why on earth do people fail to say Scallop correctly. How do you say 'ALL'? Well, take that same phonetic sound and apply it to sc-ALL-op. It ain't sc-AL-op!!