New England English collectively refers to the various distinct dialects and varieties of American English originating in the New England area. Most of eastern and central New England once spoke the "Yankee dialect", and many of those accent features still remain in eastern New England, such as "R-dropping" (though this feature is receding among younger speakers today). The 2006 Atlas of North American English (ANAE) argues that there is a division between Northern New England English and Southern New England English, especially on the basis of the cot–caught merger and /ɑr/ fronting. The ANAE also categorizes the strongest differentiated New England accents into four combinations of the above dichotomies, simply defined as follows:
- Northeastern New England English with non-rhoticity and the cot–caught merger. It centers on Boston, Massachusetts, extending into New Hampshire and coastal Maine.
- Southeastern New England English with non-rhoticity and a lack of the cot–caught merger. It centers on Providence, Rhode Island and the Narragansett Bay.
- Northwestern New England English with rhoticity and the cot–caught merger. It centers on Vermont.
- Southwestern New England English with rhoticity and a lack or transitional state of the cot–caught merger. It centers around the Hartford-Springfield area of Connecticut and western Massachusetts.
New England English is not a single American dialect, but a collective term for a number of dialects and varieties that are close geographic neighbors within New England, but which differ on a spectrum that broadly divides New England English into a unique north versus south (specifically, a northern merger of the vowels /ɒ/ and /ɔ/, versus a southern distinction between these vowels), as well as a unique east versus west (specifically, an eastern pronunciation of the "r" sound only before vowels, versus a western pronunciation of all "r" sounds). Regarding the former feature, all of northern New England (most famously including Boston, but going as far southeast as Cape Cod and as far north as central Maine) historically merges the open and open-mid back rounded vowels (so that, for instance, pond and pawned are pronounced the same, which is commonly called the cot–caught merger), while southern coastal New England (including Rhode Island) historically maintains a noticeable distinction between these two vowels. Regarding the second feature, all of eastern New England is historically non-rhotic (famously pronouncing "car" like "kah"), while all of western New England is historically rhotic (or "r-ful"). Therefore, four combinations of these two features are possible, and coincidentally all four exist among New England English speakers, largely correlated with the exact geographic quadrant in New England in which a speaker was raised.
All of New England raises the tongue in the first element of the diphthong /aɪ/ before voiceless consonants; eastern New England, specifically, also raises the first element of /aʊ/ before voiceless consonants (commonly known as Canadian raising).
All the local dialects of New England are also known for commonly pronouncing the unstressed sequences /tɪŋ/ and /tən/ (for example, found in "sitting" /ˈsɪtɪŋ/ or "Britain" /ˈbrɪtən/) as [ʔn̩] (New England pronunciation of "mountain"). This form of t-glottalization (especially the /tən/ form) is found commonly in other parts of the country as well, like in the word "Britain" (sometimes represented along the lines of Brih'in).
The extent that speakers raise the tongue in the English "short a" vowel varies widely in New England; however, across the board, New England speakers demonstrate a definite "nasal" short-a system, in which the vowel is always raised the absolute strongest whenever occurring before the nasal consonants /m/ and /n/ (so that, pan, for example, nearly approaches the sound of the word paean). In all of New England except Rhode Island and southern Connecticut, the short a may also be noticeably raised in many other environments.
The following terms originate from and are used commonly and nearly exclusively throughout New England:
- grinder for sub, a long, large sandwich (predominant in Western New England English, with Italian sandwich in Maine English)
- package store or packie for liquor store (predominant in Boston and Southern New England English)
- tag sale for garage sale or yard sale (predominant in Southwestern New England English)
- rotary for traffic circle or roundabout
As in the rest of the Northeast, sneakers is the primary term for athletic shoes, and common typically before adjectives or adverbs, wicked is used as an intensifier word (predominant in Northern and Eastern New England English, from Boston). Many Boston-originating local terms have dispersed throughout Eastern New England and, prominently, all the rest of Massachusetts.
Eastern New England English
Eastern New England English encompasses Boston and Maine accents, and, according to some sources, the distinct Rhode Island accent. All Eastern New England English is famous for non-rhoticity, meaning it drops the r sound everywhere except before a vowel: thus, in words like car, card, fear, and chowder (listen). The phrase Park the car in Harvard Yard—dialectally transcribed [pʰak ðə ˈkʰaɹ‿ɪn ˈhavəd ˈjad]—is commonly used as a shibboleth, or speech indicator, for the non-rhotic Eastern New England dialect running from Boston north to Maine, and as far west as Worcester, which contrasts with the generally rhotic dialects elsewhere in North America. In all of Eastern New England, except Rhode Island, words like caught and cot are pronounced identically (both are often rounded, thus: [kʰɒt]), because those two vowel sounds have fully merged. A phenomenon called Canadian raising occurs throughout Eastern New England, causing writer to have a different stressed vowel sound than rider, and for the verb house to have a different vowel sound than the noun house. /aʊ/ and /u/ have relatively back starting positions. The horse–hoarse distinction is still present to some extent in some areas, as well as the Mary–marry–merry distinction in many speakers.
Western New England English
Western New England English encompasses the accents of Vermont, western Massachusetts, and Connecticut. These accents are fully rhotic, meaning all r sounds are pronounced, as in most of North America. Here, /aʊ/ and /u/ have slightly fronted starting positions, and the Mary–marry–merry merger and horse–hoarse merger are fully complete. Western New England English exhibits the entire continuum for the cot–caught merger: a full merger is heard in its northern reaches (namely, Vermont) and a full distinction at its southern reaches (namely, coastal Connecticut), including a transitional area in the middle. Western New England English is closely related to and influential on, but more conservative (i.e. preserving more historical features) than, the Inland North dialect which prevails farther west, and which has altered away from Western New England English due to an entirely new chain shift of the vowels since the 1900s. Some Western New England English speakers do have these shift's features, though it is disputed whether New England influenced the Inland North dialect region.