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There Are No Heart Attacks Among Native New Englanders

There Are No Heart Attacks Among Native New Englanders
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Welcome to the July 2012 edition of
Jud’s New England Journal, the rather
curious monthly musings of Judson Hale,
the Editor-in-Chief of Yankee Magazine,
published since 1935 in Dublin, N.H.

There Are No Heart Attacks Among Native New Englanders

None at all. The simple explanation
has to do with the way we speak…

There are probably more than a dozen New England accents. Each differs from the others in a number of subtle ways, but the use of a and r, it seems to me, constitute the basic differences. There is the broad a, the lost r, the nasal a, the misplaced r, the lost a, the regular a and r, and the misplaced a. New Englanders – yes, even today – utilize these various a’s and r’s, or absence thereof, in various combinations.

Take the r, for instance. ldquo;We’ll pa’k the ca’ in Ha’vud Ya’d,rdquo; is the well-worn example of the lost New England r. (And it can be pronounced with either the broad or the flat, nasal a.) Now consider “Yeste’day afte’noon, Mary sawr a man drawring ca’toons.” Here we have three lost r’s but the entire sentence is actually only minus one r since two r’s have been added. One r, in “Mary”, is used normally. Incidentally, some New Englanders I know prefer “May-ree,” but the r remains in place. As for myself, I think that’s a good idear.

The use of a is more complicated. Like the r, it can be added to words in which a normally does not belong. Coaw and naow would be examples. Also, in instances where a is ordinarily united with o to produce a long o sound, as in load or boat, the a is eliminated, resulting in lo-d and bo-t. The a in barn is eliminated, along with the r, if the word is preceded by cow. The result here is cow bn, with the heavy accent on cow.

Some New Englanders utilize the broad a – cahn’t, tomahto, etc. – while others prefer the flat, nasal-sounding a that, as Mary Louise Gilman, a Boston transplant from Kansas, pointed out in an article in The National Shorthand Reporter, renders the word park, for instance, into the word pack.

“Thus if your hostess suggests you pa’k your bags,” she writes, “you’d better know whether you’re coming or going.”

The nasal sound so often associated with the flat a pronunciations is probably less pronounced today due to better health. Sickness and colds during bitter winters raised havoc with the old-time New England noses. Although, sure, the nasal sound continues today to some extent, thank goodness there are no heart attacks among native New Englanders. None. Of course, some will suffer a hat attack and others perhaps a serious hot attack. And we all know that famine isn’t necessarily one of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. Rather, it’s what a New England farmer does when he’s working. Fa’min. No problem. What is sometimes a problem, however, is trying to distinguish whether a person lives on Western or Weston Avenue in Boston. Or, for that matter, Western or Weston Place or street. There are oodles of all these in Boston as well as other New England cities.

My only recourse: spell it, please.

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There Are No Heart Attacks Among Native New Englanders

Updated Sunday, July 1st, 2012

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