In a recent poll carried out by Business Insider, Americans were asked which state’s accent was the weirdest. Unsurprisingly, the weirdest accents are found in the eastern half of the country.
This has largely to do with the fact that the East was colonized long before the West; the original 13 colonies had plenty more time to go their separate ways and develop their own accents. The West Coast was settled more recently by people from all over the East Coast, and this mixing of accents probably neutralized most of the “weird” features.
There are also region-specific reasons for the various accents around the country, such as the arrival of immigrants from places like Ireland and Norway. Let’s have a look at some of these.
The Massachusetts accent was considered the weirdest by those polled. The fact is that the state actually has more than one accent, but since most Americans polled were probably thinking of Boston’s accent, we’ll focus on a few of its phonological peculiarities.
In Boston English, the sound /R/ as in “car,” is dropped at the end of a syllable or word, and the preceding vowel is then lengthened (compensatory lengthening). A word like “car” therefore ends up more like “caa.” This is the most famous feature of Boston English, and nearly everyone in the United States is familiar with it.
Other /R/-related features of Boston English are the phenomena known as “linking R” and “intrusive R.” Don’t be intimidated by the fancy terminology, as these features are quite simple.
Linking R occurs in words wherein /R/ is normally dropped, such as “car.” When such words are followed by a word that begins on a vowel, the /R/ shows up again to ease the transition between the words. Intrusive /R/ occurs when the word never had an /R/ in the first place, such as “soda.” If the following word begins on a vowel, an /R/ is inserted, giving results such as, “I bought some soder and ice cream.”
Minnesota’s peculiarities involve vowels and intonation. Foremost among these features is the Minnesota /o/. Anyone who has heard people mimic a person from Minnesota pronouncing the word “Minnesota” knows what this vowel sounds like.
Unlike a southern /o/, which is a diphthong (two vowels crammed into one), Minnesota’s /o/ is a “pure vowel.” What this means is that the tongue and lips stay in the same place throughout the duration of the vowel. They are also tenser than they would be in the Mid-Atlantic and the South, where the vowels are more relaxed in their articulation. Minnesota /o/ is a lot like the Spanish /o/.
In parts of Minnesota with large numbers of Norwegian-Americans, the intonation can have Norwegian features. For example, Norwegians make statements using the intonation English speakers use when asking questions. English speakers then wonder why Norwegians make so many inquiries. Refer to this link for a fascinating article about Norwegian-American English.
3. Louisiana and Alabama
These two accents were in the top 5 weirdest, but the poll wasn’t specific enough regarding the exact locations inside the two states. A glance at a dialect map of North America quickly reveals that it’s somewhat ridiculous to talk about a “Louisiana accent” or an “Alabama accent” –both states exhibit many dialects.
Be that as it may, the Cajun accent seems to be the one most often featured in television shows and films set in Louisiana, so it’s safe to say that most respondents had that dialect in mind.
Features of Cajun English include the pronunciation of “th” sounds in words such as “think” and “them,” which become /t/ and /d/, giving us “tink” and “dem.”
There are also cases wherein consonants and entire syllables are dropped. Examples include “nuff” for “enough,” “sept” for “except,” “respek” for “respect,” and “sometin” for “something.”
However, not everyone in Louisiana speaks Cajun English; many people speak with the more general Southern accent of the “Lowland South,” as do people from Alabama (for an example of Lowland Southern English, refer to this link:
In northern Alabama, another Southern dialect is spoken in a region called the “Inland South”. In this region, the diphthong /ai/ is pronounced /a/, giving us results such as “nahs whaht rahs” for “nice white rice.” Inland Southern is also spoken in eastern Tennessee, which happens to be where Dolly Parton is from. Refer to this link to hear her talk: