Maine accent

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The Maine accent is the local traditional dialect of Eastern New England English native to parts of Maine, especially along the "Down East" and "Mid Coast" seaside regions.[1] It is characterized by a variety of features, particularly among older speakers, including r-dropping (non-rhoticity), resistance to the horse–hoarse merger,[2] a deletion or "breaking" of certain syllables, and some unique vocabulary. This traditional Maine accent is rapidly declining; a 2013 study of Portland speakers found the horse–hoarse merger to be currently embraced by all ages and the cot–caught merger to be resisted,[3] despite being typical among other Eastern New England speakers, even reported in the 1990s in Portland itself.[2] In the northern region of Maine along the Quebec border, Franco-Americans may show French-language influences in their English.[4]


Maine English often features phonetic change or phonological change of certain characteristics. One such characteristic is that, like in all traditional Eastern New England English, Maine English pronounces the "r" sound only when it comes before a vowel, but not before a consonant or in any final position. For example, "car" may sound to listeners like "cah" and "Mainer" like "Mainah."[5]

Also, as in much New England English, the final "-ing" ending in multi-syllable words sounds more like "-in," for example, in stopping [ˈstɒpɪn] and starting [ˈstaʔɪn].[5]

Vowels of the Maine accent
Front Central Back
lax tense lax tense lax tense
Close ɪ i ʊ u
Mid ɛ ə ɜ ʌ
Open æ a ɒ
Diphthongs aɪ   ɔɪ   aʊ

The Maine accent follows the pronunciation of Eastern New England English, with the following additional features:

  • The tense vowels tend to be somewhat longer than the lax ones, but they differ more in quality than length. /i/ and /u/ can be diphthongized to [ɪi, ʊu]. Neither length nor the diphthongal varieties of FLEECE and GOOSE are taken into account in transcriptions found in this article (save for one transcription of forward below).
  • NURSE /ɜ/ may be a pure vowel without r-coloring as in RP: [əː], though it can also be fronted to [ɛː]. This makes vowel length marginally phonemic, as in the near-minimal pair foreword [ˈfoʊəwəːd] vs. forward [ˈfɒːwəd]. In rhotic AmE, the unstressed syllables in these two words are not distinguished. When /ɜ/ is fronted to [ɛː], it forms a long-short pair with DRESS, as in the minimal pair bird [bɛːd] vs. bed [bɛd]. Vowel pairs not involving NURSE differ more in quality than length. In the word-final positions, LETTER/COMMA can also differ in quality from NURSE by being more open (as it usually is in other dialects), so that the final vowels in cypher /ˈsaɪfə/ and alpha /ˈælfə/ are often lower ([ˈsaɪfɐ, ˈæɫfɐ] in addition to being shorter than the final vowel of transfer (n.) [ˈtɹænsfəː]. In the rest of the article, the length mark is omitted, the NURSE vowel is transcribed with ⟨ɜ⟩ and the schwa is transcribed with ⟨ə⟩ regardless of its phonetic height. This is to be understood as a distinction between stressable tense and unstressable lax schwas (/ʌ/, which is sometimes considered to be a stressable lax schwa in AmE, is transcribed with a different symbol in this article), rather than a consistent difference in quality.
  • NEAR, SQUARE and FORCE are not separate phonemes but rather disyllabic sequences, same as FLEECE, FACE, GOAT + COMMA: here About this sound/ˈhi.ə/, there About this sound/ˈðeɪə/ and more About this sound/ˈmoʊə/, in all cases with a possible glide after the stressed vowel: [ˈhi.jə, ˈðeɪjə, ˈmoʊwə].[5]
  • NORTH, LOT and THOUGHT are merged to /ɒ/ (phonetically a centering diphthong [ɒə]), so that horse is pronounced /hɒs/, rhyming with loss /lɒs/.
  • Many speakers also produce a dipping tone when they pronounce the extended word; they lower their tone for the first syllable and raise it for the second syllable.[citation needed] The phrase "You can't get there from here," coined in an episode of the mid-1900s humor stories collection Bert & I, is a quintessential example of the principle of syllable extension.


The traditional Maine dialect has a fairly rich vocabulary. Some of this vocabulary is shared with other New England dialects, however much of it is specific to Maine. This vocabulary includes, but is not limited to, the following terms:

  • apiece[5] — an undetermined distance (as in "He lives down the road apiece")
  • ayuh[5][6] /ˈeɪə/ — yes; okay; sure; that's right
  • beetah[7] — a (beaten up) motor vehicle with value so diminished by extensive road salt corrosion there is little concern about additional collision damage from driving on icy roads
  • bug[5] — lobster
  • bureau[8] — a dresser or chest of drawers
  • Kout![9] — a warning to be alert (Look out!)
  • chupta?[9] — What are you doing? (What are you up to?)
  • corner — the neighborhood surrounding an intersection of rural roads (usually prefixed by the surname of an early resident of that intersection, as in "Woodfords Corner")
  • culch[10] — trash or rubbish
  • cunning[5][6] — cute (as in "She's a cunnin' one, she is")
  • cutter — an active child or younger person (from comparison to the harbor behavior of small, maneuverable cutters among larger ships)
  • dinner pail [8] — lunch box
  • dite — a tiny amount (as in "Just a dite")
  • door yard (/ˈdoʊə jad/)[7] — the yard or occupant's space outside a dwelling's exterior door—sometimes decorated with ornamental plants, and often used for temporary storage of tools, toys, sleds, carts, or bicycles
  • Down East[6] — loosely refers to the coastal regions of Hancock and Washington counties; because that boats traveled downwind from Boston to Maine (as in "I'm headin' Down East this weekend") - also used in Canadian English, possibly as the aforementioned Maine counties are close to parts of Atlantic Canada.
  • dressing[8] — application of manure to a garden
  • dry-ki[11] — an accumulation of floating dead wood on the downwind shore of a lake
  • fart (old faht)[8] — an inflexibly meticulous individual
  • flatlander[6] — visitor from elsewhere, often from Massachusetts due to its flat topography
  • frap[7] — a milkshake with ice cream (from frappe)
  • gawmy[12] — clumsy and awkward
  • honkin[12] — extraordinarily large
  • hot top[8] — asphaltic pavement
  • Italian[12]submarine sandwich
  • jimmies[8] — colored sugar dessert sprinkles
  • johnny[8] — hospital gown
  • kife[7] — to steal (usually a small, useful item of low cost)
  • lawn sale — yard sale
  • nippy[7] — cold enough to stiffen one's nipples
  • notional[8] — stubborn
  • numb[5] — dumb; stupid (as in "Numb son you got there")
  • pahtridgeruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) (from partridge)
  • pekid[9] — feeling unwell
  • pisser — something that is highly regarded; an intensifier (as in "She's a pissah, all right")
  • pot[5] — lobster trap
  • prayer handle[5] — knee
  • quahog[5] — thick-shelled clam (Mercenaria mercenaria)
  • scrid[5] — a tiny piece; a little bit
  • right out straight[12] — too busy to take a break
  • spleeny[8] — overly sensitive
  • squaretail (/ˈskweɪəteɪl/) — brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
  • steamers[5]soft-shell clams (Mya arenaria)
  • stove in/stove upnautical term meaning bashed in (as in "Stoved all ta hell")
  • 'taint — contraction meaning 'it ain't'
  • 'tis — contraction meaning 'it is'
  • toguelake trout (Salvelinus namaycush)
  • wail on — to hit (something) hard and repeatedly
  • wicked — very (as in 'it's wicked cold out')

In popular culture[edit]

  • Maine humorist Marshall Dodge (1935-1982) based much of his humor from the Maine dialect, beginning first with his involvement with the series Bert & I, a "Down East" collection of humor stories created during the 1950s and 1960s .
  • Well-known author, musician, and former television broadcaster Tim Sample is known nationally for his use of Maine vernacular.[citation needed]
  • Jud Crandall, main character in Stephen King's 1983 novel Pet Sematary is written to have a thick 'Down East' accent, his pronunciations often spelled phonetically throughout the novel.


  1. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Ward, Ben (eds.) (2006). American Voices: How dialects differ from coast to coast. Malden, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 73.
  2. ^ a b Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; Boberg, Charles (2006), The Atlas of North American English, Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter, pp. 226–7, ISBN 3-11-016746-8
  3. ^ Ryland, Alison (2013). "A Phonetic Exploration of the English of Portland, Maine". Swarthmore College.
  4. ^ Wolfram, Walt; Ward, Ben (eds.) (2006). American Voices: How dialects differ from coast to coast. Malden, MA ; Oxford: Blackwell Publishing. p. 74-75.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Fowles (2015)
  6. ^ a b c d VisitMaine (2015)
  7. ^ a b c d e Norman, Abby. "The Outta Statah's Guide to Maine Slang". BDN. Retrieved August 16, 2016.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i Reid, Lindsay Ann. "English in Maine: The Mythologization and Commodification of a Dialect". University of Toronto. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  9. ^ a b c Thieme, Emma. "The 25 Funniest Expressions in Maine". matador network. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  10. ^ Erard, Michael. "What it Means to Talk Like a Mainer". Down East. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  11. ^ Burnham, Emily. "Dictionary includes words only a Mainer would use". BDN. Retrieved August 17, 2016.
  12. ^ a b c d Fowles, Debby. "Speak like a Mainer". about travel. Retrieved August 17, 2016.

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