How to Put a New York Accent

American dialects

If you like to watch films and series from the USA in the original, you sometimes have to listen carefully. Because there are also different dialects in American English. This post explains how vernaculars evolved in the United States and how the pronunciation of the three most popular American dialects differs: the Boston Accent, the New Yorkese, and the Southern dialect.

The exciting history of dialects in the USA

Linguists have long argued about how many dialects there are in the United States in addition to Standard American English. So far they have been able to agree on 24 different ones, which are spread across the five major dialect regions Pacific Northwest, Southwest, Midwest, New England and South. In addition, the distinction between dialect and accent, which only affects pronunciation, is not always that easy in the United States.

Why is it so difficult to tell the different dialects apart? Because the United States of America was settled late by Europeans and regional dialects therefore had less time to develop. In Germany, on the other hand, Swabian or Low German, for example, developed over many centuries and therefore show clearer deviations.

Nevertheless, differences in pronunciation, vocabulary and grammar can be found in the American dialects. The interesting thing is that the further west a region is in the USA, the more the local dialect is based on the original British English - the settlers in these areas retained their usual British pronunciation.

Today, there are three main dialects known from film and television due to their typical accent: the Boston Accent, the New Yorkese and the Southern dialect.

The Boston Accent from "Good Will Hunting"

This dialect, which is a local variant of "Eastern New England English", is concentrated in Boston and the surrounding area; related dialects can be found in Eastern Massachusetts, Rhode Island, or Maine. It is the oldest of the American dialects and was first mentioned in 1788. The speakers of this dialect leave out the "r" at the end of a syllable and lengthen the preceding vowel. The famous phrase "Park your car in Harvard Yard" becomes "Pahk yuh cah in hahvuhd yahd"

The Bostonians also often leave out the d and t: For example, “land” becomes “la’en” and “exactly” becomes “exacly”. This video shows what that sounds like. It shows numerous excerpts from well-known films and series, including “Good Will Hunting”, with the typical terms, expressions and accents of the Boston Accent.

Speaker: Actors Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon

The New Yorkese from "King of Queens"

Many well-known series are set in New York, including classics such as "King of Queens", "Friends" and "Seinfeld". Although the distance between New York and Boston is only 300 kilometers - a short distance by American standards - the pronunciation differs in many respects.

The short "a" in cat, mad, can’t or last is sometimes pronounced a little higher in the mouth. With dark vowels like o and u, however, New Yorkers are careless in pronunciation: words like thought, north and dog sink deep into their throat and become thaw-uht, naw-uht and daw-uhg. Similar to the Boston Accent, people in New York City and the surrounding area do not always pronounce the "r" clearly. The International Dialects of English Archive provides some examples of the pronunciation of this American dialect.

Speaker: Directors Woody Allen and Martin Scorsese, actor Eddie Murphy, singer Barbara Streisand

The Southern Dialect from "American Sniper"

The Southern dialect is spoken in a number of states from Florida to Texas. It is different from the historical southern dialect known from old movies. From the end of the 19th century to the 2nd World War in particular, this American dialect changed and spread significantly.

Vowels in words like thought or dog lie deep in the throat - the long o as in goat and the double o in goose, on the other hand, in the front of the mouth. It becomes difficult with words that end in -in, -en, -im and -em. They are all pronounced with the same vowel. Ben then means something like "Bin". If you want to listen to this dialect, you should watch the films "American Sniper" and "Boyhood".

Speaker: Actors Matthew McConaughey, Bradley Cooper

Dialects and slang in the United States

In addition to pronunciation, there are of course other distinguishing criteria in the American dialects, such as vocabulary and special idioms. Our article "Colloquial language in US English: American slang goes viral" explains which terms are particularly popular with today's youth in the USA.