Woe to the presidential wannabe who doesn’t study the New Hampshire accent before entering the First in the Nation Presidential Primary (and don’t suggest it isn’t the first). He or she will instantly lose credibility if they say they’re delighted to come back to Con-cord.
If you can’t find Concord, don’t ask the locals. You’ll never figure out what they’re telling you. “It’s before you get to where the old K-Mart used to be,” is just not helpful.
You will, however, find Concord south of the Kancamangus, where all the leaf peepers go in the fall, and north of Manchester. You shouldn’t say “ManchVegas,” by the way, but you can say “The Kanc.” It’s a highway.
The local accent and nomenclature do take some getting used to. Here’s how it started.
Elizabethan Start to the New Hampshire Accent
The New Hampshire accent started with the English colonists who first arrived in North America. They brought with them speech patterns from Elizabethan London and part rural speech from Yorkshire and Lancashire.
That evolved into the New Hampshire accent, as well as the Boston accent, the Providence accent and the rest of the New England accents. It most resembles the Massachusetts, Maine and sometimes Vermont accents.
The local accents come with local slang, though you’ll hear the word “wicked” (as in “wicked pissah”) throughout New England. In fact, you’ll hear it a lot.
As late as the Great Depression, people in Seabrook, N.H., still spoke much the same way their forebears did hundreds of years earlier.
In 1938, the Federal Writers Project WPA Guide to New Hampshire described Seabrook as, “a village, Old World in appearance and atmosphere, set in the midst of sand-dunes, with cocks of salt hay scattered over them, an unchanged landscape of three centuries ago.”
“A section of the town of Seabrook speaks a language strangely reminiscent of rural England, and at times suggestive of the Yorkshire dialect,” concluded the federal writers.
New Hampshire Accent
The New Hampshire accent is less pronounced in the southern tier of the state because of all the Massholes who moved there. People in New Hampshire love to criticize Massachusetts, but they love the Red Sox, Bruins, Patriots and Celtics. Go figure.
Of the New England states, New Hampshire is uniquely allergic to the letter “r.” “It is only in New Hampshire where vocalized /r/ falls to very low levels,” wrote linguist William Labov.
Words don’t end in “r” but in “ah.” “‘New Hampshire” is actually pronounced “N’Hampshah.” You put your socks in a draw.
New Hampshire has a lot of mountains, the Whites. Mount Washington ranks as the tallest, and if you drive up it you can get a bumper sticker bragging of that accomplishment. The Whites have a key line of demarcation: Franconia Notch. The Old Man of the Mountain – known simply as the “Old Man” – used to live there until he collapsed in 2003. If you live north (nawth) of the Notch (called a “pass” or a “gap” elsewhere), you live “Up Above.” You say people who live south of the Notch come from “Down Below.”
The state takes its “Live Free or Die” motto seriously. New Hamsphire drivers over 18 still don’t have to wear seatbelts. Nor does the state require motorcycle helmets, which helps explain the number of fatals at the annual Laconia Motorcycle Weekend.
R-lessness and Ahs
Words that end in ‘r’ but are preceded by an “e,” “i” or “o” get a “y” inserted. So it’s “theyah,” not “there” and “deeyah,” not “dear.”
To confuse matters, words that originally end in ‘ah’ are pronounced “r.” “Linda” becomes “Linder” and ‘idea’ becomes “idear.” Americer is north of Cuber, which is south of Florider. So many snowbirds go to Florider that John Durkin, a candidate from Franklin, N.H., campaigned for U.S. Senate theyah back in the 1970s.
The broad “a” is another feature of the New Hampshire accent. You can hear it in words like aunt (ont), father (fotha), laugh (loff), half (hoff)and can’t (cont).
You’ll also hear that broad “a” in “ar” words like car. So “Pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd” is how a New Hampshire native would tell you where to deposit your vehicle in Cambridge, Mass.
New Hampshire has its own unique words, shared with other Eastern and Northern New Englanders. A soder is a soft drink and a brook is a creek. A sneaker is an athletic shoe that used to be made in Berlin (pronounced BER-lin) before the factory moved to Chiner.
You can fish for hornpout in New Hampshire during mud season, but you probably want to stay indoors during black fly season. You can also fish in the wintertime if you have a bobhouse to take onto the ice. If you don’t catch anything, you might have hamburg, which you eat on a bulkie roll with a side of French fries and a frappe.
Audiobook narrator Matt Haynes studied the accent in case he had to narrate a book with a character from New Hampshire. He found some further refinements based on the sound going toward the lower molars. (In Maine they go to the higher molars.)
- “Or” becomes “ou,” so “ignore” becomes “ignou.”
- “Er” becomes “eh,” so “world” becomes “wehld.”
- “S” becomes almost an “sh,” so “it looks like rain” becomes “it looksh like rain.”
- Final vowels tend to be deadened, so “–ing” become “-in.”
To listen to a real New Hampshire accent, click here.
Image of New Hampshire in Autumn By Someone35 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=15702944. License plate By Stripey the crab – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16105204. This car climbed Mt. Washington By Sujit kumar – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=21894748.
This story was updated in 2023.