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 claim happiness at coming 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. 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.
How It Started
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, the Northern, Eastern and Western New England accent — and so forth. 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 shares characteristics of Massachusetts, Maine and sometimes Vermont accents. It’s less pronounced in the southern tier of the state because of all the Massholes who moved there.
Of the four 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 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 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.”
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, father, laugh, half and can’t.
It’s also typically heard 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 soda 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 don’t go to the basement in New Hampshire. You go ‘down cellar.’ Aluminum foil is tin foil. A rubber band is an elastic. A drinking fountain is a bubbler.
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. Hamburg is what 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.
If you want to speak with a Maine accent, click here. For Rhode Island, click here, for Connecticut, click here. And if you want to talk with a Boston 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 story was updated in 2022.
Ugh! Did I really just read a piece about the New Hampshire accent that mentions “Massholes”? Shame!
Tonic! , not soda, not soft drink.
Correct! Based on generations of vendors that walked door-to-door selling their “tonics” for cures during the Victorian era. Today, I still think of Coca Cola and Pepsi in that manner. They were meant to help the digestion. Though door-to-door salespeople are now banned in most New England communities, some western states still permit it, to my amazement.
My father always called it a tonic. never really took with me and my siblings though, I mostly blame the Internet and TV for that.
Was surprised years ago that tonic was only used in the southern parts. Other parts used pop or soda. Now being in GA everything’s ‘coke’!
People from Mass. might be Massholes but they aren’t economic parasites like a huge number of Cow Hampshire people are. If all the people who live in New Hampshire and work in Mass. lost their jobs New Hampshire would have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country!
Most of my 9th through 11th great-grandparents are the people described in this article having settled New England from arriving on the Mayflower and thereafter during the Great Migration. They are buried in most of the Seacoast cemeteries from York County, Maine to Plimoth Plantation. Missed in the article is the word, “can’t.” It was pronounced, “kahnt” as late as my generation, raised in Rochester. We all said, “kahnt.” Listen to JFK to hear something very close to the accent we were raised with. Harvard tended to preserve this accent until California valley influence overwhelmed our society through use of technology. Sentences used to end with distinction, determination, and a final “boom” at the end to know what was just spoken was wise and great. Now, every sentence ends with a question – tone increases rather than definitively conclude. These accents impact society so that every issue is seen as temporary, never final, never accepted in totality, but there is always a lingering possibility that what was decided yesterday could “change” overnight through political protest. That condition is unusual to New Englanders that grew hearing “Aaayuh,” by Scottish farmers that settled and migrated to NH from Prince Edward Island. It is a derivative of the word, “Aye.” There are many of us still kicking around that recall these treasured accents lost in a short 25 years or so by bombardment of technology coming primarily from NYC or Los Angeles that dominate our language. I can detect the differences between a MA, ME, and NH dialect and accent. Though few in number, today, it is refreshing to hear periodically in less-populated regions in New England. I will conclude with this note – my siblings and I enjoyed tea with my grandfather each afternoon. I still take tea at generally the very same time on most days and recall the expectation of tea “fare” to be kept in the house. These were times of solace that have since been intruded by an endless barrage of technology that has contributed to severe loss of healthy dialogue, of the good neighborly visit, where now we all stare at each other but have very little to say that is meaningful or well-thought out. In honor of my Scottish-American grandfather, drink tea and visit. Grampa took his tea heavily steeped, which was always Lipton, with sugar, no lemon, never artificial sweetener, but only slightly opaque with evaporated milk for its unmatched American flavor, never, ever bland English clotted cream. Using evaporated milk and no lemon was a passive protest against the harsh political conditions from which his ancestors fled “across the pond.”
It’s the American way.
Massholes? Gee, where would you all work if Massachusetts didn’t exist? What would happen to your economy if Massachusetts ceased to be?
we’d work in New Hampshire. Though our tire repair industry might take a hit since we will no longer have to replace our tires from driving on your 3rd world-esque roadways.
upstate new youkers like me have no economy. we are poor and rich/
Lived in NH my entire life and this is so inaccurate. You’re literally just describing the Northern MA accent that got brought to NH in the past 30 years. I’ve never once heard anybody speak that way that was from here unless they got it from their parents which usually only happens to less educated kids.
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