Maine accent

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The Maine accent is the local traditional pronunciation of Eastern New England English in parts of Maine, especially along the coast, including the "Down East" region. It is characterized by a variety of features, including r-dropping (non-rhoticity), resistance to the horse–hoarse merger in older speakers,[1] a deletion or "breaking" of certain syllables, and some unique vocabulary. The traditional Maine accent is rapidly declining; a 2013 study of Portland found the horse–hoarse merger to be currently embraced by speakers of all ages and the cot–caught merger to be resisted, despite being typical among other Eastern New England speakers.[2]


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."[3]

Also, as in much New England English, the final "-ing" ending in multi-syllable words sounds more like "-in," for example, in stopping [ˈstɑpɪn] and starting [ˈstäːʔɪn].[4]

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

  • /ɜːr/ before a consonant is [ə~ɜ~ɛ].
  • Single-syllable words ending with R-colored vowels (such as /ɪər, ɛər, ɔːr/) sometimes become two syllables. The vowel loses its R-coloration. That includes /ɪər/ as in here [ˈhɪ.(j)ɜ] (About this sound listen), /ɛər/ as in there [ˈðeɪ.(j)ɜ] (About this sound listen), and (as mentioned above) /r/ as in more [ˈmoʊ.(w)ɜ] (About this sound listen).[5]
    • /ɔːr/ is [ɒə] in words like horse ([hɒəs] "hoss"), war ([wɒə] "waw"), north ([nɒəθ] "nawth"), or porch ([pʰɒətʃ] "pawch").
    • /r/ is [ˈoʊ(w)ə] in words like hoarse ([ˈhoʊ(w)əs] "hoe-us"), wore ([ˈwoʊ(w)ə] "whoa-uh"), more ([ˈmoʊ(w)ə] "mow-uh"), or shore ([ˈʃoʊ(w)ə] "show-uh").
  • 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[6] — an undetermined distance (as in "He lives down the road apiece")
  • ayuh[7][8] /ˈə/, /ˈjə/ — yes; okay; sure; that's right
  • beetah[9] — 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[10] — lobster
  • bureau[11] — a dresser or chest of drawers
  • chout![12] — a warning to be alert (Watch out!)
  • chupta?[12] — What are you doing? (What are you up to?)
  • culch[13] — trash or rubbish
  • cunning (kunnin)[14][15] — cute (as in "She's a cunnin' one, she is")
  • cutter (kuttah) — an active child or younger person (from comparison to the harbor behavior of small, maneuverable cutters among larger ships)
  • dinner pail (dinnah pail)[11] — lunch box
  • dite — a tiny amount (as in "Just a dite")
  • door yard (doah yahd)[9] — 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[16] — 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")
  • dressing (dressin)[11] — application of manure to a garden
  • dry-ki[17] — an accumulation of floating dead wood on the downwind shore of a lake
  • fart (old faht)[11] — an inflexibly meticulous individual
  • flatlander[18] — visitor from elsewhere, often from Massachusetts due to its flat topography
  • frap[9] — a milkshake with ice cream (from frappe)
  • gawmy[19] — clumsy and awkward
  • honkin[19] — extraordinarily large
  • hot top[11] — asphaltic pavement
  • Italian[19]submarine sandwich
  • jimmies[11] — colored sugar dessert sprinkles
  • johnny[11] — hospital gown
  • kife[9] — to steal (usually a small, useful item of low cost)
  • lawn sale — yard sale
  • nippy[9] — cold enough to stiffen one's nipples
  • notional[11] — stubborn
  • numb[20] — dumb; stupid (as in "Numb son you got there")
  • pahtridgeruffed grouse (Bonasa umbellus) (from partridge)
  • pekid[12] — feeling unwell
  • pisser (pissah) — something that is highly regarded; an intensifier (as in "She's a pissah, all right")
  • pot[21] — lobster trap
  • prayer handle[22] — knee
  • quahog[23] — thick-shelled clam (Mercenaria mercenaria)
  • scrid[24] — a tiny piece; a little bit
  • right out straight[19] — too busy to take a break
  • spleeny[11] — overly sensitive
  • squaretail (squayhtail) — brook trout (Salvelinus fontinalis)
  • steamers (steamahs)[25]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

  • 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 nationwide for his use of Maine vernacular.


  1. ^ 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 
  2. ^ Ryland, Alison (2013). "A Phonetic Exploration of the English of Portland, Maine". Swarthmore College.
  3. ^ Fowles (2015)
  4. ^ Fowles (2015)
  5. ^ Fowles (2015)
  6. ^ Fowles (2015)
  7. ^ Fowles (2015)
  8. ^ VisitMaine (2015)
  9. ^ a b c d e Norman, Abby. "The Outta Statah's Guide to Maine Slang". BDN. Retrieved 16 August 2016. 
  10. ^ Fowles (2015)
  11. ^ 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 17 August 2016. 
  12. ^ a b c Thieme, Emma. "The 25 Funniest Expressions in Maine". matador network. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  13. ^ Erard, Michael. "What it Means to Talk Like a Mainer". Down East. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  14. ^ Fowles (2015)
  15. ^ VisitMaine (2015)
  16. ^ VisitMaine (2015)
  17. ^ Burnham, Emily. "Dictionary includes words only a Mainer would use". BDN. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  18. ^ VisitMaine (2015)
  19. ^ a b c d Fowles, Debby. "Speak like a Mainer". about travel. Retrieved 17 August 2016. 
  20. ^ Fowles (2015)
  21. ^ Fowles (2015)
  22. ^ Fowles (2015)
  23. ^ Fowles (2015)
  24. ^ Fowles (2015)
  25. ^ Fowles (2015)

External links

  • Fowles, Debby (2015). "Speak Like a Mainer". About Travel. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  • "Maine Slang, Local Humor, And Wicked Funny Words". 2015. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
  • Szelog, Mike (2015). "Ayuh, the Northern New England Accent in a Nutshell". The Heart of New England. Retrieved 20 May 2015. 
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