John F. Kennedy took his to the White House; Michael Bloomberg to New York. You can hear it around Fenway Park, up and down the halls of the State House, in suburbia and even in Hollywood, where the bold-faced names from Beantown can turn it on when they need to. It’s the authentic Boston accent, and if you weren’t born with it, well, have fun trying to pull it off perfectly.
As the TODAY show took a Friday field trip to Boston, anchors Matt Lauer and Savannah Guthrie got a lesson in how to speak with a real Boston accent from speech-language pathologist Wendy Wiberg, who coaches people on how to lose their accents.
“No accents are wrong,” said Wiberg, who showed off her versatility by speaking with and without her accent. “But sometimes accents can be distracting,” and cause people to focus on the sound, not the meaning, of a person’s words.
Even as some research suggests that some accents across the nation are fading, the Boston accent is as wicked strong as evah.
The Boston accent, one of the nation’s most imitated and parodied, involves dropping the final ‘r” to make “car” sound like “cah,” pronouncing some short vowel sounds differently, and adding the ‘r’ sound to the end of words, to make “pizza” sound like “pizzer.”
“If you see Dunkin’ Donuts you've gone too fah (far) ... bang a uey (u-turn) and look foh (for) signs foh 93 Nohth,” one man said on TODAY through his heavy accent.
Native Bostonians blend their distinct accents with some unique dialect, too. Kids put jimmies, not sprinkles, atop their ice cream; they gulp water from the bubblah, not the water fountain; and cars travel around the rotary, not the traffic circle.
Perhaps the most famous Boston colloquialism of all, is that life isn’t just good when the Sox/Pats/Celts/Bruins win, it’s wicked good.
The accent even has different forms within the Boston area, the upper-crust Brahmin version, the Kennedy accent (think of John F. Kennedy's “Ask not ... ” speech), and one from South Boston — Southie as it’s called — as one man on TODAY showed off by speaking the old saying, “Birds of a feathah flock togetha.”
Parts of the accent can be traced back to the earliest settlements of New England and are related the parts of England that prominent Bostonians came from, Ben Zimmer, a linguist who writes about language for The Boston Globe, said on TODAY.
“The fact that you can so quickly identify the accent, it’s a kind of a calling card,” Zimmer said. “It adds some local color to speech and I think the more local color the better.”
Not everyone agrees that a Boston accent is charming, however. Speaking through a thick Boston accent can draw some negative stereotypes.
“Sometimes people can get the impression that people that speak with a Boston accent are uneducated, uncultured, rough around the edges,” Wiberg said in a phone interview with TODAY.com.
She often works with people who have foreign accents, and actors who don’t want to be typecast with playing Bostonians. But not everyone wants to lose their accent for good.
“I’ve worked with actors that say last thing in whole world they want to do is lose their Boston accent because it’s full of character and pizazz,” Wiberg said. “They want to learn an additional accent so they can turn it on.”
In her work, she evaluates speech, points out deviations from standard pronunciations and works with people to practice a new way of speaking, first by repeating words, then using the words in sentences and short conversations.
“If someone is really determined to take a serious bite out of their accent, it’s going to take about a month before they will begin to incorporate their new speech sounds they’ve practicing into spontaneous speech,” she said.
Wiberg doesn’t call her work “therapy,” nor does she think the accent should be eradicated. “There’s nothing wrong with a Boston accent,” she said. “It’s not a disorder.”
One fan is a famous face who grew up in the area without a Boston accent.
Actress Mindy Kaling told Guthrie that as a kid, everyone thought she was from Southern California. “I never had one growing up,” she said. “But I love it. I think it’s kind of sexy, actually.
And proving that saying “wicked” is just so wicked fun and a wicked hard habit to break, Kaling revealed the last of her remaining Boston lingo.
“For a woman in her 30s, I say 'wicked' more than I probably should,” she said.
As they say in Boston, “Oh God yuh!”