Hyundai can Smaht Pahk, but they can’t do the Boston accent
CNN Business ranked the Super Bowl commercials and gave the Hyundai Sonata a score, as opposed to a fumble. I say it fumbled all the way, in terms of getting the Boston accent right that is.
Yes, it was funny. Yes, it demonstrated the “way-cool” technology and even had Big Papi. But the accent was, to my ears, the same exaggerated, unrecognizable nonsense I’ve been listening to for years.
I’ve lived and worked in Boston for most of my life with people from East Boston, Charlestown, Dorchester, South Boston, and Hyde Park, and I don’t know anyone who sounds like any of the characters in that commercial.
Yes, we all have accents. That’s undeniable.
But not that accent.
True, we don’t pronounce our r’s. We say pahk as opposed to park, cah instead of car. And we say finga instead of finger. And if you’ve ever driven in Boston, you’re well aware that we know how to use that finga.
But the majority of us don’t whine or talk through our noses. Ever. Nor is it a long drawn out ahhhh.
And this is why.
Most of us are commoners, not Boston Brahmins, related to the Cabots, the Lowells, or the Lodges. We didn’t go to Harvard and aren’t related to Boston’s royal family, the Kennedys.
That’s right; the Kennedys have their own accent. But somehow, anytime you hear the Boston accent in a movie or commercial, it’s the Brahmin or Kennedy one that you hear.
And alas, even they are not considered Boston Brahmins.
And this is good old Boston,
The home of the bean and cod,
Where the Lowells talk only to Cabots
And Cabots talk only to God. ~ “A Boston Toast,” by John Collins Bossidy
The Kennedys made it famous. Their accents are the boilerplate for every Boston accent I’ve heard on the screen or television. If it’s satire you’re going after, then yes, it’s correct. Go ahead, exaggerate, and have fun. But if you want to get it right, do a little research and tone it down.
What is the Boston Accent?
The Boston accent is complicated.
It’s what is known as ‘non-rhotic,’ meaning “relating to or being an accent or dialect in English in which an r sound is not spoken before a consonant.” The presence or absence of this rhoticity is prominent in classifying different varieties of English.
The Boston accent dates back to early New England settlements and was influenced by immigrants like the Irish and Italians.
The Boston phrase, “Pahk the cah in Hah-vahd yahd” is a prime example of an r-less, non-rhotic speech. But we do pronounce the r when it comes before a vowel.
We drop er as well. However, sometimes r’s are added where they don’t belong, such as in the word “idear.”
We have chowda (chowder), soder (soda), and packies, meaning liquor store. And if you’re looking for a water fountain, you might ask for a bubbla (bubbler). There’s a stah (star) in the sky, and it’s fah (far) away.
Because we drop our rs, we can speak fast. And how you pronounce the letter r depends on whether it is at the end or beginning of a word. Two good examples are ahnt (aunt) and bahth (bath). But ah is pronounced more like aw, i.e., tonic is tawnic.
As I said, it’s complicated.
We drop the letters d and t at the end of the word. Examples: plenty becomes plenny.
And don’t forget to use words such as bubblah (bubbler meaning water fountain), pissa, wicked (wickid), awesome and of course it can be “wickid awesome”or “wickid pissa.”
So there you have it.
The Kennedys don’t have Boston accents. They have Kennedy accents.
And the accent in the commercial mentioned above is not the common Boston accent. It is a combination of Kennedy, Havid, and Brahmin.
There’s also more emphasis on the first vowel. And again, it’s more through the nose. How appropriate.
If you want to hear the real Boston accent, then I suggest you take a trip to Boston. Walk around and talk to people. Take note of their facial expressions. I’m sure you’ll see the difference.
In the meantime, beware of actors, even ones from Boston, mimicking false accents.
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