Re: Speaking like a Maine-ah

In reply to Lisa’s post about Maine phonology/phonetics:

I’m no dialectologist, and I know little about other North New England dialects, but since my father’s a second-generation Mainer (or “Maineac,” as he insists) and the only one of his family to move out of the state, I’ve had a lot of exposure to the speech of Penobscot County. I often had difficulty understanding my cousins and remember well a game of Operation that was stalled by my failure to recognize “charley horse.”

What has always struck me as most distinctive about Maine phonology/phonetics is the quality of stressed vowels followed by unpronounced orthographic <r>s. The vowel is much more different from the Standard American English vowel than it is in, say, Boston. For example (all vowels approximate!):

  • [kæː] ‘car’
  • [kɑːps] ‘corpse’ (My grandparents had a discussion one evening about whether my grandfather pronounced ‘corpse’ and ‘cops’ the same; to my ear, there was perhaps a length distinction, as suggested by my transcription.)
  • [w ɞː] ‘were’ (I’m not sure what the vowel is exactly, but it’s not a plain-vanilla schwa; it sounds rounder to me.)
  • [ðɛə] ‘there’

As for unstressed vowels, and vowels followed by linking or intrusive [ɹ]s, I don’t trust my memory.

A lexical item that I believe to be distinctively Mainean (?) is the variant of “yup” or “unh-hunh” pronounced something like [(a)jʌ̃ʔ], often voiceless throughout, not always with nasality on the [ʌ], and often with pulmonic ingressive airflow (which is why I mention it). Can be repeated a few times in quick succession.