I’m Sorry I Don’t Understand…

Last night, there was an amusing report on the news related to the more idiosyncratic elements of life in New England. Most people, particularly those outside the Northeast, are aware of the “Bahston” accent. To be sure it is a dialect that, contrary to what my beloved Ali claims, exceeds Southie (South Boston) and reaches well beyond the city limits. Like most places the way people speak tends to be driven more by socio-economic class than anything. It is no different here. Although, there are a variety of subtleties; to the untuned ear a Kennedy sounds pretty much like Tommy or Norm from This Old House. The whole region does, however, have some distinct characteristics which Chicagoans got a taste of when Nomah came was traded. According to the news report the New England dialect is “wicked hard to understand.”

Verizon is the main telephone provider in New England and they have automated their information services (411). Problem is the computer on the other end can’t figure out what anybody is saying. Worse still, it can take five to six repetitions before anybody can be connected to an operator. Since the dreaded increase of telephone automation it is nearly impossible for anyone dialing the phone to talk to a human being. Now, fortunately for us humans, Verizon is having to use more operators than they thought necessary.

Apparently they did anticipate this, slightly. They preemptively programmed “Woostah” into the system. For those not from around here that is Worcester, a town about 50 miles west of Boston. Well at least they tried.

Now, everybody has heard about, “Pahkin’ the cah in Hahvahd yahd.” But I don’t think there is a machine available that can handle the myriad of pronunciations that seem foreign to the outsider. Some make sense, harkening back to Anglo roots. For example, the town of Reading is pronounced “Reding” not Reeding;” and Gloucester is the relatively familiar “Glostah.” This phenomenon, however, is not at all consistent.

You see Woburn is “Woobun,” losing all but the softest coloring of its “r.” The dropped “r” is famous, but there’s more. Waltham is “Walth-am,” with a flat “a” instead of “Walthum.” Of course, this is only the beginning odd gems. Like anywhere, these are the things that give a place great color and make it unique. Being an actor and connoisseur of dialects, I am endlessly fascinated by it all. Verizon might not share this opinion, but I think it’s great that they might have to break down and get rid of the automated system. Despite their continued efforts to program their system, it may inevitably be more work.

For a taste of the local flavor, give this site a listen. The site is a great bank of dialects from the world over, spoken by native speakers. Here is another Boston example, which I think is an Italian woman from the North End. I like these examples but they are fairly tame compared to some. I just wished that she was asking for directions like, “Wich road do Ahwy take to get to the Naw-uhth Shaw-uh, cuz Ahwy keep getting’ law-ust the minit Ahwy git ovah the rivah and pahst the Mystic Mawl?”

1 thought on “I’m Sorry I Don’t Understand…

  1. What happened to Halloween? I bet you got some good photos of that. I miss the photos that used to accompany your mental meanderings. Bring back the photos!!!

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