9.30.2005

Old School: Boston accent, Newton slang

I usually speak "standard" North American English. The kind you hear on TV, or can find in almost any big northern or western city from Vancouver to Philadelphia. At my elementary school (Davis, now the Newton Community Education Center, on Waltham Street) the Boston accent/North American accent split was about 50/50, but on my particular street in the 70s and 80s it was almost all standard among the kids. The next street over, however, it was mostly Boston accent.

Well, most of the time. Some words and phrases were always pronounced in the local way, and/or mixed in with local slang:

Whadaya, retahdid?

Heyhowaya!

Goin down to the packie to get a couple beeiz

That's quistiah!

Hey, Mush


(Can anyone provide translations of all five of the above?)

The last two terms came from the Lake (Nonantum, a village of Newton) where Italian, English, and (I've heard) Romany influences created some special slang words. There are a few other ones I came to know -- for instance, "Quakiz" (Quakers) for quarters -- which I heard in High School, when kids from all over northern Newton were thrown together at Newton North.

I hate to say it, but the Boston accent is definitely on the decline in Newton. When I take my kids to Franklin School park to play, all of the younger kids and most of the teenagers speak standard North American English. The reasons are understandable. Lots of families in Newton are now from outside Massachusetts, whereas when I was a kid most of my friends had roots in the area. Additionally, now most Newton households have at least one adult with a professional occupation, which is a big difference from the 70s, when a cop, city worker, or tradesman could afford a home. The former group are less likely to speak with local accents compared to the latter. The explosion of national programming on MTV and other cable outlets has also had an effect on what kids hear at home, and from their friends at school.

But maybe not so much in the Lake -- I went to the Carnival last year, and most of the kids and vendors were still speaking with Boston accents. Ditto for Waltham -- I hear a lot more Boston accents (and now, foreign accents) than in Newton. Most of the people I know in Waltham are from the area, or their families are from the area, including lots of Newton transplants.

And sometimes I find the accent slipping into my own speech. Yesterday, I mentioned to a coworker that "I'm awed" when looking at a rainstorm outside our office. He thought I said "I'm odd." I didn't even notice until he pointed it out to me (my reply -- "That's what I said!" and later, "Maybe I am odd!"). But most people with Boston accents will pronounce the words in the same way, except for people with blueblood Boston accents where the rules are different.

3 Comments:

Blogger Kristine said...

I think there's also a generic Northeast accent. Not necessarily Boston or New York...but not the way people speak in California.

4:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a divya ! (nut,fool)
He's dovile (worse than a divya)
Someone jold my bike (stole)
What a givel (pretty girl)

any more ?

12:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

divya = fool
dovile = worse than a fool
jold = stole
givel = pretty woman

12:09 PM  

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