While I am no linguist I do teach language as an element of culture to my middle-schoolers and as we are located near Boston, the "Pahk the Cah in Havahd Yahd" question often comes up.

The kids want to know why there is such a distinct pronunciation. I tell them honestly that I do not know but suspect that it is a throw-back to our British roots. My whole premise is based on the word "can't". Any insight?

  • Wouldn't this be a better fit on the SE for English?
    – kaleissin
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 15:28
  • @kaleissin It's not just about pronunciation so I think it's better here.
    – Alenanno
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 19:45
  • 4
    All you'd get on EL&U is opinions. This is a sociolinguistic question. Most of the answers are in reference books, e.g, David Crystal's Cambridge Encyclopedias, or in Rosina Lippi-Green's English with an Accent
    – jlawler
    Commented Jan 1, 2013 at 19:54
  • in agreement with @jlawler that the question has the best chance of a good answer on this site.
    – user483
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 3:10

1 Answer 1


Let me just quote the first two paragraphs of p.93 of David Crystal's The Cambridge Encyclopedia of the English Language. (If you are an English teacher consider getting a cheap copy on Amazon)

The two settlements--one in Virginia, to the south; the other to the north, in present-day New England--had different linguistic consequences. The southern colonists came mainly from England's 'West Country'--such counties as Somerset and Gloucestershire--and brought with them its characteristic accent, with its 'Zummerset' voicing of s sounds, and the r strongly pronounced after vowels. Echoes of this accent can still be heard in the speech of communities living in some of the isolated valleys and islands in the area, such as Tangier Island in Chesepeake Bay. These 'Tidewater' accents, as they are called, have changed somewhat over the past 300 years, but not as rapidly (because of the relative isolation of the speakers) as elsewhere in the country. They are sometimes said to be the closest we will ever get to the sound of Shakespearean English (p. 69).

By contrast, many of the Plymouth colonists came from counties in the east of England--in particular, Lincolnshire, Nottinghamshire, Essex, Kent, and London, with some from the Midlands, and a few from further afield. The eastern accents were rather different--notably, lacking an r after vowels, as in present-day Received Pronunciation (RP, p. 365)--and they proved to be the dominant influence in the area. The tendency 'not to pronounce the r' is still a feature of the speech of people from New England.

  • 4
    In my opinion, the Crystal Encyclopedias should be in every Anglophone classroom in the world. To make up for the lack of education about real language in the curriculum.
    – jlawler
    Commented Jan 2, 2013 at 4:03
  • Just a couple of notes - no such place as Gloustershire in the UK. Gloucestershire is the traditional county of which Gloucester was the county town. Most people would say that Nottinghamshire is in the midlands, East Midland Airport is very near Nottingham.
    – Julian
    Commented Jan 5, 2013 at 8:38
  • But: classic Southern AmE is supposed to have been non-rhotic, West Country is decidedly rhotic, and General AmE is decidedly rhotic. Also, the non-rhoticity of RP is supposed to be a 19th c development.
    – Mitch
    Commented Jan 7, 2013 at 4:46

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