New Hampshire’s Endangered Language

In New Hampshire you may hear words and phrases that are unique to our state

or at the very least, words unique to New England.


As New Hampshire’s population shifts away from “native-born,” some of our unique words are rarely heard now–but they remain part of our state’s unofficial language. These words include “bulkie,” “bubbler,” “rubbers” and “tonic.”  As our population rapidly includes fewer native-born residents, the use of these words is becoming rarer, and will probably eventually disappear.

In future posts I will be presenting local words and phrases that are part of New Hampshire’s unique language. If you would like to become fluent in New Hampshire’s “slanguage,” or want to know where the words originated, stay tuned.

If you would like to know what language you speak… try this interesting quiz.

In New Hampshire, it’s not just WHAT we say, but HOW we say it.  Naomi Nagy of the University of New Hampshire wrote ” ‘Live Free or Die’ as a Linguistic Principle”  which explains our way of speaking in great detail, so I will try not to repeat that remarkable work.

Apparently there are technical terms (shibboleths) to describe our local accent — ‘non-rhoticity’ and ‘broad A’ — are two.   In a nutshell, *non-rhoticity* means that those of us with a traditional accent have lost the letter ‘R’ somewhere. Still don’t get it? Hearing the overused phrase “park the car in Harvard yard,” spoken by a local, would be self-explanatory.

The New Hampshire accent also includes both linking R and intrusive R. This means that when we say any word ending in the letter R, we do not pronounce it. In most cases when a word ends in the letter A, we pronounce what should be an A sound as ER (tuna is pronounced tuner, and vodka as vodker).

The New England way of speaking was obvious enough to John Stewart who wrote “America” (the book). He states  that the Massachusetts Legislature ratified everything in John Adams’ 1780 Massachusetts Constitution “except the letter ‘R'”. Ha ha John, good one.

Some linguists say that we belong to a group made up of residents of Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Southern Maine, who speak similarly, with an “Eastern New England accent.” Strangely, they leave the Boston area out, and possibly with good reason.

Although we sound somewhat similar to our neighbors to the south, apparently not enough for linguists to group us with them.  One has to wonder if these differences are the cause of the long-time animosity between our two states.

Just for the record, the word “Jonnycake” is not a commonly
used word in New Hampshire. Despite how HBO: The Sopranos portrays New
Hampshire, the word (and the food item) “Jonnycake” is most commonly
used (and made) in Rhode Island, but rarely in New Hampshire.

Some of the more interesting studies about our “New Hampha’ Dialect” can be found here:  International Dialects of English


Edited January 2011 and December 2017 to remove or update some broken links. JB

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