The highly mimicked, oft-mocked Boston accent populates some of the industry’s most iconic films and TV shows with its non-rhotic (r-dropping) pronunciation, highly particular slang, and gravelly intonations. Here’s how to perform the pronunciation, inflection, and grammatical nuances that will make you feel like you rep Beantown.
“The Departed” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
The Boston accent began to be formed when English Pilgrims and Puritans settled in the area starting in the 17th century. It was further cemented with the development of the elite Boston Brahmins, who sought to preserve their way of speaking in what would become the upper-crust Kennedy accent and influence the Transatlantic accent used by classic film stars during Hollywood’s golden age.
With the city’s influx of immigrants, particularly from Ireland and Italy, the accent became more strongly associated with a working class ethic. North and East Boston accents have Italian undertones, while South Boston (or Southie) leans Irish.
“Gone Baby Gone” Courtesy Miramax
If you want to sound as wicked smaht as Matt Damon and Ben Affleck in “Good Will Hunting,” watch this clip for inspiration and then make the following changes to your pronunciation and inflection:
Follow the “R” rules: The Boston accent is notorious for the various ways it drops and changes its “r” sounds.
- “ar” becomes “ah”: As the famous idiom dictates, “park your car in Harvard Yard” becomes “pahk yah cah in Hahvud Yahd.”
- “or” becomes “aw”: The “or” sound (as in “torn” or “store”) sounds closer to “aw”—so “tawn” or “staw.”
- “er” at the end of words becomes “ah”: Bostonians typically drop the “r” sound at the end of words, replacing it with a hard “ah” sound. So “say hi to your daughter” becomes “say hi to yaw daughtah.”
For an example of all the different Boston “r” sounds at play, listen to Hyundai’s “Smaht Pahk” commercial on repeat.
Add an “r” in specific cases: If a word ends with a vowel and is followed by a word that starts with a vowel, Boston residents will add a linking “r” in the middle. For example, “pizza is good” becomes “pizzar is good” and instead of an “idea about later,” you’ll have an “idear about late-ah.”
Switch “ah” with “aw”: For words that naturally have an “ah” sound (as in “positive” and “college”) substitute an “aw” sound: “pawsitive” and “cawllege.”
To put it together, say “Tom Brady threw for forty yards” in your best Boston accent. It should sound closer to “Tawm Brady threw faw fawty yahds.”
Switch soft “a” for “ahh”: The soft “a” sound in “bath” and “madness” becomes an “ah” sound, like “bahhth” and “mahhdness.”
Speed it up and drop end-of-word consonants: Massachusetts is the sixth-fastest talking state in the country, and Bostonians are known for their rat-a-tat speech. As a result, they occasionally drop consonants and combine words. For example: “won’t” is pronounced “woan” and “spend it” might become “spennit.”
Use Boston expressions: Boston speakers have their own unique set of slang identifiers. To sound like a plausible Masshole, try out the following lingo:
- “Wicked”: very, extremely
- “Pissa”: great, fantastic
- “Wicked pissa”: the best
- “Bang”: to turn
- “Rippah”: a great party
- “Southie”: the South side of Boston
- “Townie”: someone who still lives in the neighborhood where they were born
- “Packie”: liquor store
- “Bubblah”: water fountain
- “Dunks”: Dunkin’ Donuts
“The Town” Courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures
1. Study Boston accents: Immerse yourself in all things Bostonian to create an authentic accent that doesn’t rely on hyperbolic speech patterns and stereotypes. Watch films and TV shows that feature Boston accents, such as “Cheers,” “Good Will Hunting,” “The Departed,” “Gone Baby Gone,” and “The Town.” If you know anyone hailing from The Hub, take note of their speech patterns, inflections, and pronunciation before audition day. Check out the International Dialects of English Archive to listen to a variety of Boston accents and see if you can incorporate them into your own speech performance. And of course, there’s always the wisdom of Matt Damon to return to when trying to perfect your performance:
2. Take it slow: Trying out any new accent—even one as imbued in the sociocultural imagination as the Boston one—can feel strange. Go slowly to ensure that you’re giving each dropped “r” the attention it desahves.
3. Practice often: Practice your Boston accent as much as possible—with friends, family, strangers, your dialect coach, and anyone who will listen. It can help to pick out a passage you already have memorized, such as your favorite audition monologue or film quotes, and practice it with the accent until it feels like second nature.
4. Use the accent pre-audition: Use your newfound accent all day leading up to your audition. This serves the dual purpose of getting you in the right headspace as well as preparing you physically for the ways that your mouth, lips, and throat should feel during the audition.
5. Keep it up: Casting directors care more about consistency than perfection. Even if you accidentally use a rhotic “r” sound or refer to Dunks by its full name, don’t let it stawp yuh.