Language Dossier

The Boston Accent

The Boston accent is the accent characteristic of English spoken in the city of Boston and much of eastern Massachusetts. The best-known features of the Boston accent are non-rhoticity and broad A. It is most prominent in often traditionally Irish or Italian Boston neighbourhoods and surrounding cities and towns.

The traditional Boston accent is non-rhotic; in other words, the phoneme /r/ does not precede other consonants, as in some types of British English; card therefore becomes [kahd]. A well-known phrase is park the car in Harvard Yard, where the words park, Harvard and yard are pronounced [pahk], [ˈhahvahd] and [jahd] respectively.

The Boston accent possesses both linking R and intrusive R: that is to say, a /r/ will not be lost at the end of a word if the next word begins with a vowel, and indeed a /r/ will be inserted after a word ending with a central or low vowel if the next word begins with a vowel: the tuner is and the tuna is are both pronounced with "R" before the word "is".

The Boston Accent is probably most famous because of the "Kennedys", President John F. Kennedy, Senator Ted Kennedy, and Senator Robert Kennedy from Massachusetts. The Kennedys and their exaggerated pronunciations have been imitated in many films. John F Kennedy was most recently played by Greg Kinnear in the mini-series the Kennedys. The exaggerated accent has not escaped parody either; "Brothaaaaa" = Brother. Boston speakers don't pronounce "R's". The classic phrase is:
"I park the car in Harvard Yard" or as pronounced in the Boston accent "I pahk the cah in Hahvahd Yahd".

The election of JFK was a sign of the times. Fresh faced and optimistic, calm and composed. He had a classy wife, Jacqueline, and a couple of kids, just like the majority of suburban America. The 1960s can best be described as a time of conflict. Conflict between young and old, peace and war, censorship and freedom. JFK represented youthful change and did his best to back it up. The rest of the First Family was devastatingly handsome. First Lady Jackie Kennedy was a symbol of class and style. In that sense, it was a time when people began to care about what the White House looked like, so people could remodel their own suburban homes as well. She also possessed a fantastic fashion sense, setting the trends of the day. Since Jackie and JFK were both good looking people, they had good looking kids. Caroline and John were tiny kids when JFK became President and grew up playing hide and seek in the White House.

The Kennedy dynasty, its glamour and its misfortunes gave rise to a lot of expressions related to a well-defined political era enriching America's language.

Words and phrases related to the Kennedys

* The term "The Kennedys" refers to an American political dynasty who reached its height in the 1960s. "The Kennedys" people are most familiar with are: President John F. Kennedy, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, and Senator Edward Kennedy, Patriarch Joe Kennedy and his wife Rose, who had NINE children: four boys, five girls. The Kennedy family was also referred to as the Kennedy Clan.


* The Kennedy bloodline is the name given to the attempt to describe how the members of the family are retated to each other and to trace back their ancestors. There are several versions of how the Kennedys got started, but what turns out is that the origins of the Kennedys in Ireland are very clear.

* "Ich bin ein Berliner" ("I am a Berliner") is a quotation in German from a June 26, 1963, speech by U.S. President John F. Kennedy in West Berlin. He was underlining the support of the United States for West Germany 22 months after the Soviet-supported East Germany erected the Berlin Wall as a barrier to prevent movement between East and West. Kennedy used the phrase twice in his speech, ending with it, and pronouncing the sentence with his Boston accent, reading from his note "ish bin ein Bearleener", which he had written out in English phonetics. There is a misconception that Kennedy made a risible error by saying Ich bin ein Berliner (emphasis added): the claim is made that Kennedy referred to himself not as a "citizen of Berlin" but as a "jelly doughnut", known in Berlin as a "Berliner". John F. Kennedy's famous words "Ich bin ein Berliner" created confused reactions among his German audience. What he meant, of course, was "I am a citizen of Berlin". What he actually said came closer to "I am a doughnut". Because the translation followed the English construction word for word, it included the article "ein" for "a". "Ein berliner," in German, is a type of cruller - a flat doughnut. The day after President Kennedy made his famous proclamation, Berlin cartoonists had a field day with talking doughnuts. Kennedy should, supposedly, have said Ich bin Berliner to mean "I am a person from Berlin", and so adding the indefinite article ein to his statement implied he was a non-human Berliner, thus, "I am a jelly doughnut". However, while the indefinite article ein is omitted when speaking of an individual's profession or residence, it is still necessary when speaking in a figurative sense as Kennedy did. Since the President was not literally from Berlin but only declaring his solidarity with its citizens, "Ich bin ein Berliner" was correct.
Another notable (and defiant) phrase in the speech was also spoken in German, "Lass' sie nach Berlin kommen" ("Let them come to Berlin")--addressed at those who claimed "we can work with the Communists".

* Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy wore a strawberry pink Chanel wool suit on November 22, 1963, when John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Accompanying the suit was a trademark pillbox hat in matching pink. The suit has become an emblem for her husband's assassination and one of the iconic items of fashion of the 1960s. It has been variously described as "a famous pink suit which will forever be embedded in America's historical conscience", as "one of those indelible images Americans had stored: Jackie in the blood-stained pink Chanel suit, as "the most legendary garment in American history", and as "emblematic of the ending of innocence". In 2011, Katie Holmes wore a copy of the suit in her portrayal of Jacqueline Kennedy in the mini-series "The Kennedys".

* The Kennedys are the most visible example of what royalty would look like in America. Camelot is a castle and court associated with the legendary King Arthur. In American contexts, the word "Camelot" is sometimes used to refer admiringly to the presidency of John F. Kennedy, as his term was said to have potential and promise for the future, and many were inspired by Kennedy's speeches, vision, and policies. At the time, Kennedy's assassination had been compared to the fall of King Arthur. A week after her husband's assassination, Jackie Kennedy was interviewed in Hyannis Port, Massachusetts, on November 29 by Theodore H. White of Life magazine. In that session, she compared the Kennedy years in the White House to King Arthur's mythical Camelot, commenting that the President often played the title song of Lerner and Loewe's musical recording before retiring to bed. She also quoted Queen Guinevere from the musical, trying to express how the loss felt. The lines "Don't let it be forgot, that once there was a spot, for one brief shining moment, that was known as Camelot," from the musical Camelot, were quoted by his widow Jacqueline as being from his favourite song in the score. "There'll be great Presidents again," she added, "but there'll never be another Camelot again it will never be that way again".   

* Prince Jack is the title given to JFK in a 1985 film from Castle Hill Productions which dramatizes some of the inner workings of the Kennedy administration, including efforts by Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy to address the issue of civil rights. Although primarily a dramatic narrative, Prince Jack also uses satire and black humour, especially with regard to the Kennedy brothers' complicated relationship with Lyndon Johnson.

* Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy is a term applied to Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., the unlucky older brother of John F. Kennedy. It is also the name of a 1977 television movie that originally aired on ABC and which was based upon the biography by Hank Searls called The Lost Prince: Young Joe, the Forgotten Kennedy.

* The Kennedy tragedies, colloquially known as the Kennedy Curse, is a term sometimes used to describe a series of events involving members of the Kennedy family. The notion of a curse is superstitious and was created and is fostered by the news media. The curse is applied to the family's nine children, thirty-one grandchildren, and sixty-five great-grandchildren and their spouses.

Believers in the curse generally cite the following core events as evidence of the family's misfortunes:

  • 1941 Rosemary Kennedy was believed to have been mentally challenged. Some sources have claimed she was suffering from mental illness, such as depression and schizophrenia. Because of her increasingly violent and severe mood swings, her father, Joe, Sr., arranged in secret for her to undergo a lobotomy. The lobotomy instead further impaired her cognitive abilities, and as a result, Kennedy remained institutionalized until her death in 2005.
  • August 12, 1944 Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. died when his plane exploded over East Suffolk, England, as part of Project Anvil.
  • May 13, 1948 Kathleen Cavendish, Marchioness of Hartington died in a plane crash in France.
  • August 23, 1956 Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy gave birth to a stillborn daughter, Arabella. (Although the daughter was unnamed and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery next to her parents with a marker reading "Daughter", later reports indicated that the Kennedys had intended to name her Arabella.)
  • August 9, 1963 Patrick Bouvier Kennedy died two days after his birth.
  • November 22, 1963 U.S. President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.
  • June 19, 1964 U.S. Senator Edward M. "Ted" Kennedy was involved in a plane crash in which one of his aides and the pilot were killed. He spent weeks in a hospital recovering from a broken back, a punctured lung, broken ribs, and internal bleeding.
  • June 5, 1968 U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in Los Angeles immediately following his victory in the California Democratic presidential primary.
  • July 18, 1969 In the Chappaquiddick incident, Ted Kennedy accidentally drove his car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick Island, fatally trapping his passenger, Mary Jo Kopechne inside. In his July 25 televised statement, Kennedy stated that on the night of the incident he wondered "whether some awful curse did actually hang over all the Kennedys."
  • August 13, 1973 Joseph P. Kennedy II was the driver of a car which crashed. His passenger, Pam Kelley, was permanently paralyzed.
  • November 17, 1973 - Ted Kennedy, Jr. has his right leg amputated because of bone cancer.
  • October 30, 1975 - Michael Skakel murdered his neighbor, Martha Moxley with a golf club. Skakel was convicted and given a 20 year sentence after his 2002 trial.[
  • April 25, 1984 David Kennedy died of a Demerol and cocaine overdose in a Palm Beach, Florida hotel room.
  • April 1, 1991  William Kennedy Smith was arrested and charged with the rape of a young woman at the Kennedy estate in Palm Beach, Florida.
  • December 31, 1997 Michael Kennedy died in a skiing accident in Aspen, Colorado.
  • July 16, 1999 John F. Kennedy, Jr. died when the Piper Saratoga light aircraft he was piloting crashed into the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Martha's Vineyard due to pilot error. His wife and sister-in-law were also killed.
  • September 16, 2011 Kara Kennedy Allen died of a heart attack while exercising in a Washington, D.C. health club.
  • May 16, 2012 Mary Richardson Kennedy hanged herself on the grounds of her home in Bedford, Westchester County, New York.