Learning a Down East
New England Accent
WHAT WILL YOU DOWNLOAD?
The download contains sixty-five (65) minutes of systematic instruction in MP3 sound files. You’ll also get a printable PDF of the instruction manual. It contains summaries of the audio lessons and full transcripts of the drill words, phrases, and passages.
WHAT WILL YOU LEARN?
You’ll learn the “Down East” or “Yankee” accent. This is the speech pattern often associated with such plays as Our Town and Ethan Frome. Although rarely heard anymore in the real world, it was once common in rural and coastal areas of Maine and New Hampshire. It has some pronunciation similarities to the classic Boston accent, although the resonance and its lilt or inflections are different. Here’s a brief summary of the training.
- The 1st Lesson teaches you the resonance or voice placement of the Down East accent. In other words, it shows you how to shape your mouth to create the sound focus of this speech pattern.
- Lesson 2 shows you the downward-lilting inflections on the accent’s stressed vowels. You’ll also learn to intensify and elongate this trait for emphasis on particularly important words.
- The 3rd Lesson teaches this accent’s distinct vowel pronunciations. Many of them are easier to learn as extensions of the muscularity/resonance you learned in Lesson 1. Others are closely related to the downward lilt taught in Lesson 2.
- Lesson 4 shows you how to drop R’s that come after Boston vowels. You’ll also explore exceptions to that rule and learn how final R’s can glide into words that begin with vowels. Then, you will explore how the R sound sometimes intrudes between words when there’s no R in the spelling.
- Lesson 5 is devoted exclusively to the word “ayuh” – a unique Down East sound meaning “yes.”
- The Final Lesson puts it all together with several drill passages. Firstly, it reminds you about the voice placement and inflections. Then, it walks you through the target pronunciations phrase by phrase before leading you into a normal speaking pace.
MORE ABOUT THE DOWN EAST ACCENT
Down East combines a very distinctive voice placement (near the soft palate) with a strong downward lilt (similar to that of southern Irish). The lilt is essential to creating the accent’s identity. As such, many actors simply “perform the lilt” without integrating it into the character’s intentions and interactions. The overt form of the accent is rarely heard nowadays. There are few real-world speakers left, even in the parts of Maine and New Hampshire where it used to thrive.
DOWN EAST FOR TODAY’S ACTORS
- Over the years, the play in which this accent has been used most frequently is Thornton Wilder’s Our Town. I’ve coached three productions of the play. For two, the director chose to use this accent, to differing degrees, for all the characters. The third director prohibited it, fearing most actors would stereotype it and prevent any honesty of character intentions. I am comfortable with either of those artistic choices.
- Another play often done with this accent is Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms. The playwright attempted to write the accent’s pronunciations into the script. Unfortunately many of his assumptions about the pronunciation were in error.
- On the 1940s-50s Fred Allen radio show, the character Titus Moody spoke with a very laid-back style of Down East accent. In the ’70s, the same actor reprised the character on a series of TV commercials for Pepperidge Farm bread.
- Although a bit more “aristocratic” in style, Maine Senator Margaret Chase Smith’s accent was very close to the Down Eastern style.