Accents or Dialects I Haven’t Heard

The Hamptons

The Hamptons, where the 'Bonac' Accent is Spoken

A question I get asked a lot (as anyone with a passion for accents and dialects is probably asked) is whether there are any varieties of English I haven’t heard. There’s no easy answer, of course, since accents aren’t clearly defined collectibles like postage stamps or baseball cards.

Ergo, I’ll admit I’ve never listened the accent of Three Rivers, Michigan, nor the dialect of Forfar, Scotland. That’s not to say that I don’t have an idea, given what I know about the Scottish and Michigan English, of what both might sound like. But there are countless local variations and quirks to account for, making this question something of a nonstarter.

That being said, there are a few accents and dialects that I’ve either never heard, or haven’t heard enough of to identify their salient features. These are:

1.) The Bonac Accent. This curious term refers to a local accent once spoken in the Hamptons in Long Island. Due to the influx of wealthy outsiders to the area over the past half-century, the accent apparently faces extinction.

I’ve been pointed to a few reported clips of Bonac accents, yet I’ve never really gotten an idea of what it is, or how it differs from the rest of Long Island. My impression is that it shares some features with New England English, but I’m unclear as to what specifically makes it unique.

2.) Shelta. This is the language of the Travellers, a nomadic culture in Ireland. Whether Shelta can be called a dialect, creole or simply a language is a topic I couldn’t possibly broach. Regardless, I’ve yet to find a really good clip of Shelta, a problem no doubt compounded by the isolated nature of the Traveller community. Although 28 seconds into this news story from Al Jazeera, I would note that they seem to have a rather unique accent:

3.) Non-Rhotic Canadian Accents. For years, I’ve read and heard rumors of accents in the Atlantic Provinces that ‘drop their r’s’ the way New Englanders do. This might make sense, given New Brunswick’s proximity to r-less Maine.  But have I ever heard an Atlantic Canadian do this? No. If anyone knows of someone with such an accent, let me know.

Any other accents or dialect you’ve been unable to find samples of?


About Ben

Ben T. Smith launched his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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30 Responses to Accents or Dialects I Haven’t Heard

  1. Randy E says:

    I too have been curious to hear a non-Rhotic Canadian accent. I’ve read that they exist in places like Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, Southwestern New Brunswick, and parts of Newfoundland, but I’ve never heard them. An old roommate of mine has a girlfriend who is from Lunenburg, so I asked her, and she didn’t know what I was talking about.

    As I mentioned in the recent post on the relationship between New England and East Anglia, the sample of the Maine fisherman reminded me somewhat of Maritime Canadian accents. My first thought was that maybe that’s what the elusive Lunenburg accent sounds like.

    Like you, I’d love to hear a sample of any non-Rhotic Canadian English accent.

    Another Canadian accent/dialect that I’ve heard of is the Ottawa Valley “twang”, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard it either.

    • Randy E says:

      Here is a paper on the Ottawa Valley accent,
      You can probably only read the first page, though, unless your university has access to JSTOR.

      • Randy E says:

        Not sure, but this video might demonstrate the Ottawa Valley accent
        April Verch, the one speaking, is from Rankin, Ontario, about 15km from Pembroke, known as the “heart” of the Ottawa Valley.

        • SJL says:

          (This thread is quite old, so my apologies for reviving it. Perhaps my comment will be useful for another late-comer).

          I was born & raised in Halifax, Nova Scotia, but currently reside in Ottawa. To my ear, Ms. Verch does have the Ottawa Valley Twang, albeit a fairly mild-to-moderate version thereof.

          Re : non-rhotic Canadian accents
          I am not aware of any non-rhotic Nova Scotian accents. Note that Emeneau’s work (cited by Boberg in Sooryan FM’s comment) dates from the mid-1930s — nearly a century ago. Perhaps, at that time, some non-rhotic speakers could be found in Lunenburg, NS. Within my lifetime, however (I was born in 1977), the Lunenburg accent has been unequivocally rhotic.

          As to the fellow in the linked video that Dan Wilson provides… I am quite speechless. He doesn’t sound like any Canadian I’ve ever heard (indeed, I can barely understand him). My impression is that either (1) he has a speech impediment of some kind, (2) he did not grow up in Canada, or (3) both (1) & (2).

          (Incidentally, Kiefte & Bird (qtd in Sooryan FM’s comment) indicate that many Maritimers claim to be able to “pinpoint a particular speaker’s community of origin based solely on their speech characteristics”. For what it’s worth, I would tend to agree with this).

  2. Sooryan FM says:

    ”The tendency of coda /r/ to weaken or be vocalized or lost has a long and
    complex history in English, beginning in the fifteenth century (Wyld 1925 :
    298) but not completed until the nineteenth (Lass 2006 : 92 ) and then only
    in certain areas, including southeastern England, the regional basis of SBE.
    The details of this history are of no concern here: suffice it to say that, like
    the split of short /a/, this change was too late to establish itself in the initial
    development of American English. By the time it entered the fashionable
    speech of the cities along the Atlantic seaboard, the older, r-ful pattern had
    already spread inland, including into Canada with the Loyalist migration.
    There it awaited its eventual triumph in the twentieth century, following
    World War II, as the social evaluation of r-less speech was reversed (Labov
    1972 : 136, 145): no longer fashionable, it became associated with stereo-types of snobby Boston, grubby Brooklyn, or Old South gentility. The new American standard was decidedly r-ful,in marked contrast to SBE. This
    applied equally to Canada, which had never had any significant degree of
    (r) deletion in popular speech to begin with, except in a few enclaves (see
    Emeneau (1935 : 143–144) for Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and Clarke (2004 a:
    377; 2008 : 102) for Newfoundland). Preservation of coda /r/, then, is one
    more feature that unites SCE and SAE.

    While /r/ vocalization in SBE creates homophones like father–farther and
    saw –sore , /r/ retention in SCE has had similarly important consequences for its phonology, since the tongue position required for /r/-constriction tends to limit the number of possible vowel contrasts that can be maintained before the /r/. R-fulness has caused several conditioned mergers that have a significant effect on the sound of both SCE and SAE, in contrast to r-less dialects of American and British English (Trudgill and Hannah 1985 : 37 –38 ).”
    (English in Canada, C.Boberg; Cambridge University Press)

    ”Maritimers are keenly aware of the differences in speech between natives of the region and other Canadians. The English-language dialects spoken across the Maritimes (i.e. New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Nova Scotia) vary considerably in their phonetic characteristics. Indeed, some residents claim they can pinpoint a particular speaker’s community of origin based solely on their speech characteristics. The phonetic differences between Maritime dialects can be traced in part to historic settlement patterns over the last three centuries. For example, residents of Cape Breton, Nova Scotia speak dialects very similar to those spoken in Newfoundland given their common Scottish and Irish roots. In contrast, speech along the South Shore of Nova Scotia is largely non-rhotic, similar to the speech of the New Englanders who largely settled in this area. These phonetic patterns are quite distinct from those of more standard Canadian dialects or even from those heard in Halifax, the economic centre of the region. Other equally distinct differences in speech patterns can be heard elsewhere in the Maritimes. (Canadian Maritime English [by Kiefte and K.R. Bird] in ”The Lesser know Varieties of English; Cambridge University Press)

  3. Dan Wilson says:

    Re: Non-Rhotic Canadian accents

    How about this man?

  4. m.m. says:

    Glancing at the wiki page for ‘bonackers’

    “The Bonac accent is said to be akin to the spoken language of the working class settlers who came from England in the 17th century; and it is also, remarkably, said to be akin to accents of fishing cultures farther down the Atlantic coast, in the Carolinas, for instance, where similar groups of Englishmen settled around the same time. In Bonac, the word “pie,” to give one example, was rendered as “poy.” (As in, famously: “Boy goy that’s good poy.”) Archaic English words survived in Bonac dialect into the 20th century, such as the word “wickus” for rascal. There are only a handful of Bonac speakers left.”

    I want to say that given the mention of the atlantic and the carolinas and pie->poy, I’d guess at least one trait was canadian like raising, which does occur in the atlantic coast in places like the carolinas /shrug

  5. Dan Wilson says:

    Here’s a very brief clip of a Tristan da Cunha accent if anyone was curious what that sounded like. I really was because I had read a bit about it before. It kind of sounds like Australian, South African and maybe a few other accents put together.

  6. Dan Wilson says:

    And, last but not least, just to finish off the category of accents from South Atlantic islands that most people have never heard of, here are a few Saint Helenian accents (at least I think that’s what they are). The first one is complete with subtitles! To me the second person (lady) sounds like an American trying to put on an English accent.

    • dw says:

      Non-rhotic with some T-lenition. If I had to say it’s like some other accent, I’d say Australian, although the vowel qualities are different.

  7. Joseph H says:

    I’d like to hear the so-called “Southland burr” from the south of the South Island of New Zealand.

    • Chris Waugh says:

      Nothing “so-called” about it at all. Listening to the recording posted by Sooryan FM is interesting: The vowels, pace and rhythm are classically southern NZ, but the most infamous feature of that accent – the “rolled r”, actually a retroflex r similar to Beijing’s “erhuayin”, a common joke is that a town named Gore is really spelt Gorrrrre – is largely absent.

      Also, it’s not limited to Southland, but is commonly heard through Otago as well, although it tends to weaken as you move north or into Dunedin. And it’s not just an accent, but a dialect with quite distinct differences in vocabulary from the rest of New Zealand. For example, the holiday home that people from north of the Waitaki River call a “bach” (pron. batch, short for bachelor as those were the people who first lived in such buildings), people from Otago and Southland call a “crib”.

      I’m not sure how much research has been done on the southern NZ dialect, but one obvious difference between Otago and Southland and the rest of NZ is that European settlement there was dominated by Scots to a far greater degree than the rest of NZ.

      • Joseph H says:

        “Nothing “so-called” about it at all.”

        “So-called” as in that’s what other people call it; I didn’t come up with the name. Relax.

        “Also, it’s not limited to Southland…”

        Yeah, I know that. Once again, I didn’t come up with the term “Southland burr”. Someone else did.

        “And it’s not just an accent…”

        I didn’t say it was.

        • Chris Waugh says:

          Oops, two misunderstandings.

          I took your comment to suggest you’d heard of this Southland burr thing but weren’t quite sure if it were for real or not, which in hindsight was a misinterpretation.

          You also seem to have misread, and I have certainly poorly expressed, the tone of my comment. I was simply trying to contribute what I know of the southern NZ dialect based on having lived in Dunedin and known many people from Southland and Otago. That was all.


    • Anonymous says:
      Here’s an example of a “Southland Burr” as the man at the 1:22 mark speaks with rolled r’s.

    • dw says:

      I may be missing something, but this sound like normal non-rhotic New Zealand speech to me. (I admit I didn’t listen to the entire clip).

      • Chris Waugh says:

        In Southland and Otago they don’t go rhotic on every r, but you’re right, he’s definitely lacking the usual r Southerners are known for. But to me his vowels, pacing and rhythm sound classically southern.

  8. boynamedsue says:

    Recently heard three Shelta speakers on a train, they initially spoke Shelta, then the oldest two switched into Shelta influenced English (sounding quite like a strong Irish accent) while the youngest of the three (about 17) spoke in more or less standard estuary. The middle one (aged in his early to mid 30’s) then made a business phone call and spoke to his associate Estuary with a slight Irish influence.

    Wish I could have recorded it, but you’d want a very good excuse if three travellers caught you taping their conversation.

  9. boynamedsue says:

    Here’s Missie Collins, a traveller from the South, this is a mildish traveller accent.

    Variety of accents here:

  10. Geoff says:

    You’ll find many more examples of the type of accent that the Irish traveller has in that Al Jazeera clip in the hit UK TV show “My Big Fat Gypsy Wedding” (which almost exclusively features Irish Travellers rather than romany gypsies – both communities tend to get lumped together in the UK)

  11. Darren says:

    non-rhothic Canadian accent??

    Ryan Gosling, lol….even when he was on Break High, which was a Canadian show in the 90’s this guy had somewhat of a non rhothic New York accent, maybe he knew he was going to be a star and was preparing an accent for that time. I’ve honestly never heard him sound Canadian even back then or in interviews.

    • trawicks says:

      Funny, I just saw ‘Drive’ and was thinking something very similar: ‘Uh, did this guy grow up in the Little New York neighborhood of Toronto?’ Not quite sure what the deal with his accent is, although actors can sometimes have very strange idiolects.

  12. Kristy says:

    I’m aware that this post is a bit old, but I just came across it during a round of Googling and felt I should comment. As per the non-Rhotic Altantic Canadian English accent, it’s very real and very much alive: you just have to travel far enough southwest and you’ll find the sweet spot.

    Here’s a prime example:

    This particular gentleman who is telling this epic yarn about a boat motor is from a place called Cape Sable Island which is as far southwest as you can get in Nova Scotia. I grew up in this community, spending the first 20 years of my life living there. A majority of my family still reside there and speak similarly to this fella. As explained above, Cape Sable Island, like most southwestern communities, is made up of settlers from New England (New England Planters and Loyalists) and 250 years on, we still hold close similarities in accents. Perhaps has a lot to do with the isolation and that it’s a good 3 hour drive to Halifax (major city) that accents haven’t differed much.

    I’ve never had a strong accent, but what accent I do have I can slip back into from time to time (usually when I’m all haired up over something, telling a yarn about back home or got a good buzz-on). I currently reside in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia which is directly across the harbour from Halifax Nova Scotia and have resided in the city for 14; most of my accent has faded due to assimilation.

    I would also like to point out that each community has a variation on this accent in the south shore and you only need to drive 10 minutes down the road to hear it. There are also many First Nation and Acadian communities along with other nationalities. Birchtown, which is located near Shelburne, Nova Scotia was the site of a large Black Loyalist settlement.

    To the person who posted above who stated that they grew up in Halifax all their life, meet ONE person from Lunenburg and determined that this type of accent doesn’t exist: you owe yourself a trip to the south shore!

    • John says:

      His accent is mostly rhotic with a few exceptions. However, it still sounds very distinctive to me despite that. It kind of reminds me of an accent from the West Country of England. Here is a sound clip of a man from the original Dartmouth (at the mouth of the River Dart) in the West Country of England for comparison. Do you know if a lot of people from your part of Nova Scotia have ancestors from the West Country of England?

      • Lee McLellan says:

        I know this is a fairly old thread now but I have just been watching a programme about a UFO incident that happened in a place called Shag Harbour in Nova Scotia and was astounded and intrigued to hear some of the fishermen talking in an unmistakeable English west country accent.

        • Leigh Durrant says:

          Funny I just watched that same programme, and thought exactly the same thing about it sounding west country/Bristol UK, and was compelled to look it up, which is how I ended up here.
          Funny old world

  13. kerry eady says:

    Well my children say we don’t have an accent here in lunenburg county but I certainly hear it, and it gets stronger the longer they’re in school. In fact there are times I can’t understand what an older man from a bay closer to liverpool is even saying unless he slows down. If you do a youtube search on blue rocks lunenburg “accent tag” you can hear a young person’s version – not very strong. I came from Ontario and my husband is from the eastern shore – fishing family – after 30 years in Ontario/Quebec he lost his accent …until he came home and it’s there too. Urban Halifax people don’t have it, you need to visit the fishing bays heading south….and exposure to popular culture – tv etc seems to soften it, but I know plenty of people from lunenburg county who are in their early 30’s and have never been further than halifax an hour away. You want to hear it talk to someone over 60 though.