America’s Loveliest Accents: Providence

As Josef Fruehwald pointed out, attitudes towards language often are proxy for the attitudes towards the people who speak those languages. This is a case of what John Earl Joseph termed “prestige transfer,” and it makes sense. If you have negative feelings about your interactions with a group of people – for example, if your typical interaction with them consists of them giving you unreasonable orders, or harassing you on the street – you will tend to associate those negative feelings with their speech. Conversely, if you associate their voices with good times or your aspirations for prosperity, you will tend to associate those positive feelings with their accents.


Unlike Scranton, I’ve actually been to Providence, and even tried coffee milk, but I don’t have a strong memory of the accent. My wife is from just over the state line in eastern Connecticut, though, so I have positive feelings about that accent. I remember when we were first dating and she told me over the phone that her cats were playing in boxes. That fronted short /a/ in “boxes” reminded me that New England and New York are in different dialect regions, no matter how much else we may have in common. She also doesn’t lower the “o” in “frog,” and says “are you done your dinner?”

This is part 6 of a series where I say nice things about all sixteen of the accents that Gawker’s Dayna Evans nominated for “America’s Ugliest Accent.” Previously: Philadelphia. Nextly: Minneapolis.

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