Some Bostonians Take Class To Ditch Their Accent

  • Playlist
  • Download
  • Embed
    Embed <iframe src="http://www.npr.org/player/embed/137773357/137774493" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no">
  • Transcript

The Boston accent is a sound that's as much a trademark of the city as Fenway Park and Harvard Yard. But some locals are looking to ditch the accent. Michele Norris talks to Billy Baker of The Boston Globe about his story on a class to help Bostonians get rid of their accents.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

Finally, this hour, you don't need to be from a certain city in New England to recognize this accent.

(Soundbite of movie, "Mystic River")

Mr. SEAN PENN (Actor): (as Jimmy Markum) Just call Sal. Make sure he can get there at 8:00 instead of 10:00.

Ms. LAURA LINNEY (Actress): (as Annabeth Markum) She no-shows at work. What if she no-shows at church?

Mr. PENN: (as Jimmy Markum) She'll be there.

(Soundbite of TV series, "Saturday Night Live")

Unidentified Male #1 (Actor): (as character) The Sox are going all the way this year.

Unidentified Male #2 (Actor): (as character) Nomar is back.

Unidentified Male #1: (as character) Nomar, yeah.

Soundbite of movie, "Good Will Hunting")

Mr. BEN AFFLECK (Actor): (as Chuckie Sullivan) Allegedly, your situation - for you - would be concurrently improved if I had $200 in my back pocket right now.

NORRIS: The Boston accent heard there in the movie "Good Will Hunting," from a "Saturday Night Live" spoof and also from the movie "Mystic River." It's a sound that is as much trademark of the city as Fenway Park and Harvard Yard. But some locals are looking to ditch that accent. And as we read in the Boston Globe, you can now take a class to take the Boston out of your voice. Billy Baker wrote that story, and he joins me now. Welcome to the program.

Mr. BILLY BAKER JR. (Writer, The Boston Globe): Thank you for having me.

NORRIS: Now, what kind of class is this? And we should say before we go on that you're actually from Boston, so people might be listening for your accent.

Mr. BAKER JR.: Well, I grew up in South Boston, which has a very -depending on your perspective - a very bad Boston accent or a very great one. Yeah, I had it beat out of me in college.

NORRIS: So for the people who are trying to have it removed from their own voice right now, what kind of class is this? Tell us more about it.

Mr. BAKER JR.: So the class began at Boston Casting, and it was basically out of necessity. We had all these wonderful Boston movies made, which featured this accent heavily. And a lot of times, they would cast locals in these parts. Few of them got the acting bugs, started going to other auditions, and they were being told, you sound like a Boston bartender, like, you can't play these roles. So there was a necessity for Boston Casting to bring in a speech coach to start working with people to help them learn to pronounce their R's.

And after the class began for actors, a lot of regular people started taking the class, people who basically all shared the idea that they thought the accent made them sound uneducated and was holding them back in some way on a professional level.

NORRIS: So how does this actually work? How did they remove the sound from people's voice? How do they get them to start actually pronouncing their R's in a different way?

Mr. BAKER JR.: I mean, it starts just being aware of what you're saying and then it's, you know, workbook exercises. It's a very classic class structure, but there is one little twist, which is the instructor uses a dog clicker. And each time they speak in a Boston accent, they get clicked and clicked and clicked.

NORRIS: Now, you actually tried this technique with your own father. He's also named Billy Baker. He is from South Boston. And, boy, do you hear that in his voice. Let's listen.

Mr. BILLY BAKER SR.: Her Korea was...

(Soundbite of clicker)

Mr. BAKER JR.: That wasn't even close.

Mr. BAKER SR.: Her Korea...

(Soundbite of clicker)

Mr. BAKER SR.: Korea.

(Soundbite of clicker)

Mr. BAKER JR.: It is not even close.

Mr. BAKER SR.: Harnessing.

(Soundbite of clicker)

Mr. BAKER SR.: Harnessing.

Mr. BAKER JR.: R, you're missing the R.

Mr. BILLY SR.: Some people enjoy an accent.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: He clearly enjoys his accent.

Mr. BAKER JR.: Well, you know, we sort of ambushed him. We didn't exactly tell him what we were up to until we got to the house. And he was a good sport. And then I wasn't sure how he would take it when he saw the actual video, but he called me yesterday morning and said, a star is born.

(Soundbite of laughter)

NORRIS: How many people...

Mr. BAKER JR.: So that worked that well.

NORRIS: How many people actually take this class? Is there a waiting list?

Mr. BAKER JR.: No. You know, it's funny. You know, Murphy's Law has a report. I don't know if you've experienced this, but the class had been very crowded until we decided to cover it. And there were just two in this one. But this one had an actor, and it had a woman who thought her accent made her sound dumb.

And what's interesting is that since this story has run, the comment section has been a really lively debate about the importance of regional accents and sort of the homogeny of this neutral accent that we all seem to be moving towards. I would even offer that there's a bit of an NPR influence to this (unintelligible) accent.

NORRIS: Oh, don't blame us.

Mr. BAKER JR.: Well, I think you are complicit in some ways just as sort of all mainstream media are in a, you know, creating a uniform sound for what we consider standard American English, and then everything else is a variation.

But there were these wonderful debates where people would, you know, say, well, what do you think when you hear someone from Alabama? And people up hear would say, oh, they sound ridiculous. But I can't imagine what they think when they hear us.

And the question is whether or not these people are actually doing something wrong, betraying their culture in any way by seeking to get rid of their accent. And that's a personal question for each person to answer, I believe.

NORRIS: Billy Baker Jr. is a reporter for The Boston Globe. Billy, thanks so much for talking to us.

Mr. BAKER JR.: Thank you, NPR.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.