Super Bowl Dialectology

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One of today's Super Bowl commercials features Boston r-lessness:


Chris Evans, John Krasinski, and Rachel Dratch are all from the Boston area, and David "Big Papi" Ortiz played 14 seasons for the Red Sox.

Obviously some advertising creative came up with this idea because "pahk the cah" is part of the standard caricature of Boston accent.

To finish it off, the last 8 seconds feature the six-note musical hook from The Standell's 1966 song "Dirty Water"", whose refrain is "Boston, you're my home.

Compare the impact of a more informative presentation:


Another linguistically-relevant Super Bowl commercial this year features the imaginary historical forebears of Alexa.

Update: I can't think of another advertisement centered on a lexical dialect stereotype — here "park the car" — but there must be some.



25 Comments

  1. Mark Metcalf said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 8:04 am

    As part of his routine, bilingual Beijing-based comedian Jesse Appell (and Boston native) discusses his joy at discovering where all of those missing "R" sounds went:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xSh2KdiNuzs

    (routine starts at about 30 seconds)

  2. Vance Koven said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 10:46 am

    Today's Boston Globe has an article about this ad, with considerable attention to the regional use of "wicked" as an adverb modifying an adjective, and whether, in its colloquial intensifier sense, it can be used as an adjective in its own right to modify a noun (as the ad apparently does) or stand alone ("Wicked!").

    In addition, to us locals there are (reportedly; obviously I haven't seen the ad itself, and am not likely to do so) other snicker-worthy elements to the ad, such as setting this festival of arlessness in the South End of Boston, a trendy neighborhood where one is highly unlikely to hear that sort of talk, and the supposed "easter egg" glimpse of a bumper sticker reading "I love (or maybe heart) Dorchester," when every such sticker I've ever seen refers not to Dorchester but to "Dot" (for "Dotchesta").

    [(myl) All of the examples in DARE are adverbial, though the entry says "also rarely adj, very great." The OED entry (from 1924) has

    3.b. Excellent, splendid; remarkable. slang (originally U.S.).
    1920 F. S. Fitzgerald This Side of Paradise i. iii. 119 ‘Tell 'em to play “Admiration”!’ shouted Sloane… ‘Phoebe and I are going to shake a wicked calf.’
    1977 Western Mail (Cardiff) 5 Mar. 8/2 He could, as I say, sidestep off either foot, but what sped him on was a wicked acceleration over 20 yards.

    And also

    C. adv.
    Wickedly; fiercely, savagely, furiously; ‘cruelly’, ‘terribly’.
    a1400 (▸a1325) Cursor Mundi (Trin. Cambr.) l. 15840 Whil þei þus him handeled: wicked as þei mouȝt.
    1663 T. Porter Witty Combat iv. i. sig. D4 Yesterday was..a wicked hot day.
    1829 J. Hogg Shepherd's Cal. i. 8 A hungry louse bites wicked sair.
    1849 W. S. Mayo Kaloolah (1850) v. 45 He came towards me with his hatchet in his hand. I saw that he was determined to act wicked.
    1902 V. Jacob Sheep-stealers ix They was fightin' very wicked an' nasty.

    In seven or eight years living in the Boston area, the adverbial use was ubiquitous, but I don't recall hearing adjectival examples, though it seems like a plausible development.]

  3. Vance Koven said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 10:49 am

    Sorry, just noticed that you had included the video in the post. So yiah, ovah the top.

  4. Andrew Usher said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 12:01 pm

    'Tawp', surely, for those not from the region …

  5. Stephen Hart said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 12:16 pm

    On "wicked":

    "Dubbed "Wicked Fast"[1] by the Product Manager, Frank Casanova – who came to Apple from Apollo Computer in Boston, Massachusetts, where the Boston term "wicked" is commonly used to denote anything extreme – the IIfx…"

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Macintosh_IIfx

    "Wicked fast" is still used by journalists in describing Apple equipment.

  6. Trogluddite said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 2:20 pm

    Here in the UK there was a very long-running series of advertisements for Bernard Matthews which played on the absence of yods. In keeping with Mr. Matthews' broad Norfolk accent (he appeared in most of the ads), his company's processed turkey products were always described in speech and in writing as "bootiful" (if you'll excuse the pun, I found them pretty "fowl" myself!). This was well-known enough back in the 80's that I can recall people aping the pronounciation when using "beautiful" in other contexts.

    Regional accents in advertising are relatively common over here, and advertisers well know that consumers trust some more than others, even when unrelated to the traditional source of a product. Northern English accents in particular are used very often for this alleged effect, especially Yorkshire accents (it's a very ubiquitous stereotype that Northerners don't mince their words).

  7. Ian said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 5:12 pm

    Surely their omission of Harvard Yard in the list of places parked was deliberate… but why?

  8. D.O. said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 7:07 pm

    I am not sure whether it rises to "lexical dialect stereotype", but car-related advertisements have some history of over the top regional speech. There were some inanimate objects which spoke cartoonishly polite Southern dialect and some misshapen tree branch which fell on a car and was making excuses in a parody of NYC speech. I have a vague recollection that they even were featured on LL.

  9. cameron said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 7:30 pm

    If I'm remembering the same anthropomorphised tree-limb mentioned by D.O. above, I think it too spoke with a Boston accent.

  10. Ben Zimmer said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 7:31 pm

    Here's the Boston Globe article mentioned by Vance Koven. I talked to the reporter and directed to him to Jim Wood of the Yale Grammatical Diversity Project (a New Hampshire native). Jim agrees that wicked car is a bit off given the context, adding, "Wicked cool car would have been perfect." I understand that New England-style adverbial wicked will soon have its own page on the YGDP site, as will hella!

  11. D.O. said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 7:40 pm

    Both happened to be Geiko commercials. Southern pothole and what I am thinking is NYC tree branch.

  12. cameron said,

    February 2, 2020 @ 8:18 pm

    I was introduced to these uses of "wicked" in the mid 80s. It wasn't until much later that I learned it was associated with Boston, or New England generally. I first heard it in the speech of college students from upstate New York, especially people from the Albany area. They would use wicked as an adverb, or as an adjective, and even as an exclamation. I specifically remember a young woman from, if memory serves, the town of Mechanicville, exclaiming "Wicked! Wicked! Wicked!" in a moment of excitement. These came out in an extremely rapid burst, and it was unusual enough that I remember it almost 35 years later.

  13. Philip Anderson said,

    February 3, 2020 @ 8:18 am

    In British English, wicked, in both traditional and colloquial senses, is an adjective and an exclamation, but NOT in my experience an adverb (wickedly, yes). So if it came across the pond, it probably wasn’t as a pure adverb.

  14. Robert Coren said,

    February 3, 2020 @ 10:11 am

    @Vance Koven: My guess is that somebody confused the South End with South Boston, which indeed has associations with "traditional" Boston accents and attitudes (although I believe the demographics have been changing somewhat of late).

  15. Ray said,

    February 3, 2020 @ 8:49 pm

    here in philly, we have "demand rand" ads for accident lawyers, which unapologetically use south jersey regional accent as logo/brand:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q3ZltNCJk0M

    https://vimeopro.com/lmiiipro/rand-spear-1/video/338555435

  16. Julian said,

    February 4, 2020 @ 12:12 am

    62yo Australian here.
    For the first clip, I would have appreciated subtitles. Same often applies to gritty north of England cop shows. Or Indian call centre operators with super L2 skills but just the wrong prosody. It's interesting how easily an unfamiliar regional variety can throw us off.

  17. Phillip Helbig said,

    February 4, 2020 @ 7:01 am

    "Regional accents in advertising are relatively common over here"

    In England, accents are about class as much as region. Presumably that plays a role in advertising as well.

  18. J.W. Brewer said,

    February 4, 2020 @ 9:21 am

    An interesting piece on local reactions to actors who try to do the accent: https://www.bostonmagazine.com/news/2020/01/31/fake-boston-accent/

    Separately, I wonder what percentage of viewers under age 50 or even 60 will recognize the "Dirty Water" riff and make the connection? I shouldn't think very many, at least among those not from the Boston metro area.

  19. Vance Koven said,

    February 5, 2020 @ 1:30 pm

    @Andrew Usher, I will accept "tawp" as a friendly amendment.

    @Trogluddite, re yods: the absence of yods is a common phenomenon in Boston's denser urban core, though some houses do have postage-stamp goddens in front. More in the South End than South Boston (a/k/a "Southie").

    @Philip Helbig, that is definitely the case in Boston. What has been called a "traditional" Boston accent, i.e. the Southie/Dorchester accent, is really the working-class (chiefly Irish) accent. There have been many accents in Boston, and once upon a time a "Boston accent" referred to the patrician "Brahmin" version. I remember a slender volume in decades past called "Boston English, Illustrated" in which the accent being parodied was the upper-class one, e.g. "shut" as an article of men's apparel.

  20. Matthew L Juge said,

    February 5, 2020 @ 2:41 pm

    I wonder how close their ad-accentd are to their 'real' accents. Fans of The Office know that Krasinski's Jim character doesn't talk like that. I wonder how authentically I could employ the New Orleans accent that I (mostly) lost over thirty years ago.

  21. Matthew L Juge said,

    February 5, 2020 @ 2:42 pm

    That should be "ad-accents" of course.

  22. Robert Coren said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 9:45 am

    @Vance Koven: That "Brahmin" accent may still exist; it certainly did when I was an undergraduate (50+ years ago). One of my freshman roommates had it, and one of my instructors had so strong a version that I thought at first that she might have been British.

  23. Seonachan said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 2:55 pm

    @J.W. Brewer, "Dirty Water" is played at Fenway Park after every Red Sox win, a practice that has spread to other Boston teams. So many sports fans at least will recognize it.

    I'm just glad they went with the Standells over the Dropkick Murphys.

  24. Christopher said,

    February 6, 2020 @ 3:27 pm

    Presumably you've seen this:
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rLwbzGyC6t4

  25. Tom Dawkes said,

    February 13, 2020 @ 4:42 pm

    On accents in advertising in the UK you can do no better than this wonderful adverts from Heineken lager in 1985: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Uz9_YfIQaz4.
    Heineken ran a series of ads on the theme "Heineken reaches the parts other beers cannot reach".
    In the ad Bryan Pringle, well-known for playing working-class types, has set up a school to help upper-class people acquire a working-class accent to acquire "street cred[ibility]". Sylvestra Le Touzel was usually cast as an upper-class women, with a very refined accent.
    The tutor is clearly having problems and sends his office boy [Del boy is a reference to a very popular TV character] to bring some Heineken. Sylvestra drinks some lager and acquires a grotesque London-type accent, and a change in timbre as well. Del, unluckily, also has a drink and is transformed into an upper-class young man: "Yah, absolutely!'. The end of the ad has the Heineken catchphrase transmogrified with a characteristic lower-class relative clause.

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