The wit and wonder of Rhode Islandese

Not for nothin’, but you can tahk like a Vo Dilunduh  
By JOHNETTE RODRIGUEZ  |  September 5, 2007

Once you’ve lived here 10 years or more you no longer notice as many of the unusual sounding place names, foods, or phrases that Rhode Islanders take for granted. Yet if you’re like me — and you didn’t grow up here — something unusual still hits your ear or your stomach every few months or so.
Just a few weekends ago, I overheard someone describe the Rhode Island accent as “between Boston and New York.” This often means flat, harsh-sounding vowels, clipped final consonants, missing “r’s” (especially near an “a” or “aw”) and a few extra “r’s” tacked onto the end of words (especially those ending in an “a”). The “r” usage made it especially difficult for me to understand words such as “raw” or “heart,” which I thought were “roar” and “hot” before the context clicked in.
Not only did this make me feel like an ignorant out-of-towner who couldn’t make out the local lingo, but the Rhody accent sometimes seemed to convey an attitude: a bit blunt, a bit brash, and somewhat short-tempered.
In reality, behind that façade of sounds there’s often a heart of gold and a great sense of humor — it just takes a while to get the full measure of a person when what they’re saying sometimes seems like a foreign language.
In my first months here, if people responded with “Sorry?” I wasn’t sure what they’d done wrong. Then I realized that they meant, “Pardon me, I didn’t hear you.” I’ve now lived here long enough to have adopted a variant: “Sorry, I didn’t hear you.” Sometimes, a response of “Please?” is also meant to indicate that the person didn’t hear what you said, not that he or she needs you to pass the butter.

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