The Rhode Island accent and the Pacific Northwest accent


I came to Rhode Island thirty-four years ago, and the accent baffled me for a long time. Then I understood it. Then I tried to imitate it.

Now, decades later, I can almost manage it.

It took me years to master the pronunciation of “Worcester.” It’s WUH-stah, with a funny breathy sound in the middle.  I said WOO-stah for a long time, and everyone laughed at me.

“Sure” is easy: SHOO-wah. I say it all the time; it’s my best Rhode Island word. It baffles the Brown students who work for me; they’ve never heard anything like it, and they’re sure I’m a local.

“Cheryl” is, of course, CHEV-vil. I kid you not.

It goes without saying that I came here from the Pacific Northwest with no accent at all.

Who am I kidding? I sounded like Huckleberry Finn when I first got here. When I go back to the Northwest, I listen to my relatives talk, and I think: Are we serious? Do we really sound like that? Did I ever really sound like that?



When my brother Leopold says my name – “Loren” – it comes out sounding something like “Lawwrn.”

I speak quickly and nervously. I probably always did. But quick and nervous is appropriate for the Rhode Island accent; a lot of people here speak too quickly for their own good. It’s okay if you only get a few words here and there; most of the time, it’s enough.  I have an acquaintance here who speaks so quickly, the words seem to overlap one another.

But, even after all this time, when I go back to the Northwest, or when I talk to someone from the Northwest, the local dialect starts coming back to me.

We have “groshry stores” instead of “grocery stores.” “Washington” is “Worshington.” It’s curtains for you if you say “O-ray-gone” instead of “Orrygun.”   “Idaho” is “EYE-dee-hoe.”

After I’d been in Rhode Island for a year, I called one of my banks in Worshington State to transfer some money. After a moment on the line, the bank lady said, sounding just like Ado Annie in “Oklahoma”: “YOO SHORE SOUND FAAR AWAAY. WHERE AARE YOOU?”

And, without thinking, I bellowed back: “AH’M IN RHUDE AAHLAND!”


Or, as we say here: Foh shooah!


About Loren Williams
Gay, partnered, living in Providence, working at a local university. Loves: books, movies, TV. Comments and recriminations can be sent to

5 Responses to The Rhode Island accent and the Pacific Northwest accent

  1. starproms says:

    How funny. I tried out all your words and then giggled. I’m used to the Tennessee accent, which is totally different. Over here, where I live, I have a sort of London accent, but a little more posh. In my exact locality, we are known for dropping letters. E.g. the town where I live is called Luton. Now say it without the ‘t’ in the middle. That’s it… Looern.
    Of course every time we open our mouths and speak, some people will like us and some will not. That’s a very scary thought isn’t it.

    • I don’t know what accent I have anymore. I speak much too quickly. I know that, when I visit my family in the West or talk to them on the telephone, they sound like characters in a John Wayne movie, and they generally can’t understand a word I’m saying. What a world!

      • starproms says:

        Yes indeed. In the South, as you know, they speak very slowly and that suits me because sometimes I struggle with the American accent and the words used, which are ever more different to ours. When arguing over it with my husband, I usually end up by saying ‘we invented it, you changed it, so we must be right!’ That usually settles the argument.

      • Not fair at all! How do you know we didn’t change it for the better?

      • starproms says:

        Yes, that’s a nice discussion coming… (laughing). Perhaps I should do a post on it? I could do it from my perspective and you could do it from yours. Of course you’ve already started it, haven’t you!

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