What’s in a name? A look Inside Vt. dialect and pronunciation

Turns out Vermonters tend to drop letters from words, and experts say there’s no rhyme or reason for what goes and what stays.
Published: Jan. 6, 2023 at 6:24 AM EST
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CORINTH, Vt. (WCAX) - Turns out Vermonters tend to drop letters from words, and experts say there’s no rhyme or reason for what goes and what stays.

In the rural Orange County town of Corinth, Vermonters had a lot to say when asked how they pronounce it.

“Corinth (KORE-inth) or Corinth (KUH-rinth), you never know what they’re going to call it,” said Bruce Gendron of Topsham.

“I heard a guy ask once, he said, ‘Is this sound called Corinth (KORE-inth) or Corinth (KUH-inth)?’ And the local guy said, ‘Krnth,’” said Pat from East Orange.

There’s a handful of towns that have some conflicting pronunciations, like Athens or Athens, Coventry or Coventry, and Alburgh (ALL-berg) or Alburgh (AL-berg)?

“Alburgh (AL-berg) has been Alburgh (AL-berg) as long as I’ve known, It has been more recently that it’s that Alburgh (ALL-berg) has been the pronunciation,” said Donna Bohannon from the town of Alburgh.

So, what’s up with Vermont dialect? We asked Julie Roberts, a professor of linguistics at the University of Vermont. She says a lot of the local pronunciation comes from the British Isles and French influence. Some Vermont features include a glottal stop, like the pronunciation of “mi-in” instead of “mitten.” Others are dropping vowels in words like the pronunciation of “Krnth.”

“We when we speak over time -- and I mean over generations -- this is steadily over weeks and months. We tend to simplify. And one way to simplify is to take vowels out or to sort of glide over the vowels,” Roberts said. She said this happens in all dialects, but not necessarily in the same way. Towns are pronounced differently than their spelling implies, like Guildhall despite the “D,” and Topsham despite the “SH.” “Although we spell it with two letters, it’s really one sound. It’s not really a blend. So, it’s more of a substitution. And why it particularly happens on that one? I honestly don’t know.”

Roberts might not be sure why this is, but some have their own theories. “If they say Topsham like “TopSHam”... them the flatlanders,” said Dustin Downing from East Topsham.

And you can’t leave out Charlotte (SHUH-lot) instead of Charlotte (SHAR-lot). Roberts said French has less influence over the dialect of Vermont, but it does influence placement. Towns like Montpelier don’t use the French pronunciation. Roberts said that’s likely out of simplicity. “I think we make some adaptations occasionally to the borrowed language, we’re borrowing something. But if it gets too difficult to pronounce for us as English speakers, then we tend not to do it,” said Roberts.

She says the Vermont dialect is fading away among younger speakers as rural communities become less isolated and as more people move to the state. But town pronunciation tends to remain among generations. “That sort of thing is going to be slow, very slow to die out if it ever does, because why would you change it?” Roberts said.

No matter how Vermonters say their town, few have considered leaving. “I’ve been a few places and this is just home,” said Gendron.

We’d love to hear your town name and how you pronounce it. Join the conversation on the WCAX Facebook page.