Accent of Virginia Islanders Offers Glimpse of Founding Fathers’ Dialect

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    Tangier Island: Courtesy of Tangier Island
    Tangier Island: Courtesy of Tangier Island

    The Commonwealth of Virginia is unquestionably one of the most culturally diverse states in the entire nation.  The naval yards of its eastern shore are worlds apart from the mountains of Appalachia only a few hundred miles to the west and the coal miners of Buchanan County have almost nothing in common with the federal lobbyists living in Alexandria.  Still, the Old Dominion somehow makes this hodgepodge of regional contrasts work and each area firmly believes that their’s is the “real Virginia.”

    Even when one considers each of these sharp differences, it’s hard to imagine anything that comes even remotely close to competing with the uniqueness of an ancient culture that has endured for centuries on one of Virginia’s tiniest islands.

    Located in the center of the Chesapeake Bay, the 1.2 sq mi.  Tangier Island is more than a dozen miles from the state’s mainland and only accessible by ship.

    With an average elevation of 3 ft. above sea level and losing roughly 10 feet of land to erosion each year, it’s a miracle that the island is even inhabited, however, this Virginia isle has served as home to the descendants of early American  settlers since 1686.

    Purchased from the Pocomoke Indians for the price of two overcoats, the rich oyster and crab grounds surrounding the island drew early settlers to this remote spot and many never left.

    Today, the island’s population is 650, it has its own (k-12) school system, and capability to generate electricity (even though it is serviced by an underwater cable from the mainland for emergencies).

    The enchanting fishing village has been dubbed the “soft crab capital” of the nation and offers visitors the opportunity to enjoy quaint, narrow streets, and a view into yestercentury.

    National Geographic named the island “One of the World’s Top Places to Visit in 2016,” thanks to the warm and friendly people, charming inns, and incredible restaurants.

    Thanks to their isolation, the residents’ lifestyles are characterized as laid-back and “folksy.” The isolation also contributes to the prevalence of Tangier disease, a recessive genetic disorder which causes high blood cholesterol.  The roads on Tangier are only wide enough for two golf carts to pass each other. Few cars are present on the island because they are not able to get over the small wooden bridges. Tourists and islanders all get around on golf carts, boats, mopeds, and bikes.

    In 2010, the island received high speed Internet access, something many local residents feared would change their way of life.  Since then, islanders are said to have “developed quite the appetite for streaming sports.” Recognizing the impact of sports on the island community, the Virginia Tourism Corporation declared Tangier Island the biggest sports town in America, per capita. 

    The most notable feature of Tangier Island, however, is without a doubt the accent of the local residents.  Having been cut off from the rest of the nation by the Chesapeake Bay, the dialect and culture of the inhabitants has remained largely unchanged.  The accent of residents sounds far more British than American and has attracted the attention of linguists who say the dialect of the people on the island offer a glimpse into how America’s early founding fathers may have talked.

    The video below is an older documentary on the accent of the people of Tangier Island…  Pretty interesting, huh? Don’t forget to share this article with your friends on Facebook!