Wednesday, January 29, 2014

"Arrrrgh, it's the Hoi Toiders!"...hearing early 18th century speech today

Blackbeard the Pirate by Joseph Nicholls, 1736
Having moved to the three-hundred-year-old northeastern North Carolina town of Edenton two years ago, in the area known as the Inner Banks (as opposed to the more well known Outer Banks,) I have come to discover the particular accent native to these parts. In many pronunciations I hear remnants of both Tidewater Virginia and Outer Banks/Southeastern North Carolina brogues. In turn, these accents with their hard "r's" sound similar to English and Irish accents, specifically of southwestern England in the Bristol area and the Ulster area of Ireland. So what does all this have to do with research pertaining to all things early 18th century, the primary time setting for my novel-in-progress? Quite a lot, actually, since I am beginning to hear the characters' voices in my head. And before you call for the men in the white coats, that's actually a good thing for a novelist!

450 year old map of Outer and Inner Banks by Gov. John White
I have been pondering how the speech of eastern North Carolinians, as well as Blackbeard the infamous pirate and his ilk, may have sounded in the year, 1718. I would surmise they sounded much like the parts of Great Britain from which they came. The unique accents still heard in pockets of eastern North Carolina are in areas where, for centuries, the people were somewhat isolated, particularly down around Ocracoke and Harkers Island. With the vast influx of tourists and people moving to "God's Country" from elsewhere, the strength of the accent is weakening but is still very present to the attentive ear.

Southwestern England including Bristol in red (Wikimedia Commons)
Knowing that Blackbeard was said to have come from Bristol, England, I went to YouTube to hear examples of current day Bristolian and southwestern English accents and, lo and behold, I could hear similarities between them and those of the "Hoi Toiders," the name sometimes given to speakers of the Outer Banks brogue since they pronounce the long "i" sound as "oi/oy." "High tide" becomes "hoi toide." I'm not the only one to hear the similarity of speech between them. When the noted English
dialectologist, Peter Trudgill, took recorded samples of Outer Banks speech back to England, most listeners agreed the origins were British, most likely from the West Country (southwestern England.)

Outer Banks of North Carolina, map by NOAA
I have heard this same accent on tiny Tangier Island on the Eastern Shore of Virginia, my own relatives from the Swansboro area of southeastern North Carolina, and even a friend whose family had fished the waters of southern New Jersey for generations. My ninety-year-old mother, growing up in Swansboro, remembers being called a "Hoi Toider" by outsiders. She has lived in many places up and down the east coast, from North Carolina to New York, and has lost much of her old accent but my cousins "down home," as mother still calls it, retain the strong brogue. It is apparent not only in the hard "r" and "oy" sounds but also in the way the  "ow" sound, as in the word "brown," becomes more of a long "o" sound as in "brone." It's hard to put it down in writing since the pronunciations are more intricate than I present here and often have more syllables pronounced than they would appear to have in print. "Toide" is more like "t-uh-ee-d." "Brone" is more like "breh-on" with a long "o." My husband Bill (a New Englander by birth,) likes to tell folks his name has changed since he moved to Edenton. Here he's called "Bee-al" by many of our dear, new friends

Regarding that hard "r" research shows that prior to the American Revolution, all of England, including the upper crust, pronounced the "r's" of their words (rhotic) and it was not until late in the 18th century that some began dropping the "r" (non-rhotic) in an attempt to distinguish themselves from the rabble. This became the fashion and made its way to America through its eastern port towns taking hold especially in the upper classes of southern society.

I think my characters may begin to take on speech blessed with the rich colors of both Old World Bristolians and New World Hoi Toiders. And if I need an interpreter I can just call my sweet cousins "down home" and they'll straighten me out I'm sure!

 Have a good week, dear Reader. Thanks for stopping by...Y'all come back now!


Thanks to the following for today's resource information:

The North Carolina Language and Life Project:

Hoi Toide on the Outer Banks: The Story of the Ocracoke Brogue by Walt Wolfram and Natalie Schilling-Estes 

YouTube: (Bristol accent) (Outer Banks accent)

No comments: