Meet the Isolated Americans Who Speak A Bit Like Pirates

Wednesday February 12, 2020 Written by Genevieve

island wide

The ‘Hoi Toider’ accent, found in communities off the east coast of the US, is proof of what a language gets up to when it's left to its own devices for a quarter of a millennium. Once you learn that the phrase ‘Hoi Toider’ is how people from these communities pronounce ‘high tider’, you start to get a sense of just how unusual this particular accent is. We hoighly (highly) recommend watching this awesome video that we dug up on the YoyToibs (YouTubes). Travel on a fishing boat, hear the Hoi-Toiders speak, and glimpse the isolated geography that colluded to preserve this utterly unique accent for so long.

Spoken in a cluster of fishing towns and islands on and off the coast of North Carolina, ‘Hoi Toider’ English has more in common with the sound of British English than it does American English – but it’s not as simple as that. Born from the brogues of British, Scottish and Irish settlers to the area more than 250 years ago, and left to develop in almost complete isolation since, the accent twists and turns in a way that’s likely to throw off any ear accustomed to standard British English. The dialect has survived because the community continues to depend on traditional trades, like fishing, boat building, and decoy carving.

The closest tongue we can compare it to is Pirate English, but that is not an official language or dialect apparently. (Side note, nothing to do with this article or the Hoi Toiders: in researching this piece, we discovered that a bunch of pirate fans – or perhaps actual pirates – have made it so that you can change your Facebook settings to English (Pirate). Arrr.)  

Image: Smith Island, North Carolina. Source: Delmarva Now