They may seem hundreds of years apart, but William Shakespeare was alive and well when the first English settlement in the New World was founded. We’ve all seen snippets of Shakespeare’s Early Modern English, with famous words including thou, doth, ye, hath, and myles — but linguists and historians have no clue what the accent actually sounded like.
There were no video cameras or recording devices in colonial days so the accent, like many other things, were lost to time. Modern British English has undergone almost as radical of a change as American English, and their language is just as far from the original as ours is. Fortunately for both historians and the curious, there’s a community of 500 people where we can step back in time.
The Eastern Seaboard was the first place in the Americas colonized by the British. One of these areas was a hard-to-reach place known as Harker’s Island. It is separated geographically from the rest of the Carolinas by large marshes and water.
Harker’s Island is in dark gray to the right in the map below.
The residents there have kept to themselves for over 300 years with little influence from the outside world and have relied on fishing, sustaining themselves the same way they have for generations.
They refer to themselves as High Tiders.
Linguists say that their half-Southern, half-New England accent is what our language sounded like in the 1600s. Certain words and phrases are familiar, but others are alien and foreign. The residents remark that people from the mainland often confuse them for Irishmen.
Listen to a sample of this with the video below.
Their language is considered a relic, and is dying fast. An open and connected world has robbed the island of most of its youth, whittling down the population and exposing it to larger American culture.
It may not exist in the near future.
With the disappearance of this dialect, the world will lose a little bit more of its mystery. Globalization is doing away with gems and relics like the High Tider accent and way of life. True diversity is the celebration of what makes us different, not a forced global culture.
Regardless, the people of Harker’s Island are one of the last windows we have to look back into time.
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