Tidewater Accent

The Tidewater accent, also known as Tidewater English, Tidewater Dialect or the Chesapeake Accent, is a specific dialect of Southern American English. While the dialect is said to have roots up and down the eastern seaboard, it is primarily concentrated in the southeastern part of Virginia, otherwise known as the Tidewater Region. This region consists of the Hampton Roads, parts of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and parts of the eastern shore of Virginia, Maryland, and Southern Delaware.


This dialect of American English has evolved over a period of four hundred years from the English that was spoken by those who initially settled the area. Given that language is an entity that is constantly changing,[1] it is accurate to say that the English of the colonists was much different than any variety of English being spoken today. The colonists who initially settled the Tidewater area spoke a variety of English known as Early Modern English. (This is not to be confused with the form of English spoken today known as Modern English or Present-Day English, or with the English of Chaucer, which is Middle English.) Even within Early Modern English, there was immense variation among its speakers.[2] This variation could have been due to several factors such as geographic location, social class, age, race, etc. within England itself.


While the dialect of the region has evolved and changed over time, it is worth noting a distinct other in the group. The dialect of the small isolated island of Tangier in the Chesapeake Bay is significantly unique in that it seems relatively untouched by linguistic evolution. It has been hypothesized that this dialect is the closest resemblance there is to the dialect of the original colonists. Twelve miles from mainland Virginia, this tiny island was discovered in 1608 by Captain John Smith; the island has always had a very low population. In 1800, the island had 79 inhabitants. It ballooned to 411 by 1860. The population peaked in 1930 at 1190, but has since dwindled back down to 604 in the 2000 census [3] Given the island's geographic isolation and the fact that the island's population never really grew to a large number, the community was able to retain a significant amount of its native dialect.

Features of Tidewater English

One of the traditional features of Tidewater English is that it is non-rhotic. This may be heard in such words as Norfolk pronounced by many natives as /ˈnɔːfɪk/. Many visitors to the area may pronounce the city's name as /ˈnɜrfk/ or even /ˈnɜrfɪk/, the "l" being silent. The latter of these two is even appearing in younger generations native to the Tidewater area.

Another traditional feature of the area is the use of // for //.[4] For example, words such as "house" and "about" may be heard in the Tidewater area as "həuse" and "abəut" respectively, especially among older speakers. Given that there are over 2.8 million people in the area,[5] it is difficult to account for all variants. Also, the area is home to several large military bases such as Naval Station Norfolk, Little Creek Amphibious Base, Oceana Naval Station, and Dam Neck Naval Base. Since a significant portion of the area's inhabitants are actually natives of other areas, there is constant linguistic exposure to other dialects. This exposure could be a reason why the younger generations do not exhibit as many of the traditional variants. These variants can, however, still be found in the youth of the more rural areas of Tidewater as well as many of the adults throughout the Tidewater region.

Current projects

There is currently a linguistic survey and study occurring in the Tidewater region. A project devised by Old Dominion University Assistant Professor Dr. Bridget Anderson entitled Tidewater Voices: Conversations in Southeastern Virginia has recently been initiated in the area. In collecting oral histories from natives of the area, this study offers insight to not only specific history of the region, but also to linguistic phonetic variants native to the area as well. This linguistic survey is the first of its kind in nearly forty years.[6] The two variants being analyzed the most closely in this study are the /aʊ/ diphthong as in house or brown and post-vocalic r-lessness as in /ˈfɑːðə/ for /ˈfɑːðər/.

See also



  • Lippi-Green, Rosina. (1997). English with an accent: Language, ideology, and discrimination in the United States. New York: Routedge.
  • Shores, David L. (2000). Tangier Island: place, people, and talk. Cranbury, New Jersey. Associated University Presses.
  • Wolfram, W, & Schilling-Estes, N. (2006). American English. Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing.

External links

  • Tangierisland-va.com
  • Hamptonroads.com

Template:Languages of Maryland

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