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Is Elizabethan English Still Spoken Anywhere?

Elizabethan English, with its rich cadences and theatrical flair, is a relic of the past, yet it echoes in certain corners of academia and performance art. Imagine the thrill of Shakespeare's words spoken as they were intended. Intrigued? Discover how this language survives and where you might hear its unique melody. What might it reveal about our linguistic heritage? Continue with us to uncover the story.

There's only one place in the United States that doesn't speak English with an American dialect: Ocracoke Island. The little spot of land 34 miles (55 km) off the coast of North Carolina is home to the Hoi Toider (High Tider) dialect, which contains numerous words derived from Elizabethan English, pirate slang, Scottish, and Irish. While much of it sounds rather Shakespearean, it's not quite the same as Elizabeth English – or anything else.

Professor Walt Wolfram of North Carolina State University, who has studied the dialect for decades, says it's unique. "It’s the only American dialect that is not identified as American," he said. "That’s fascinating to me. You can find pronunciation, grammar structures and vocabulary on Ocracoke that are not found anywhere else in North America."

Unfortunately, the dialect is fading, as the members of older generations, who casually tossed out words like "mommuck" ("to bother") and "quamish" ("queasy"), have given way to a younger populace that prefers a more standard version of English.

Everybody's talkin':

  • While English is the dominant language in the United States, 20 percent of Americans over 5 years of age speak another language at home.

  • The language with the fastest growth in America since 1980 is Vietnamese, which has exploded by 510 percent to include 1.2 million people today.

  • Estimates suggest that America will have the most Spanish-speaking people in the world by the year 2050.

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    • The dialect spoken on Ocracoke Island, N.C., retains features of Elizabethan English, Scottish, and pirate slang.
      The dialect spoken on Ocracoke Island, N.C., retains features of Elizabethan English, Scottish, and pirate slang.