A Washington Post article by David A. Fahrenthold discusses the slow decline of the Chesapeake Bay way of speaking:
Years ago, before the watermen had to become bus drivers and the crab shanties were replaced by new red-brick houses, everybody on St. George Island knew about the arster, the kitchen and the sun dog.
The arster, of course, was a bivalve—called an “oyster” by some people—often found here at the remote south end of St. Mary’s County. “The kitchen” was a spot in the Chesapeake Bay where arsters were caught. And a “sun dog” was a haze that portended bad weather, a sign it was time to leave the kitchen and head home.
These words were part of the island’s local dialect, one of many distinctive ways of speaking that grew up over the centuries in isolated areas across the bay.
But now, like many of the other dialects, St. George-ese is fading. Many of the watermen who spoke it have left, and in their place are newcomers from the Washington suburbs and elsewhere…
Linguists are careful to stress that there is not one single Chesapeake Bay dialect but rather a vast array of accents and vocabularies.
There are distinctively southern speakers, like Tidewater Virginians who say “kyar” when they mean “car.” Further north are the residents of “Bawlmer, Merlin,” and along the Eastern Shore, in isolated waterman’s communities, people turn “wife” into “wuife.”
But to the west of this cacophony, there is Washington—a demographic behemoth, breaker of dialects.
Almost 50 percent of the region’s residents were born in a state other than the one where they live, which is more than other big cities and close to twice the national average. Linguistically, that means “nobody really has any idea what Washington, D.C., is,” said David Bowie, a linguistics professor at the University of Central Florida…
So far, there’s been no comprehensive linguistic study of the bay’s dialects to see if they’re all facing the same fate as Southern Maryland speech. But changes have been noted by old-timers and local historians across the area.
Northern Neck native W. Tayloe Murphy Jr.—the Virginia secretary of natural resources—said residents used to say they lived “in” the Northern Neck. Now, he said, many say “on,” as outsiders do.
In Delaware, historian Russ McCabe said he’s seen the decline of “among-ye,” which was that state’s rare way of saying “y’all.” One of the few times he’s heard it recently was at a church in Gumboro, in south Delaware.
“This older fella looked at me and [said], ‘Are among-ye going to stay for supper?’ ” said McCabe, who works for the state public archives. “I had a moment there, a twinge of almost sadness, because I hadn’t heard that in 20 years.”…
The most prominent exception to these changes is Smith Island, Md., a marshy place with about 360 residents, reachable only by ferry.
Here, with a brogue that’s been steeped in decades of isolation, Smith Islanders render house as “hace” and brown as “brain.” They use words that are relics of the British English used by American colonists, such as “progging”—which means to poke around the marshes looking for arrowheads.
University researchers were surprised recently to find that young Smith Islanders actually have a stronger accent than their parents. The researchers and islanders said they believe the change was a conscious attempt to assert the island’s culture in the face of declining catches and rising water levels.
I wonder if this reaction has any chance of actually preserving the dialect for a significant amount of time?
(Thanks to Joe Tomei for the link.)