5 Places in the U.S. Where Locals Speak Their Own Dialects

See recent posts by Margot Bigg

Although the United States is massive, being a relatively young and linguistically homogenous country means that -- while accents and vocabulary vary a bit from place to place -- most of us don't have special jargons, pidgins, and dialects at our disposal for when we want to have secret conversations in the presence of out-of-state visitors. Sure, what I might call a "potato bug" you might call a "rolly polly" or a "pill bug," but accents and minor regional idiosyncrasies aside, most Anglophone North Americans use approximately the same kind of English on a day-to-day basis. That is, of course, unless you're an old-timer from Boonville, California or pretty much anyone from Tangier, Virginia. Here are five spots in the U.S. with their own dialects, pidgins, and jargons.

1. Tangier Island, Virginia: High Tider

Virginia Beach Boardwalk

The tiny island of Tangier Island in Chesapeake Bay off the coast of Virginia is one of the more isolated areas of the United States, and here locals speak a brogue that’s often compared to Elizabethan English (though some might liken their speech to a cross between West Country and Cornish dialects of English). Although there are some vocabulary words unique to the area, the local way of speech — often referred to as High Tider (or the phonetic “Hoi Tider”) is more of an accent than a dialect, and if you pay close attention, you can usually grasp what locals are saying.

Virginia Hotel Pick: Stay in Virginia Beach at the Virginia Beach Resort Hotel and take a day trip to Tangier; first drive the scenic hour-and-a-half to Onancock, and board the ferry from there.

2. South Carolina and Georgia: Gullah

Myrtle Beach

Myrtle Beach

Also known as Geechee, Gullah is an English-based creole language that, like many Caribbean creole languages, is believed to have emerged among slave communities on plantations in the 18th and 19th centuries, potentially with some influence from other forms of English Creole originating in West Africa. To unaccustomed ears, it sounds a lot like Jamaican patois, but has it has plenty of its own unique words and turns of phrase. 

South Carolina Hotel Pick:

3. Boonville, California: Boontling

If you ever find yourself in the rural town of Boonville in California’s Mendocino County, try to eavesdrop on some old-timers; you might end up hearing a bit of the town’s disappearing jargon, known as Boontling. This secret language is estimated to have around 1,000 vocabulary words, and many common household items are named after local characters from days of yore. 

Mendocino County Hotel Pick: Fort Bragg’s rustic-luxe Inn at Newport Ranch is just over an hour’s drive from Boonville.

4. Louisiana: Cajun English

One of the better-known vernaculars in the United States, Cajun English is spoken primarily in Cajun communities in southern Louisiana. While it’s still English, it has certain pronunciation pattens not common to other parts of the U.S. (or even the region) — not to mention a good number of French words stemming from the Cajun people’s Acadian origins in francophone Canada.

Louisiana Hotel Pick:

5. Hawaii: Hawaiian Pidgin

Despite being brought under the fold of the United States, Hawaii has a culture and language all of its own. While both English and Hawaiian are official state languages, many use a hybrid language of the two in day-to-day speech known as Hawaiian Pidgin. Pidgin is believed to have emerged on sugar plantations, when people from around the world came to work alongside native Hawaiians. The language is many islanders’ mother tongue and includes not only English and Hawaiian influences, but also loan words from Japanese, Spanish, and Portuguese.

Hawaii Hotel Pick:

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