Harkers Island, NC

About the Site

Harkers Island, which is part of a string of islands known as the Outer Banks, is a Core Banks island community located off the coast of North Carolina. Harkers Island was isolated for a couple of centuries before an access bridge in the 1940s connected it with the mainland coastal South. Thus, the dialect of the islanders existed in almost complete isolation for two and a half centuries prior to World War II. Today, Harker's Island is home to approximately 500 ancestral islanders, residents whose parents are from either Harker's Island or the neighboring Shackleford Banks and who have lived on the island most of their lives.

This island community differs from the rest of the Outer Banks in two major respects. One, unlike the other islands, the bridge, built in 1941, provides driving accessibility to the island. Secondly, the community is fairly conservative in comparison to the other islands, such as Ocracoke, both in terms of its socio-political ideology and its reaction to the tourist industry that has become the staple economy of the other Outer Banks islands. Unlike Ocracoke, whose economy is centered around the service-related tourism industry, Harkers Island maintains a number of small indigenous island trades including fishing, boat-building, and, more recently, decoy carving.

Research Questions

When outsiders visit Harkers Island, they are immediately struck by the language of the islanders. Many islanders, in turn, are very proud of the dialect they speak. Some visitors may even feel like they have entered a time warp in terms of the language spoken on Harkers Island. Harkers Island English, like other Outer Banks dialects and some Appalachian dialects in the western part of the state, retains some attributes of an older form of English as in the pronunciation of high tide as 'hoi toide,' along with its own unique developments. The retention of some of these older language features, coupled with the many years islanders were isolated from outsiders, come together to form a very unique dialect.