Meet the Americans Who Speak with Elizabethan English Accents: An Introduction to the “Hoi Toiders” from Ocracoke, North Carolina

I remember sitting in on a conversation with some old timers in the British village my parents grew up in, and one man remembered a time, very early on in the 20th century, where villages were so isolated you could tell where somebody was from in a radius of about 20 miles. That doesn’t exist so much these days, as radio, television, and now the internet exposes us more and more to accents at an early age.

So that’s why I found the above footage so fascinating. Taken from a documentary on regional accents (possibly this one) from the North Carolina coast, I could hear a bit of that East Anglia accent from my grandparents...but then a few words that sounded like Somerset or Devon in the south-west of England...and then some straight up southern American twang. And that was in one sentence! What’s going on here?

Isolation, that’s what. The island of Ocracoke has over the centuries developed its own dialect, “Hoi Toide” (as in “high tide”), that is also the name for a way of life. Even now, it takes a boat to reach the island--ferries only started arriving in 1957--and back in the 18th century it was a refuge for pirates.

One of them, William Howard, purchased the island in 1759 for £105, after King George I pardoned all pirates. Ocracoke, its name already a bastardization of a Native American word, became a fishing community, a mix of English, Scottish, and Irish settlers, natives, and pirates. The resulting mish-mash of borrowed and made-up words, along with pirate slang, make Hoi Toide one of the few American dialects not identified as American, as it also has its own peculiar grammar.

With a population of just over 900, Ocracoke has its own pace to life, which does attract tourists trying to get away from it all. As this BBC article points out:

Instead of cinemas, there are outdoor theatre groups. Local teashops, spice markets and other family-owned stores take the place of chain supermarkets. Cars are allowed on the 16 mile-long island, but most people just park them and walk everywhere. The island’s children all attend one school, while residents work as everything from fishermen to brewery owners to woodworkers.

Modern life is threatening the dialect, inevitably so, even as the community remains close-knit. By all accounts it will be gone in a few more generations, so let’s celebrate this particularly American brogue, born out of necessity, individuality, and most importantly, a lovely melting pot.

Related Content:

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Ted Mills is a freelance writer on the arts who currently hosts the artist interview-based FunkZone Podcast and is the producer of KCRW's Curious Coast. You can also follow him on Twitter at @tedmills, read his other arts writing at and/or watch his films here.

Traditional Inuit Thoat Singing and the Modern World Collide in This Astonishing Video

Let’s just get this out of the way…

Musically speaking, Inuit throat singing—or katajjaqis not going to be everyone’s cup of tea.

For all those who find this traditional form mesmerizing, there are others who get antsy with no lyrics or easily discernible melody on which to hang their hat, or who experience the bleak sound of the Arctic wind coupled with the singers’ preliminary breathing as a horror movie soundtrack.

If, as a member of one of the latter camps, you feel inclined to bail after a minute or so of Wapikoni Mobile’s Sundance-endorsed video above—you get it, it’s something akin to Mongolian or Tuvan throat-singing, it’s circular breathing, there’s a lot of picturesque snow up therewe beg you to reconsider, on two counts.

1) In an era of autotuned "everyone’s-a-star" perfection, Katajjaq is a hearty hold-out, a community-spirited singing game whose competitors seek neither stardom nor riches, but rather, to challenge themselves and amuse each other without screens throughout the long winter nights.

Practitioner Evie Mark breaks it down thusly:

One very typical example is when the husbands would go on hunting trips.  The women would gather together when they have nothing to do, no more sewing to do, no more cleaning to do, they would just have fun, and one of the ways of entertaining themselves is throat-singing.

It goes like this. Two women face each other very closely, and they would throat sing like this:

If I would be with my partner right now, I would say A, she would say A, I would say A, she would say A, I say C, she says C.  So she repeats after me.  It would be a sort of rolling of sounds.  And, once that happens, you create a rhythm.  And the only way the rhythm would be broken is when one of the two women starts laughing or if one of them stops because she is tired.  It's a kind of game.  We always say the first person to laugh or the first person to stop is the one to lose.  It's nothing serious.  Throat singing is way of having fun.  That's the general idea, it's to have fun during gatherings.  It is also a way to prove to your friends around you or your family that if you are a good throat-singer, you're gonna win the game.

Throat-singing is a very accurate technique in a sense that when you are singing fast, the person who is following the leader has to go in every little gap the leader leaves for her to fill in.  For instance, if I was to say 1 + 1 + 1 + 1, the ones being what I sing and the pluses the gaps, she would go in-between the ones, singing on the pluses.  Then, if I change my rhythm, this woman has to follow that change of rhythm and fill in the gaps of that new rhythm.  She has to be very accurate.  She has to have a very good ear and she has to follow visually what I am doing.

Throat singing is not exactly easy on your diaphragm.  You are using a lot of your muscles in your diaphragm for breathing in and breathing out.  I have to find a space between sounds to breath in in order for me to throat-sing for 20 minutes or more.  20 minutes has been my maximum length of time to throat-sing.  You have to focus on your lungs or your diaphragm.  If you throat-sing using mainly breathing, you are gonna hyperventilate, you're gonna get dizzy and damage your throat.

2) The video, starring Eva Kaukai and Manon Chamberland from Kangirsuk in northern Québec (population: 394), deflates conventional notions of traditional practices as the provenance of somewhere quaint, exotic, taxidermied…

Beginning around the 90-second mark, the singers are joined by a drone that surveys the surrounding area. Viewers get a glimpse of what their Arctic homeland looks like in the warm season, as well as some hunters flaying their kill prior to loading it into a late model pick up, presumably bound for a building in a wholly suburban seeming neighborhood, complete with telephone poles, satellite dishes, andgaspelectric light.

Via Aeon

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC for the new season of her monthly book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday


“Don’t Try”: The Philosophy of the Hardworking Charles Bukowski

If Charles Bukowski were alive today, what would you ask him? Best to avoid the standard questions put to writers about how or why they chose to become writers — not just because Bukowski would surely respond with a few colorfully choice words of dismissal, but because he embodied the lack of choice that characterizes the life of every serious creator. According to the Pursuit of Wonder video essay above, Bukowski dropped out of college halfway through in order to write. After a period spent "bouncing around the United States, doing short-term blue-collar jobs while writing hundred of short stories," none of which broke him into the literary big time, came a highly unproductive period of blue-collar jobs without the accompanying writing.

At the end of a writing-free decade, Bukowski "nearly died from a serious bleeding ulcer." This got him back on track, as brushes with mortality tend to do: he subsequently quit his job at the post office and returned to writing full-time. It was only a few years before he went back to work at the post office, but this time he kept writing, putting in the real work at the typewriter before each shift at the day job. He did so without the prospect of success anywhere in the offing, at least not before he reached middle age. "It took Bukowski years and years of writing and toiling and trying to finally have circumstances work out in his favor so he could gain traction and find success as a writer," says the video's narrator. And yet, as we've previously noted here at Open Culture, into Bukowski's gravestone are chiseled these words: "Don't try."

"How could a man who became successful in fulfilling his idea of himself — a man who, although it took a while, found immense respect and recognition for his craft, all because of his relentless trying — how could this man leave the words don't try as his final offering?" We might interpret them in light of a letter from Bukowski to a friend, the writer and publisher William Packard. "Too many writers write for the wrong reasons," declared Bukowski. "They want to get famous or they want to get rich or they want to get laid by the girls with the bluebells in their hair... When everything goes best, it's not because you chose writing, but because writing chose you." Bukowski didn't decide to be a writer; nobody actually dedicated to a pursuit ever had to decide which pursuit it would be.

"We work too hard. We try too hard," Bukowski writes to Packard. "Don't try. Don't work. It's there. Looking right at us, aching to kick out of the closed womb." He may have meant, as the video's narrator puts it, that "if you have to try to try, if you have to try to care about something or have to try to want something, perhaps you don't care about it, and perhaps you don't want it." And "if the thought of not doing the thing hurts more than the thought of potentially suffering through the process, if the thought of a life without it or never having tried it at all terrifies you, if it comes to you, through you, out of you, almost as if you're not trying, perhaps Bukowski might say here, try, and 'if you're going to try, go all the way.'" That quote comes from Bukowski's novel Factotum — the story of a writer in search of blue-collar work that won't get in the way of his one true craft — and we might do well to take it one sentence further: "Otherwise, don’t even start."

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Is Charles Bukowski a Self-Help Guru? Hear Five of His Brutally Honest, Yet Oddly Inspiring, Poems and Decide for Yourself

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Steve Martin on How to Look at Abstract Art

The standard “anyone could do that” response to abstract art generally falls apart when the person who says it tries their hand at making something like a Kandinsky or Miró. Not only were these artists highly trained in techniques and materials, but both possessed their own specific theories of abstract art—the role of line, color, shape, negative space, etc., along with grander ideas about the role of art itself. Few of us walk around with such considered opinions and the ability to turn them into artworks. The abstraction begins in the mind before it reaches the canvas.

For his appearance on the Museum of Modern Art and BBC web series The Way I See It, Steve Martin chose two obscure American abstract artists who perfectly illustrate the relationship between the theory and practice of abstraction.

“I don’t generally care about theories,” Martin says. "They kind of get in the way of looking at the picture. But I think the result of working from a theory can be fantastic.” We may not need to know that these two artists, Morgan Russell and Stanton Macdonald Wright, painted in accordance with a theory they called Synchromism, but it certainly helps.

“The resulting paintings, called Synchromies,” explains The Art Story, “used the color scale in the way notes might be arranged in a musical piece. As the two artists wrote, 'Synchromism simply means 'with color' as symphony means 'with sound'....” And as composer and pianist Jason Moran demonstrates in his The Way I See It episode, above, Piet Mondrian went even further in this direction with his Broadway Boogie Woogie, which represents, in its arrangement of colored squares, the very essence of the musical form from which it takes its title. Moran can even play the painting like a musical score.

The kind of abstraction Martin and Moran gravitate toward turns sound into visual pleasure and stimulates the thinking mind. Commenting on one of his selections, Martin says, “I think of this as an intellectual painting.” When it came time for John Waters to make his choice, he went for the gut (and the unconscious), with “a giant, two-paneled painting of a hammer," he says, "a very butch painting by a heterosexual woman. I love the idea of how scary it is and how powerful.” It’s an image, he says, that reminds him of personal trauma—though nothing so gruesome as one might think.

Waters seeks a kind of catharsis from art by looking at work that scares him. Lee Lozano’s untitled 1963 painting, he says, is “threatening…. All the art I like makes me angry at first…. That’s part of its job, to make you angry.” Paintings of this size have traditionally been “reserved for lofty subjects,” notes the MoMA. “In this painting—and in others, of wrenches, clamps, and screwdrivers—Lozano weds the mundane with the grand.” As Waters delightedly points out, her work, like his own, deals a heavy blow, pun intended, to canons of taste.

The Way I See It series acts as a teaser for a BBC podcast of the same name, which interviews 30 creatives and scientists on their responses to pieces of art in the MoMA’s collection. See more of these short videos at the MoMA’s YouTube channel. Download episodes of the podcast here.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Why Should We Read William Shakespeare? Four Animated Videos Make the Case

Sooner or later, we all encounter the plays of William Shakespeare: whether on the page, the stage, or—maybe most frequently these days—the screen. Over four hundred years after his death, Shakespeare is still very much relevant, not only as the most recognizable name in English literature, but also perhaps as its most famous storyteller, even if we don’t recognize his hand in modern adaptations that barely resemble their originals.

But if we can turn Shakespeare’s plays into other kinds of entertainment that don’t require us to read footnotes or sit flummoxed in the audience while actors make archaic jokes, why should we read Shakespeare at all? He can be profoundly difficult to understand, an issue even his first audiences encountered, since he stuffed his speeches not only with hundreds of loan words, but hundreds of his own coinages as well.

The criticism of Shakespeare’s difficulty goes back to his earliest critics. Seventeenth-century English poet John Dryden declared that the playwright “had undoubtedly a larger soul of poesy than every any of our nation.” In the plays, we find “all arts and sciences, all moral and natural philosophy." And yet, even Dryden could write, in 1664, that Shakespeare's language was “a little obsolete,” and that “in every page [there is] either some solecism of speech, or some notorious flaw in sense.” (These issues are sometimes, but not always, attributable to scribal error.)

“Many of his words,” wrote Dryden, “and more of his phrases, are scarce intelligible. And of those which we understand, some are ungrammatical, others coarse; and his whole style is so pestered with figurative expressions, that it is as affected as it is obscure.” Seems harsh. How could such a writer not only survive but become an almost godlike figure in literary history?

Maybe it’s all that “poesy." Shakespeare is surely one of the most musical writers in the language. Read his speeches to children—they will listen with rapt attention without understanding a single word. It is better that we encounter Shakespeare early on, and learn to hear the music before we’re buffeted by exaggerated ideas about how hard he is to understand.

Written in a time when English was undergoing one of most rapid and radical shifts of any language in history, Shakespeare’s ingenious plays preserve a riot of borrowed, invented, and stolen words, of figures of speech both old- and new-fashioned, and of scholarly and popular ideas traveling through England on their way to and from a globalizing world. The torrents of verse that pour from his characters’ mouths give us the language at its most fluid, dynamic, and demotic, full of unparalleled poetic fugues crammed next to the roughness Dryden disliked.

This is the essence of the modern—of later Shakespearen successors like Samuel Beckett and James Joyce who freely mixed high and low and invented new ways of speaking. Why should we read Shakespeare? I can think of no more persuasive argument than Shakespeare’s language itself, which dazzles even as it confounds, and whose strangeness gives it such enduring appeal. But which plays should we read and why? The TED-Ed videos above from Iseult Gillespie, and below from Brendan Pelsue, make the case for four of Shakespeare greatest works: The Tempest, Hamlet, A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Macbeth.

Learn new facts about the plays, and why their tragedy and humor, and their copious amounts of murder, still speak to us across the gulf of hundreds of years. But most of all, so too does Shakespeare’s gloriously ornate poetry—even when we can barely understand it.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness.

Bill Gates Recommends Books for the Holidays

For the holiday season, Bill Gates has selected five book titles that you’ll hopefully enjoy reading. Here they are, listed in his own words:

An American Marriage, by Tayari Jones. My daughter Jenn recommended that I read this novel, which tells the story of a black couple in the South whose marriage gets torn apart by a horrible incident of injustice. Jones is such a good writer that she manages to make you empathize with both of her main characters, even after one makes a difficult decision. The subject matter is heavy but thought-provoking, and I got sucked into Roy and Celestial’s tragic love story.

These Truths, by Jill Lepore. Lepore has pulled off the seemingly impossible in her latest book: covering the entire history of the United States in just 800 pages. She’s made a deliberate choice to make diverse points of view central to the narrative, and the result is the most honest and unflinching account of the American story I’ve ever read. Even if you’ve read a lot about U.S. history, I’m confident you will learn something new from These Truths.

Growth, by Vaclav Smil. When I first heard that one of my favorite authors was working on a new book about growth, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it. (Two years ago, I wrote that I wait for new Smil books the way some people wait for the next Star Wars movie. I stand by that statement.) His latest doesn’t disappoint. As always, I don’t agree with everything Smil says, but he remains one of the best thinkers out there at documenting the past and seeing the big picture.

Prepared, by Diane Tavenner. As any parent knows, preparing your kids for life after high school is a long and sometimes difficult journey. Tavenner—who created a network of some of the best performing schools in the nation—has put together a helpful guidebook about how to make that process as smooth and fruitful as possible. Along the way, she shares what she’s learned about teaching kids not just what they need to get into college, but how to live a good life.

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker. I read a couple of great books this year about human behavior, and this was one of the most interesting and profound. Both Jenn and John Doerr urged me to read it, and I’m glad I did. Everyone knows that a good night’s sleep is important—but what exactly counts as a good night’s sleep? And how do you make one happen? Walker has persuaded me to change my bedtime habits to up my chances. If your New Year’s resolution is to be healthier in 2020, his advice is a good place to start.

Previous books recommended by Gates can be found in the relateds below.

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Summer 2014

Summer 2013

Malcolm Gladwell Admits His Insatiable Love for Thriller Novels and Recommends His Favorites

When Malcolm Gladwell appeared on The Joe Rogan Experience last month, he admitted something about himself that may surprise many of his readers. "I read so many thrillers," he says to Rogan toward the end of the conversation. "How many do I read a year? Fifty, sixty, seventy? You know when you go in the airport, into the Hudson News, and you see there's a whole wall of thrillers? I have read every single one." But it will surprise exactly none of his readers that he's also come up with a categorization system of thrillers: we all know what a "Western" is, but the Gladwell theory of thrillers also encompasses the distinct sensibilities of the "Eastern," the "Northern," and the "Southern."

A Western takes place in "a world in which there is no law and order, and a man shows up and imposes, personally, law and order on the territory, the community." An Eastern is "a story where there is law and order, so there are institutions of justice, but they have been subverted by people from within." In a Northern, "law and order exists, and law and order is morally righteous, the system works." (A prime example is, of course, Law and Order.) A Southern is "where the entire apparatus is corrupt, and where the reformer is not an insider but an outsider." Gladwell describes each and every John Grisham novel as a Southern, then hastens to add, "I love John Grisham." But he seems to have an even greater love for the modern-day Western in the form of Lee Child's Jack Reacher novels.

"The Reacher books are Westerns," Gladwell writes in a 2015 New Yorker piece. "The traditional Western was a fantasy about lawfulness: it was based on a longing for order among those who had been living without it for too long." But in today's world, where "we have too much order," our "contemporary fantasy is about lawlessness: about what would happen if the institutions of civility melted away and all we were left with was a hard-muscled, rangy guy who could do all the necessary calculations in his head to insure that the bad guy got what he had coming." Gladwell had already mentioned the Reacher books in the magazine once before: "Child’s B-pluses are everyone else’s A-pluses," he writes in a 2010 year-in-reading piece in which he describes himself as "first and foremost, a fan of thrillers and airport literature."

Gladwell also vouches for Stephen Hunter and his sniper hero Bob Lee Swagger ("They're fantastically well written," he says to Rogan of Hunter's work, also noting that "anything with the word 'sniper' in it is generally one of his books") as well as Olen Steinhauer and his "conflicted and neurotic and hopelessly sentimental" Milo Weaver. "I have — by conservative estimate — several hundred novels with the word 'spy' in the title," Gladwell tells the New York Times in a 2013 interview. That must owe in part to his status as a longtime fan of John le Carré's novels starring unassuming British intelligence office George Smiley. "I’d like to go for a long walk on the Hampstead Heath with George Smiley," Gladwell says. "It would be drizzling. We would end up having a tepid cup of tea somewhere, with slightly stale biscuits. I would ask him lots of questions about Control, and he would evade them, gracefully."

Gladwell discusses le Carré's The Spy Who Came In from the Cold, the 1963 novel in which Smiley first appears, in an appearance this year on the podcast 3 Books. "It's simultaneously a spy thriller, a kind of critique of postwar England, a kind of critique of the world of espionage and the business of espionage, and an extraordinary and brilliantly bleak picture of human nature," he says, naming as one of the novel's innovations its portrayal of Western and Communist spy operations as "essentially equivalent," whereas "previously these kinds of books had good guys and bad guys." But whatever its particular strengths, "for those of us who tell stories for a living, a good thriller is incredibly instructive." Being "overwhelmingly about plot," the thriller genre holds each plot to a high standard, and "when somebody manages to pull it off successfully, that's intellectually of enormous interest to a storyteller."

Asked recently by the Guardian to name a book that changed his life, Gladwell came up with Agatha Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. "I was 12 or so when I read it," he says. "I will never forget the sheer delicious shock of that ending, and realizing – maybe for the first time – that it was possible to tell a story in a way that made the reader gasp. I’ve been chasing that same result (not nearly as successfully) ever since." And like any addict, he's surely been chasing that Christie-induced first gasp as a reader ever since. Hence his seemingly comprehensive knowledge of the work of le Carré, Steinhauer, Hunter, Child, and all the other thriller and mystery writers he tends to brings up when asked, a group including names like Iain Pears and David Ignatius. To Gladwell's mind, they all have much to teach us — even if the stories we tell involve muscular vigilantism and international espionage less than they do meritocracy and spaghetti sauce.

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

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