- The Washington Times - Monday, May 15, 2000

FREDERICK, Md. You say "ee-ther" and I say "eye-ther," but on Smith Island, it literally means nothing.

As in: "I can feed you dinner, but I don't have either biscuits."

And if you're going downey ayshin (down to the ocean) from Clumya (Columbia), keep an eye out for pleece (police), hon.

The dialects of Maryland can charm, befuddle or infuriate. To Julie E. Ries, they fascinate.

The Towson University professor of communication sciences and disorders calls her study of the state's dialects "a kind of celebration of our linguistic diversity."

Tracing the roots of Maryland speech patterns is her hobby. Miss Ries' real job involves speech disorders in bilingual people. Her often-lighthearted lectures to community groups about Maryland dialects have a serious message.

"Linguistic prejudice can be the beginning of looking at other prejudices we have," she told members of the Historical Society of Frederick County last week.

"It is making judgments about people's worthiness, about their intelligence, about their educability, about their worth in every aspect, based on how they speak."

Rather than tuning out those whose speech sounds funny, Miss Ries suggests listening up. "Pretty soon, your smart language brain will figure out the patterns that they are using."

Maryland's first immigrants, in the mid-1600s, came mainly from the counties of Cornwall and Devon in southwestern England, she said. They settled in Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, and their twangy, nasal dialect survives largely unchanged on Smith Island, where crabbers use speech patterns barely intelligible to mainlanders.

On Smith Island, Miss Ries said, the word "hoist" sounds like "heist"; people don't "point," they "pint"; and you don't "launch" a boat, you "lanch" it.

Immigrants from Ireland, Scotland, Wales and Africa mostly slaves began arriving in Southern Maryland in the mid- to late 1600s, adding their vocabulary and accents to the mix. Familiar words including bogus, jiffy, moola and phoney are derived from West and Central African languages, Miss Ries said.

As people migrated north and west, their speech patterns mingled with those of German immigrants who had settled in Pennsylvania. Baltimore, founded in 1729, harbored a linguistic stew that grew more complex with influxes of German Jews in the early to mid-1800s, Eastern and Southern Europeans in the late 1800s and Greeks, Italians and Russian Jews in the early 1900s.

The Baltimore dialect called "Bawlmerese" includes vowel patterns that evolved mainly from the sounds of the early English immigrants and German speakers who accounted for a third of the city's population around the turn of the century, Miss Ries said.

Those vowel patterns turn words such as "leg" into "laig," "eagle" into "iggle," "fire" into "fahr," "house" into "hayuse" and "boil" into "bawl."

Bawlmerese also drops the weak syllables from polysyllabic words: "Baltimore" becomes "Bawlmer," for example or "Bawmer" if the speaker is playing fast and loose with "l's," another feature of the dialect.

The tendency to drop syllables is simply "natural economy," Miss Ries said. "You've only got so much air, you've only got so much moisture in your mouth, and you've got to keep your larynx well-lubricated."

Miss Ries said Maryland dialects of the future may reflect the influences of newer large immigrant groups, which include Hispanics and Asians.

"What causes dialects to change over time is intimate association with people with very different dialects," she said. "A living language is dynamic, always ever-changing."

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