Volmares: Roots of the Central Maryland Urban Dialect

There are many lost languages in North America, including Apalachee, Mohawk Dutch, Tilamook, and Yurok. But some have not become completely extinct. A few hundred years ago in this very region, the original settlers of Baltimore practiced a very rich dialect that is still spoken in many areas in and around the city. It was in 1608 that Captain John Smith explored the upper Chesapeake Bay, specifically the area surrounding the Patapsco River, which means “backwater” in the Algonquian dialect.

The original settlers of that area blended their English with sounds from the local Algonquians, and that evolved into the dialect originally called, “Vol-ma-res” which in Algonquian, translates loosely into “Majestic Waters.” The settlers mimicked their language, right down to the pronunciation of Valmareese, and it is this Valmareese accent that has given the region around Baltimore City its rich lexicon and vibrant treat for the ear.

The diacritical marks have all but disappeared from the written language. Most notable among them is the ewmlaut (not to be confused with the German “umlaut”). The ewmlaut (pronounced “EWWM-lowt”), uses two backward slashes, typically over the vowels “O” or “U” (e.g. ȍ), also seen as a conjoined O and E or U and E, such as “Œ.” The “auhawn” diacritical mark is expressed as a small circle beneath the A (e.g. “ḁ”) and is typically pronounced as “ehhAY.”

An exception to most of these rules seems to be a diversion of the original Algonquian. When a U with an ewmlaut (an accented long U) follows certain consonants, everything after the U is slurred. The most widely known example is the English word, “ambulance.” In its original Algonquian, ambulance (any form of conveyance of the infirmed), would have been pronounced as AM-byu-lantz. As the language evolved into Valmareese, the pronunciation changed to Am-b’-lamps, and is still used widely throughout the urban centers of Baltimore.

All of these pieces have helped form the modern day dialect which evolved from the original Valmareese, into what is now called “Bawlmorese.” You may have heard traces of this dialect near the neighborhoods of Baltimore. For clarity, I’ll avoid all the diacritical marks in the following examples, but will attempt to phonetically express the sentences, although it is impossible to express Bawlmorese accurately in written form.

“Yewse awl better come ouwn in here an’ giyt yewur dinner, ouhr it’s gohna git cold.”

“Hey, did’a Owh-ri-oles win dere heome owhpener, th’other day?”

“When yewse hiear a amb’lamps*, yewse better pewhl owhver to da sahd of da rowhd.”

(* Also pronounced “am-blantz”)

“Hey Jimmie, bring me a glayss o’ wuhrter ouwt o’ tha zink.”

It is still very common to hear the Bawlmorese dialect in use even today. To hear it in its native glory, it’s best to visit the Hampden, Bel Air (also pronounced “B’lair), Canton, Fells Point, Locust Point, or Highlandtown (also pronounced “Hollin-town”) regions of the city, particularly diners, grocery stores, beauty shops, and lottery ticket sales terminals.

By now, you should realize that this whole thing is complete BS. But if you’ve made it this far down the page, “Awww. Gawd love ya, hon.”

Here’s a link to help you: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sa3Tl3t88Mc

 

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