Voices of North Carolina

Voices of North Carolina


voices of ncFrom the Outer Banks to the Smoky Mountains, the people of North Carolina are unique, and so are the languages they speak. A documentary produced by a prominent North Carolina State University linguist examines the state's diverse dialects and reveals how communities across the state are preserving their heritage through language.

Narrated by Bill Friday, Voices of North Carolina spotlights different regional and ethnic dialects across North Carolina. The documentary was produced under the direction of Dr. Walt Wolfram, William C. Friday Distinguished Professor of English at North Carolina State University. Featured dialects include the Cherokee language, Outer Banks brogue, Lumbee English and African-American English. The special also features vignettes on the unique dialects of North Carolina's mountain and city communities, and it highlights the growing Spanish-speaking population across the state.

"The most interesting thing about dialects is the way in which they reflect a culture," Wolfram says. "You could probably travel throughout the entire western part of the United States and not find dialect differences as distinct as you get within North Carolina."

Voices of North Carolina takes viewers into living rooms, front porches, schools, workplaces and gathering halls across the state, where people from all walks of life tell the stories of their unique heritage and language. Music is also central to the documentary and is as diverse as the dialects. Selections range from banjo pickin' to gospel to rap.

"We break the mold in documentary style," Wolfram says. "We don't function as experts, and we don't serve as tour guides. We let the people tell their stories."

The project was funded by a $74,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and with support from the North Carolina Language and Life Project. Wolfram's ultimate goal is to use material from the documentary to produce educational books and curriculum for use in North Carolina's public schools.

"Voices of North Carolina focuses on language, but it goes beyond language," Wolfram says.

Voices of North Carolina airs in conjunction with a national public television documentary titled Do You Speak American? The three-hour special features former journalist Robert MacNeil's narrative, cross-country cultural exploration of American English. Wolfram served as an advisor for Do You Speak American? and also provides on-camera commentary