FIND OUT MORE ABOUT THE MARSTERS AND THEIR ISLAND
PALMERSTON      ROYAL CONNECTIONS      MARSTER OF ALL HE SURVEYS

The legacy of William Marsters lives on not only in his descendants, but also in the way they speak.   Journalists, academics and casual visitors to Palmerston have remarked down the years about the distinctive dialect of the islanders which harks back to the founding father's orgins in England. 

It's been described as  "an old Midlands drawl"  and although we now know William was born in Leicestershire, it most closely resembles a Gloucestershire accent according to lingusistics experts.   But they also say that, despite the incredible isolation of the island, the accent is gradually fading away through outside influences, including the ubiquitous video recorder!

Miseron with Walcot
This is the main street today in the sleepy little English parish of Misterton with Walcot in Leicestershire - birthplace of Richard Masters as he was known then.  And it's the accent of this area and the towns and villages around it that William (as he became) took with him to Palmerston.  
1956 newspaper
1956:  'Sun Herald'  (Sydney, Australia)
A SLOW DRAWL
Australian journalist, Jack Percival visited Palmerston in 1956 to talk to islanders about atomic testing in the South Pacific.  "The language they all speak, " he wrote, "is broad English Midlands with a quaintly old fashioned dialect".  And he attributed that to founding father, William.  "Marsters established his own school and insisted from the start that every child must learn English.   That is why the dark skinned descendants now speak old Midlands with a slow drawl".   He also remarked on some 'colourful' language that harked back to the seafaring origins of their ancestor...expressions like "Coom aft lad" and "B----- the sharks! Into the bluudy sea with them". 


Location map
THE EXPERT'S VIEW
A unique atlas of languages* includes the definitive study of Palmerston English.  One of the world's leading linquists, Sabine Ehrrhart- Kneher visited the island in 1992 and noted: "The Palmerston people are proud to speak 'the most British English' of the Cook Islands and they try to limit the number of Maori words in everyday life, especially if there is an English equivalent....A great number of English origin are either historical or dialectal remnants of the first William's speech..."

"Videos killing the Marsters legacy"
She describes traditional Palmerston English as having "a very special chanting melody" with characteristics of the accent of Gloucestershire in England.   But she also notes that it has evolved over the generations due to increased contacts with Rarotonga English, New Zealand English...and due to the videos that are watched almost every night in all the houses!

* "Atlas of Languages of Intercultural Communication in the Pacific, Asia and the Americas"  volume II.I, published by Walter de Gruyter, 1996






1959 newspaper
1959: Daily Mirror (UK)
QUAINT AND DISTINCTIVE
A special feature in the UK's "Daily Mirror" newspaper in 1959 told the William Marsters story.  Within it, we learn: "to this day, all Marsters speak with a quaint, old fashioned vocabulary and a distinctive Gloucestershire accent".  

But if you prefer to trust an academic more than a journalist, a study paper proposal* from the University of Victoria, British Colombia of 1982 explains that "the modern population speaks with an old English (Gloucetershire) accent.   Due to the isolation, the Palmerston dialect contains many words that have long been out of use elsewhere". 


BROAD WEST COUNTRY
English missionary, Bernard Thorogood worked in the Islands in the 1950s and recalls his surprise at hearing English spoken by the Palmerston islanders.  In his book "Not Quite Paradise" (London Missionary Society, 1960), he says "everyday speech is a queer brand of English, spattered with archaisms".  Although he doesn't speculate about the type of accent, one particular example he gives includes a phrase that's broad English West country.  Older folk, recalling some of the terrifying hurricanes of the past tell him: "When the seas came roaring across the islet, the cry was 'Oop the marntain', and up the mountain they all went."
Marsters of Palmerston page header
The linguistic legacy
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