This article presents an exploration of the discourse-level phenomenon known as ‘backwards talk’ in Smith Island, a small, endangered dialect community in Maryland’s Chespaeake Bay, on the U.S. mid-Atlantic coast. The article examines how backwards talk, basically pervasive, highly creative irony, compares with irony more generally; how it patterns across generations and contexts; how important it is to island residents, who view backwards talk as the defining feature of their dialect; and why the feature has gained such importance in the face of dialect loss - and potential loss of community continuity as well. Because backwards talk is irony, it has important solidarity functions. As playful, nonliteral language, it serves as a symbol of the performed ‘islandness’ that islanders increasingly take up as they come into more and more contact with outsiders. Finally, as a means of offering critical evaluation of outsiders, backwards talk can be seen as a form of anti-language or counterlanguage, with a central function of resistance against outside forces.

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