The Island Community
Mersea Island is situated against the alluvial plains of north-east Essex at the point where the River Blackwater and River Colne meet the North Sea. The Romans, after settling on the island, exploited the island’s fresh water supply and established a thriving fishing industry.
At the turn of the twentieth century, the island had an approximate population of 1500 people whose “only link to the mainland was the Carrier Cart” (Jay 1999:1) and the island’s economy was centred on nautical activities, such as fishing and shipbuilding, but also included industries such as crop and dairy farming. However, the subsequent ten decades witnessed a huge upheaval of this traditional way of life to accommodate multiple housing developments (predominantly on the west side), causing the population to rise to approximately 6750 (Jay 1999:2). The increased number of non-natives becoming permanent residents has also coincided with the growth of local tourism which results in a large influx of people representing a wide range of linguistic backgrounds and styles during, in particular, school holidays and the summer months.
Contemporary society has also seen an increase in the number of islanders educated and employed on the mainland. The latter can also be said to be contributing to a breakdown of local family businesses. This observation is also noted by Jay who, in 1996, wrote “at the present time, only one local shop remains trading under its family name” (1996:1). Consequently, the island’s development and expansion has meant the weakening of strong local bases, or norm-enforcing networks, and, as Milroy (1980) notes, it is the weaker networks which are more susceptible to linguistic change.