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Newfoundland English

Newfoundland English is a name for several dialects of English found in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, often regarded as the most distinctive dialect of English in Canada. Some specific Newfoundland dialects are similar to the accent heard in the southeast of Ireland (See Wexford and Waterford), while others are similar to those of West Country England, or a combination of both, mainly due to mass immigration from a limited number of ports in those specific regions.

These separate dialects developed because of Newfoundland's history as well as its geography. Newfoundland was one of the first areas settled by England in North America, beginning in small numbers in the early 1600s before peaking in the early 1800s. Newfoundland was a British colony until 1907 when it became an independent Dominion within in the British Empire and did not become a part of Canada until 1949. Newfoundland is an island in the Atlantic Ocean, separated by the Strait of Belle Isle from Labrador, the sparsely populated mainland part of the province. Most of the population remained rather isolated on the island, allowing the dialects time to develop independently of those on the North American continent.

Newfoundland English was recognized as a separate dialect by the late 1700s when George Cartwright published a glossary of Newfoundland words.

Phonological and grammatical features

Some Newfoundland English differs from General Canadian English in vowel pronunciation (e.g., in much of Newfoundland, the words fear and fair are homophones), in morphology and syntax (e.g., in Newfoundland the word bes [bees] is sometimes used in place of the normally conjugated forms of to be to describe continual actions or states of being, as in that rock usually bes under water instead of that rock usually is under water, but normal conjugation of to be is used in all other cases; bes is likely a carryover of Irish grammar into English), and in preservation of archaic adverbial-intensifiers (e.g., in Newfoundland that play was right boring and that play was some boring both mean "that play was very boring"). Dialect can vary markedly from community to community, as well as from region to region, reflecting ethnic origin as well as a past in which there were few roads and many communities, and fishing villages in particular remained very isolated.

Other marked characteristics of Newfoundland English include the loss of dental fricatives (voiced and voiceless th sounds) in many varieties of the dialect (as in many other nonstandard varieties of English); they are usually replaced with the closest voiced or voiceless alveolar stop (t or d). The dialect also includes nonstandard or innovative features in verb conjugation. In many varieties, the third-person singular inflection is generalized to a present tense marker; for example, the verb "to like" is conjugated I likes, you likes, he/she/it likes, we likes, you likes, and they likes. (And in some communities on the island's northeast coast, you (singular), you (plural), and they become dee, ye, and dey, respectively.)

In a move almost certainly taken from Hiberno-English and influenced by the Irish language, speakers avoid using the verb to have in past participles, preferring formulations including after, such as I'm after telling him to stop instead of I have told him to stop.

The merger of diphthongs [ai] and [ɔi] to [ɑi] (an example of the line-loin merger) is extensive throughout Newfoundland and is a significant feature of Newfoundland English.

In Newfoundland English the affirmative yeah is made with an inhalation rather than an exhalation. This is an example of a rare pulmonic ingressive phone.

To non-Newfoundlanders, speakers of Newfoundland English may seem to speak faster than speakers of General Canadian. This perceived tempo difference may be a coupling of subtle pronunciation differences and unusual sayings and can be a contributing factor to the difficulty non-Newfoundlanders sometimes experience with the dialect.

Other languages and dialects which have influenced Newfoundland English

There is also a dialect of French centred mainly on the Port au Port Peninsula on the west coast of the island which has had an impact on the syntax of English in the area. One example of these constructs unique to Newfoundland is Throw grandpa down the stairs, his hat, in which the hat makes the trip, not the grandfather. Another is the use of French reflexive constructions in sentences such as the reply to a question like Where are you going?, reply: Me I'm goin' downtown (this reflexive form of grammar also exists in Irish Gaelic).

Newfoundland French was deliberately discouraged by the Newfoundland government through the public schools during the mid-20th-century, and only a small handful of mainly elderly people are still fluent in the French-Newfoundland dialect. In the last couple of decades, many parents in the region have demanded and obtained French education for their children, but this would be Standard French education and does not represent a continuation of the old dialect per se. Some people living in the Codroy Valley on the south-west tip of the island are also ancestrally Francophone, but represent Acadian settlers from the Maritime Provinces of Canada who arrived during the 19th century. This population has also lost the French language.

The greatest distinction between Newfoundland English and General Canadian English is its vocabulary. It includes some Inuit and First Nations words (for example tabanask, a kind of sled), preserved archaic English words no longer found in other English dialects (for example pook, a mound of hay), Irish Language survivals like sleveen and angishore, compound words created from English words to describe things unique to Newfoundland (for example stun breeze, a wind of at least 20 knots (37 km/h)), English words which have undergone a semantic shift (for example rind, the bark of a tree), and unique words whose origins are unknown (for example diddies, a nightmare).

Deterioration of the dialectic distinctiveness

Newfoundland English dialects are steadily losing their distinctiveness through the action of the mass media and an education system that has traditionally regarded the dialect as a backward corruption of "proper" English. This perception occurs in both the public and private sectors of the system. Institutional education steadily became more and more available and normative after Confederation in 1949. This encouraged many Newfoundlanders, particularly in the urban centres, to take steps to ensure their children spoke in a fashion similar to their mainland counterparts lest they be perceived as inferior. This is not to suggest the transformation was always viewed as a necessarily coerced response. Rather, many Newfoundlanders embraced the notion of the inferiority of the dialect in favour of "proper English" as they moved toward an economic system closer to those of the Canadian Mainland. It is tempting to speculate that these persons attached the dialect to a way of life that appeared to be economically untenable and fading fast. In other words, the dialect has fallen victim to notions of "progress". In general, each generation speaks a dialect of English closer to General Canadian though it is significant to note that this trend is far more pronounced in the urban centres. The employment of strict General Canadian can actually hinder the speaker's ability to effectively socially mesh in rural areas as it signifies that the speaker is closely attached with the social structures of the non-rural world. The speaker runs the risk of being treated as a non-community member for an extended period. Pride in Newfoundland language and culture has also encouraged a conscious retention of some obvious Newfoundlandisms, however, and speakers can often be observed switching between standard Canadian English for formal settings and language closer to Newfoundland English for personal communication.

Indeed, the transformation of Newfoundland English offers a case study of the politics of language. On the one hand, Newfoundlanders have learned that to be taken seriously in institutional settings connected to off island structures standard Canadian English is necessary. This also occurred in the pre-confederation period though the adopted dialect was closer to British English reflecting the political circumstances of the day. On the other hand, use of Newfoundland English is used to establish common political identity with other Newfoundlanders in a fashion unavailable to non-Newfoundlanders who have yet to be accepted into the local cultural community. This manner of using language can be readily observed in other socially marginalized populations including persons of African descent in the United States, persons of aboriginal descent from rural areas and persons originating from lower strata in the social class structure in a general sense. Each group must learn to speak the language of the dominant group yet may also derive social benefits from retaining the original dialect when interacting with fellow group members. This perspective lends credence to the complex and contentious argument that Newfoundlanders resemble what conventional wisdom posits as a discrete and unique "ethnic group" quite separate from the ethnicity of the larger population.

Newfoundland English expressions

In recent years, the most commonly noted Newfoundland English expression might be Whadd'ya at? (What are you at?), loosely translated to "How's it going?" or "What are you doing?" Coming in a close second might be How's she cuttin'? to which one often responds Like a knife (the question/greeting is a phrase still current in the Irish midlands although it is often pronounced as cudding and rarely if ever responded to with such a literal answer).

Other colourful local expressions include:

  • Eh b'y?: How's it going?
  • Where ya to?: Where are you?
  • Stay where you're to till I comes where you're at.: "Wait there for me."
  • Get on the go: "Let's go" (also, a common euphemism for partying, on the go by itself can also refer to a relationship- similar to a dating stage, but more hazy.)
  • You knows yourself: Responding to statement in agreement.
  • Yes b'y: Expression of awe or disbelief
  • What are ye at?: "What are you doing?"
  • I wants to check me email, but the dates is wrong b'y!: This shows several dialectal items, third person verb forms; me instead of my as the possessive pronoun; and b'y, explained below.
  • Wha?: A general expression meaning, "what?" The length of the vowel sound varies.
  • Luh!: this is used to draw attention to something or someone, often by pointing. It is a variant of "Look!"
  • Go a'way b'y!: meaning, "No, really?" or "Are you joking?"

(Some examples taken from A Biography of the English Language by C.M. Millward)

Also of note is the widespread use of the term b'y as a common form of address. It is shorthand for "boy", but is used variably to address members of either sex. Another term of endearment, often spoken by older generations, is me ducky, used when addressing a female in an informal manner, and usually placed at the end of a sentence which is often a question (Example: How's she goin', me ducky?). Also pervasive as a sentence ending is right used in the same manner as the Canadian eh or the American huh or y'know. Even if the sentence would otherwise be a non-question, the pronunciation of right can sometimes make it seem like affirmation is being requested.

Certain words have also gained prominence amongst the speakers of Newfoundland English. For instance, a large body of water that may be referred to as a "lake" elsewhere, can often (but not uniformly) be referred to as a pond. In addition, a large landmass that rise high out of the ground, regardless of elevation, is referred to unwaveringly as a "hill". Yet there is a difference between a hill and a big hill.

Another major characteristic of some variants of Newfoundland English is adding the letter 'h' to words that begin with vowel sounds, or removing 'h' from words that begin with it. In some districts, the term house commonly is referred to as the "ouse," for example, while "even" might be said "h'even." The idiom "'E drops 'is h in 'Olyrood and picks en up in H'Avondale." is often used to describe this using the eastern towns Holyrood and Avondale as examples. There are many different variations of the Newfoundland dialect depending on geographical location within the province. It is also important to note that Labrador has a very distinct culture and dialect within its region.

Other

Although it is referred to as "Newfoundland English" or "Newfinese", Newfoundland is not the only place which uses this dialect. An area near the Labrador border, the Lower North Shore of Quebec, also use this form of speaking. Younger generations of this area have adapted the way of speaking, and created some of their own expressions. Some older generations that speak Newfoundland English, but it is more commonly used by the younger generations. B'y is one of the most common terms used in this area.

References

See also

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