Monday, September 20, 2010

How to Speak Newfoundlandish

If you thought it was enough to speak English and French to travel around Canada, think again.  There's an island outpost, way off the East Coast, where they speak an entirely different language.  It's related to English, to be sure, but at times it sounds not very much like it at all.

I'm talking about Newfoundland.  You'll have read my last post, dear reader, about the whys and wherefores of my love of this particular corner of Canada (if you haven't read the post, go back and read it, and try to stay up to date in future!).  Part of its charm is the Newfy dialect, with its own unique pronunciations and words and sayings.  There are whole dictionaries devoted to the translation between Newfy and English, I kid you not.

What makes it so unique, you ask?  Read on and find out.

Consider the origins first.  Newfoundland is one of the earliest-settled parts of North America, and because of the isolation of most of the outport villages, speech patterns were largely preserved from the earliest arrivals on down.  Linguists have been known to visit the province just to study their speech – if you want to know what an Irish or Scottish or Cornish person sounded like a few hundred years ago, there`s probably a remote corner of Newfoundland where they still speak that way, just as their ancestors did when they first crossed the Atlantic.

And it`s an island, to boot.  Island people tend (if I may generalize) to take pride in their “differentness”, in anything that makes them unlike the rest of the world.  And until air travel became affordable and commonplace, Newfoundland was a difficult enough place to get to that the outside world probably left them largely alone.

Whatever the reasons, it’s entertainment in itself just to walk the streets of a Newfie village and listen to people talk.  On my recent trip, we sometimes found ourselves asking each other, “What did they say?  Did you understand that?”  It’s that different.

Not so much in St. John’s – the “townie” accent is still noticeably different than a central Canadian (even my friend Janette’s, after 20 years in Ontario, particularly after she’s had a few glasses of Scotch).  But it’s in the smaller places and the more remote parts of the province that “Newfoundlandish” really comes into its own.

Here’s your primer – 10 steps to sounding like a Newfie. Well, the outport version anyway -  also known as “baymen”, regardless of gender.  Distinguished from “townies”, who are from St. John’s (If you want to sound like a “townie”, I’ll introduce you to Janette).
1. The letter "H":   Drop your “aitches” from the words that start with one, also pronounced “haitches” depending on which bit of the province you’re in.  (I think it used to be a Catholic/Protestant thing.)  And throw in an aitch/haitch (“H”) on words beginning with vowels.  Easiest to observe in the northwestern tip of Newfoundland, where our guide at L’Anse-aux-Meadows spoke of “hicebergs” and “harrows” and “hiron” as he regaled us with Viking tales.

2.  "Ing" versus "In' ":  Drop the “g” from any words ending with “ing”.  “Going” becomes “goin’ ”, “drinking” becomes “drinkin’ ”.

3.  Lose the "th":  “Th” is always pronounced “t” or “d”.  For example, “They go to the pub for drinks” becomes “Dey goes to de pub fer drinkin’ ”.  Which leads me to the next rule ...

4.  Verbs:  Conjugate your verbs differently.  “To go” is not “I go, you go, he/she goes, we go, they go”, it is:  “I goes, you goes, he/she goes, we goes, they goes”.  Past tense often uses this version of present tense:  for example, instead of “So I said to him ...”, you’d say “So I says to ‘im ...”.

5.  Terms of address:  If you’re referring to a man, call him “buddy dere” (“buddy what’s-his-name” for extra points) or “feller-me-lad”.  If speaking to a man or a woman, call them “my love” or “my darling”, regardless of how well you know them.  (Don’t worry, they won’t think you’re hitting on them.)  If speaking to a man, you may also call him “boy” (pronounced “bye”) or “me son” (“my son” – does not denote parenthood).  A woman may also be “me ducky”.

6.  Vowels:  Stretch out your vowels.  “Jesus” becomes more like “Jaysus”, “St. John’s” is pronounced more like “St. Jaaaaahhhn’s”, and “I” becomes sort of a cross between “Oi” and “Aye”.   This also applies to people’s names; for example, it is “Jaaarge” not “George”.  Unless ....

7.  (Vowels, part 2) ... you’re saying the word “boy”, pronounced “bye” or “b’y”.  The vowel gets shortened, not drawn out.  Throw (“t’row”) in a few random “b’y” ’s at the end of your sentences and you’ll sound like a native.

8.  Speaking your mind:  If you want to swear, use a religious reference – “Jaysus, Mary ‘n’ Joseph”, or “Lord t’undering Jaysus”.  (They’re the Anglo equivalent of les Quebecois in this.)

9.  Speed:  Speak quickly and animatedly.  If “mainlanders” (people not from Newfoundland) can’t understand you, look at them pityingly and say, “You must be from away, eh?”  (“Away” denotes anywhere else.)

10.  Words and phrases:  Learn the vocabulary.  Some of my favourites:  “airsome” to denote “windy”, “where ya to?” instead of “where are you?”,  “tuckamore” for scrubby brush, and “all mops and brooms” for out-of-control hair (mine, usually).  And "some" or "right" instead of "very"; for example, you might say "What a beautiful view" in Ontarian, but in Newfoundlandish, you'd say something like "She's some pretty, b'y".

That’ll get you started, at least, although true mastery of the language -- enough to disguise the fact that you're "from away" -- may take years.  If going to the Rock, you may also wish to acquire a Newfoundland-to-English dictionary, to help you out.

Good luck and fair wedder (weather) to ya!

P.S. Forgot to add one important note:  how to prounounce the name of the island itself.  It is not "New-FOUND-land", as you may occasionally hear mainlanders referring to it.  Most correctly, it is "Newfun-LAND", although "NEWF-un-land" may also be permissable.

1 comment:

  1. This reminds me of when we went to hear the Nfld group Buddy Wasisname & the other fella..
    Here are three ladies ..all from Newfoundland.
    and our husbands from the mainland..(Ontario & British Columbia.).and each of us kept asking our husbands during the program.." What did he say?". For some strange reason our "mainlanders" could understand every word,, but we were having difficulty!
    It is too bad we didn't know you were there as we spent seven weeks..and attended two weddings..both our family relations.I have no doubt we could have gotten you in on some of the entertainment and fun !
    Check out my photos on facebook..and I will send you a link to the albums I have kept private.