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Newfoundland English

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Newfoundland English

Newfoundland English is a name for several accents and dialects of English found in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador. Most of these differ substantially from the English commonly spoken elsewhere in neighbouring Canada and the North Atlantic. Many Newfoundland dialects are similar to the West Country dialects of the West Country in England, particularly the city of Bristol and counties Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Hampshire and Somerset, while others resemble dialects of Ireland's southeast, particularly Waterford, Wexford, Kilkenny and Cork. Still others blend elements of both and there is also a Scottish [1] influence on the dialects - while the Scottish came in smaller numbers than the English and Irish, they had a large influence on Newfoundland society. One estimate claims 80 to 85 percent of Newfoundland's English heritage came from the southwest of the country. [2][3][4]

The dialects that comprise Newfoundland English 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 17th century[5] before peaking in the early 19th century. Newfoundland was a British colony until 1907 when it became an independent Dominion within the British Empire. It became a part of Canada in 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. Today, some words from Newfoundland English have been adopted through popular culture in other places in Canada (especially Ontario and eastward).

Historically, Newfoundland English was first recognized as a separate dialect by the late 18th century when George Cartwright published a glossary of Newfoundland words.

Other names for Newfoundland English

Newfoundland English is often humorously called Newfinese.[6] The term Newfie[7] is also sometimes used though it is sometimes considered pejorative when used by people from outside of Newfoundland.

Phonological and grammatical features

  • Newfoundland is a Rhotic accent like most of North America.
  • In much of Newfoundland, the words fear and fair are homophones. A similar phenomenon is found in the Norfolk dialect of East Anglia.
  • Newfoundland English often follows the Northern subject rule, a legacy of settlement from South East Ireland which in turn was influenced by Anglo-Irish settlement from Northern England into Ireland.[8]
  • The word bes [biːz] 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 is usually under water, but normal conjugation of to be is used in all other cases. Bes is likely a carryover of British Somerset usage with Irish grammar or Cornish.
  • archaic adverbial-intensifiers are preserved in Newfoundland (e.g., in Newfoundland that play was right boring and that play was some boring both mean "that play was very boring"). This kind of grammar is also retained in Northern English dialects such as Yorkshire and Geordie.
  • Newfoundland dialect is not homogenous and can vary markedly from community to community as well as from region to region. This reflects both ethnic origin as well as relative isolation. For many decades Newfoundland had very few roads connecting its many communities. Fishing villages in particular remained very isolated.
  • The loss of dental fricatives (voiced and voiceless th sounds) is characteristic 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). This is derived from Hiberno-English.
  • Newfoundland English 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.
  • In some communities on the island's northeast coast, you (singular), you (plural), and they correspond to ye, dee, and dey, respectively.
  • The use of ownership in Newfoundland English is characterized by replacing words like "My" or "Mine" with "Me", an older form common in Irish, Scottish, Northern English and Western English dialects. Such an example would be, "Where's me hat gone to?" as opposed to "Where is my hat?", or "Drop over me house we haves a cup of tea", as opposed to "Come to my house for a cup of tea".
  • The use of "to" to denote location is common in Newfoundland English. Where's that to? ("Where's that?"). This is a carryover from West Country dialects and is still common in southwest England, particularly Bristol.
  • 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. This is because in the Irish language there is no verb "to have", and more particularly because Irish Gaelic uses a construction using the words "Tar éis" (meaning "after") to convey the sense of "having just" done something. "Táim tar éis é a dhéanamh" meaning "I am just after doing it" or " I have just done it". Possession is indicated by "Ta ... agam" literally ".... is at me".
  • The merger of diphthongs [aɪ] and [ɔɪ] to [ɑɪ] (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 often made with an inhalation rather than an exhalation among the older generations. This is an example of a rare pulmonic ingressive phone.
  • In Newfoundland English, it is typical for a response to a metaphorical question like How's she cuttin'? with a dry, literal response.[9] A proper response to the foresaid question would be Like a knife. (the question/greeting of "How's she Cuttin'?" is a phrase still current in the Irish midlands and north and rarely if ever responded to with such a literal answer)
  • Newfoundland English traditionally lacked Canadian raising, however in the generations since its merger with Canada this has changed to some extent.
  • 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 that 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 found in Newfoundland is Throw grandpa down the stairs his hat, a dative construction 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 and Jerriais).

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).

Present and future status of the dialect

While some linguists hold that Newfoundland English dialects are steadily losing their distinctiveness through the action of the mass media, there is an alternate opinion held by some, including Gerard Van Herk, that the dialect is simply changing but not losing its distinction. The term 'b'y' is pronounced by some young speakers as 'bah'.[10]

Like many regional dialects, Newfoundland dialect has been unfairly discriminated against as sounding improper or uneducated, because it lacks a privileged position in its country. The Canadian education system has traditionally condemned the dialect as a backward corruption of "proper" English. This negative perception of Newfoundland dialect still occurs in both the public and private sectors of the system, though the dialect is increasingly being viewed as valuable heritage.

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 so-called "proper English" of the West–Central Canadian English variety 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, the younger half of Newfoundland's population speaks a dialect of English closer to General Canadian than older people, 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 of St. John's (known as "Town" to Newfoundlanders).

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 and speakers can often be observed switching between standard Canadian English for formal settings and Newfoundland English for personal communication. This is common in many countries in fact with distinct regional dialects, including Bavaria in Germany and Newcastle upon Tyne in England which both respectively speak dialects of their languages that are often difficult for 'standard' speakers to comprehend.

Newfoundland English is also often used to come off as humorous, light-hearted or endearing because of its old fashioned grammatical features and common use of pet terms. The accent has been used to comedic effect in some media, whether derogatorily or in endearment or nostalgia. In the late 2000s, the St John's rap group Gazeebow Unit was noted for its use, whether parodic metaparodic, of Newfoundland English in rap music.[11][12]

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 being able to speak standard Canadian English is necessary. 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 socially marginalized populations including persons of African descent in the United States, and persons of African descent from rural areas. 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 argument that Newfoundlanders resemble what conventional wisdom posits as a discrete and unique "ethnic group" quite separate from the ethnicity of the larger population, along with the fact Newfoundlanders came overwhelmingly from Southeast Ireland and Southwest England with only small inputs from France, Scotland, and northern and southeastern England.

Newfoundland English expressions

In recent years, the most commonly noted Newfoundland English expression might be Whadd'ya at? [13] (What are you at?), loosely translated to "How's it going?" or "What are you doing?" Coming in a close second might be "You're stunned as me arse, b'y," inferring incredible stupidity or foolishness to the person being spoken to.

Other local expressions include:

  • Eh, b'y (also spelled 'Aye b'y' and 'ay b'y', and sometimes said as 'yes b'y): shortened form of "yes, boy." It's a term used to agree with what someone is saying.[14] Can be used sarcastically.
  • Yes, b'y: Yes boy. It is an expression of awe or disbelief. Also commonly used sarcastically to mean yeah right. It is similar to "eh, b'y."
  • Where ya at?: Where are you?
  • Stay where you're to/at till I comes where ya're at/to.: Wait there for me
  • Get on the go: Let's go. It's 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. The term also refers to drinking ("gettin on the go tonight" - going out drinking tonight)
  • Havin' a time: having fun [15]
  • You knows yourself: Responding to statement in agreement.
  • What are ye at?, or Wadda ya'at b'y?: What are you doing?
  • Wah?: what?
  • Luh!: Look!
  • G'wan b'y!: Literally, "go on, b'y/boy?" Can be used as a term of disbelief or as sarcasm, like the term "No, really?"
  • Hows you gettin' on, cocky?: "How are you today?"
  • You're a nice kind young feller: "You are a nice person"
  • Me Son: a term of endearment, like "my friend" or "my bud."
  • Me ol' cock: another term of endearment like "my friend," "me son," or "my bud."
  • You're some crooked: You are grouchy
  • He[she/dey] just took off:, They left recently/quickly. Whether or not it denotes time depends on use of the word "just;" by not including "just" denotes speed, whereas using "just" denotes time.
  • Mudder or me mudder: mother
  • Fadder or me fadder: father
  • Contrary: Difficult to get along with.
  • After: "have." For example, "I'm after sitting down" for "I have sat down." it is also used like "trying" (i.e.: whaddya after doin' now?, "what have you done?")
  • Puttin'in: Referring to young women, from "putting in"
  • Oh me nerves: an expression of annoyance
  • Ducky: female friend or relative, used affectionately.
  • My love: female friend or relative
  • My treasure: female friend or relative. These three terms are used platonically.
  • Scopie: a nickname of a bottom feeding fish often found around coves
  • Rimmed/Warped: to be deformed or distorted in an unusable fashion. Often used to describe someone who is seen upon as weird or an outcast (i.e., She's rimmed, b'y).
  • Right: synonym for "very;" i.e.: "She's right pretty."
  • Scrob/Scrawb: a scratch on one's skin (i.e.: "The cat gave me some scrob, b'y" falling into disuse in lieu of scratch)
  • Gets on/Getting on, used to refer to how a person or group behaves (i.e. "You knows how da b'ys gets on" / "How's she getting on?")
  • On the go, To have something processing ("I've got an application on the go") or be in a relationship ("He's got some missus on the go")
  • Tits up in the rhubarb!: falling over, tripping, passing out (due to intoxication)

(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", (and is a turn of phrase particularly pronounced with the Waterford dialect of Hiberno-Irish) 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?) -- a phrase also found in East Midlands British English. 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 rises 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.


Although it is referred to as "Newfoundland English" or "Newfinese", Newfoundland is not the only place which uses this dialect. The southern coast of Labrador (the nearest point of Labrador to Newfoundland) and an area near the Labrador border, the Basse-Côte-Nord 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 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.

It is also common to hear Newfoundland English in Yellowknife, Southern Alberta and Fort McMurray, Alberta, places to which many Newfoundlanders have moved or commute regularly for employment.

Newfoundland English is also used frequently in the city of Cambridge ON. This is due the high Newfoundland (mostly from Bell Island) population. There are even counties in the Southern Appalachian Mountains of Tennessee (of Scottish-Irish-English descendants) who have similar dialects, and also in both Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia as well, but these dialects are dying out fast.

Similarities to Australian English

Some of the features of Newfoundland English here can be or were also found in Australian English, especially among speakers of the Broad Australian variant and in rural areas.

Such features can be seen in older popular literature, such as C.J. Dennis's The Sentimental Bloke and Henry Lawson's writings.

These include forms that have their origins in Irish-English and Irish-Gaelic..

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ "2006 Statistics Canada National Census: Newfoundland and Labrador". Statistics Canada. 2009-07-28. 
  4. ^ Newfoundland Historical Society, A Short History of Newfoundland and Labrador, St. John's, NL, Boulder Publications, 2008.
  5. ^ "Early settlements in Newfoundland". Retrieved 2007-09-27. 
  6. ^
  7. ^ "Newfie English Dictionary". Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ "Strathy Language Unit - Gerard Van Herk". 2011-05-26. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  11. ^ Sandra Clarke (1 April 2010). Newfoundland and Labrador English. Edinburgh University Press. pp. 137–.  
  12. ^ Marina Terkourafi (22 September 2010). The Languages of Global Hip Hop. Continuum International Publishing Group. pp. 234–.  
  13. ^ "ON THE ROAD WITH ANN – In Search of the Newfoundland Soul | Convivium". Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  14. ^ """The proper spelling of the Newfoundland slang "B’y. Retrieved 2013-01-11. 
  15. ^ Posted: Jul 19, 2012 6:27 AM NT (2012-07-19). "Comedian says Memorial University taking his catch phrase - Nfld. & Labrador - CBC News". Retrieved 2013-01-11. 

External links

  • , 2d edDictionary of Newfoundland English
  • CBC News report (8 November 1982) on the publication of the Dictionary
  • Language: Newfoundland and Labrador Heritage
  • Samples of Newfoundland Dialect(s)/Accent(s)
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