THE NEWFOUNDLAND QUARTERLY :: ONLINE EXCLUSIVES
Online Exclusive for #441
Do you think our language is unique, funny, exciting or something else entirely? Do you have any favourite words or favourite expressions? Can you share any stories about how language has affected your life?
"Our language defines us. It makes us different than everyone else in the world. It's an identifier - 'did you hear that? She must be from Newfoundland?'. It's something that visitors appreciate about us - 'Say that again, you 'ates 'ow your h'ears look?'. It's distinguishing and exciting - think about how boring we might be without it. It's marketable - how many tourists (or locals) own a 'Wat are ya at?' t-shirt. It's simply us." - 34, Public Servant
"Our language divides us. I've known arguments and disputes to be started by differences in language. One community pronounces a word a certain way and another community says it a different way. The guy from the first community makes fun of the way the guy from the second community says a word. Days later they're still mad at each other. Also, townies think the crowd from the bay talk like hicks while the crowd from the bay thinks that the crowd from St. John's talk like skeets. Because our language is our own unique way of expressing ourselves, we're protective over it. We'll argue to defend it, resent those who talk a little different, and try our darnedest not to lose it." - 30, Trades Worker
"It's not that unique. Everywhere has different dialogues. In fact you've hit a nerve here for me. It really bothers me that people think that this province has a language and accent that are so unique and the fact that every little town and community has a different version is a rite of passage. It's not at all. First our language is not that much different than folks in Ireland. We sound the same, we say the same kind of things. I've been to many places around the world and each place has a unique language and different towns have little tweaks of it. Europe is a great example of that. The language of those in Scotland is much different than those in Germany and each little town in Scotland is a little different. Australia is the same thing. Thinking our language is somehow this defining characteristic is another example of our arrogance - an arrogance we refuse to [acknowledge]." - 24, Memorial Arts Student
"What I think is cool here is that each town has their own language codes. I grew up in a place where as children we all went to the small high school but we were from a bunch of small communities. When I finished and went on to university I became friends with one of our high school teachers. He said that you didn't need to know our names to know which community we were from. You could tell what kids were from what communities just by listening to us. And we sat together in the classroom. So the crowd from my community sat in the middle of the class room where the crowd from down the shore sat in the back of the classroom. We were creating our version of Little Chinatown and Little Italy right there in our classroom. I don't want to give the impression that we all weren't friends, cause we got along best kind, but, those that talked alike, hung out together." - 28, Administrative Professional
"I wonder how we got so different. I can see the different origins of French settlers and Irish settlers, but amongst the Irish settlers why are there so many different variations of how they spoke and what they said? How is it that people from the Cape Shore and people from the Southern Shore, both settled by [the] Irish, have different variations of Irish accents and dialogue? In saying that, in the overall scheme of things there aren't big differences. I find it interesting that, per capita, more of us speak English than any other province. Strange given our background with French settlers and Aboriginal habitants." - 40, Teacher
"I have quite a few favorite words and expressions. 'Keen' is probably my favorite word. I don't know of many people outside our community that use it in the same context but we'd regularly say things like: 'it's a keen day on clothes' or 'a keen day picking berries' if it was windy and warm out. Or if someone drove up the road really fast we'd say 'he's goin(g) a keen goin(g)'. Or if someone punched another person (not that that happened a lot) we'd say 'he gave him a keen clout'. 'Laddio' is another good one. I was called a laddio for years by the older folks out home. I was a bit mischievous growing up and always found myself in a bit of trouble, so I was a real 'laddio' in their eyes." - 28, Entrepreneur
"Some expressions I like: 'I'm all in'. Now that might be associated for some with playing poker, but for us it meant you were tired and beat out either from a long days work or whatever. I could go on about this stuff all day but I'll share one more: 'You're no greenie'. What that means is that you won't be fooled easily or taken for a scam. I was on a call once with my phone company, speaking with someone who was in Pakistan (I asked her) and I felt like what I was being offered was not a good deal for me so I said to her 'You must think I'm some greenie'. She told me she did not think I was a greenie but she was not sure exactly what I meant by it either. I tried explaining but she couldn't get her head around why I was using the color green to describe it." - 22, Memorial Student
"Body language is more important than verbal. There's a joke I heard from a local comedian about he and his friend from Ontario were walking down the road. They are chatting about the province as the man from Ontario had lots of questions. The man from this province sees his longtime buddy walking towards him and sings out, 'What are ya goin at tonight?' His buddy just nods his head at him and gives him a wink and continues on his way. The man from Ontario is appalled by this and asks if he's upset that his friend just shafted him. The Newfoundlander says, 'What do you mean?' The guy from Ontario says, 'Well, I assume that man was supposed to be your friend and you asked him a question and he didn't say anything to you in response.' The Newfoundlander didn't agree and says 'What? Yes he did b'y what are you talking about? I asked him what he's at tonight and he told me he'd be down later on to watch the hockey game and have a few beer.' A wink and a nod goes a long way here." - 31, Musician
"I find it amusing that my language and dialogue is dependent on who I'm around. If I'm with friends from home I talk like I did when I was home. When I'm with my friends from St. John's I talk like them. When I'm travelling outside the province my speech imitates the place where I'm staying. For example I spent a couple of weeks in Boston and about half way through my stay I was saying certain words just like they did: garden, car etc. My language adapts to the environment." - 28, Accountant
"If we look at this globally it truly is amazing how language changes based on geography and how many languages there are. Assuming that we evolved into humans, the earliest ancestors must have communicated in the same manner, either through nonverbal communication and/or primitive verbal language. Fast forward a few years and we have over 6500 spoken languages. This number is made even more interesting when you consider that over 2000 of these languages are spoken by less than 1000 people. Plus, over 1.2 billion people speak one of the 6500+. Geography-wise North America is not the most illustrative example - Canada only has two official languages and the US refuses to officially declare a language but 82% speak English and another 12% speak Spanish. If you consider Europe [where] you [could] get in a car and drive all across the countries of the European Union you would be exposed to the 23 official languages of the Union. That's a much shorter drive compared to driving across North America. The question becomes how did language diversify from our early ancestry, and the second question is how did it become so segregated?" - 60, Retiree
"We drop the 'h' and put it in places it doesn't belong, we can't seem to figure out 'th'. So if most of our language and dialect comes from Western England and South Eastern Ireland do they do the same thing? Thinking about favorite words or expressions, 'G'wan b'y' is hands down my favorite expression. Wait, what about 'bam b'y'? For anyone not familiar with those expressions here's a little help: 'G'wan b'y I'll meet up with ya down be the gut bam b'y.' Better?" - 50, Entrepreneur
"I lived in residence with a guy from Nova Scotia who pointed out that I talked like Yoda. For example 'Going to the store I am' or 'Studying tonight I will.' Hadn't thought of that before then but he's right. Although I've never known anyone who was a Star Wars fan." - 28, Memorial Graduate
"We have deeply penetrated our dialect into Alberta, in particular Fort McMurray. I heard someone say that Fort Mac is the only city ever taken over without firing a single gunshot. So with that comes consequences like the taking on of our language. Based on numbers alone I would imagine people who are from Fort Mac or other people who have come there from away have adopted many of our language nuances. You can't work anywhere up there without working with someone from here, so with those kinds of numbers our language has to be making an impact." - 47, Former Fort Mac Camp Worker
"The fact we have our own dictionary is telling. How many other provinces or places for that matter have their own dictionary?" - 18, Student
Back to Online Exclusives main page.
© Newfoundland Quarterly. The Newfoundland Quarterly is generously supported by Memorial University and the Canada Periodical Fund - Canadian Heritage.