Thursday, July 5, 2007

Newfoundland English- Oxymoron?

One of the things I am often told when people first figure out I am from Newfoundland, is that I don't have much of an accent. Ha! Like there is one, I often reply.

Newfoundland and Labrador English is often regarded as the most distinctive dialect of English in Canada. The kind most people often associate with Newfoundland is the accent you are subjected too by tired comedians, and Nissan X-Trail commercials . But the accent varies across the Rock (Newfoundland for the uninitiated), and The Big Land (Labrador).

Some Newfoundland dialects are similar to what one might hear in Ireland or parts of England (or a bizarre combination of both). Which makes sense as many came from these ports of call to fish and later settle the island. But we were also settled by the French; mostly on the Port or Port Peninsula on the west coast. The Basque, the Spanish, and the Scottish also threw their nets in the water, and they too contributed to the vast Newfoundland lexicon and accents.

I remember as a young kid going to Stephenville to visit family. There, I heard an accent I had never heard before, and haven't heard the like of since. It sort of sounds like an English-French hybrid with a little MicMac Indian thrown in just for shits and for kicks I mean.
People from this area with French and Micmac blood are sometimes referred to as jackie tars- not the nicest handle but there it is.

But it is the Irish /English combo that most people think of when they describe the "Newfie accent". This is what Jim Carrey was going for in his movie "A Series of Unfortunate Events". Mainlanders are famous for trying to use this accent (badly) when they find themselves in the company of a Newfoundland native and to make matters worse, Mainlanders will often use commonly known Newfoundland phrases while doing so. I blame Great Big Sea for a lot of it, if only because their hit song Whadd'ya at? (loosely translated: "How's it going?" or "What are you doing?") started a particularly dark time for me. I can't listen to that song now without wanting to pop someone in the nose. Dear God, every time I was introduced to someone new, the conversation would be the friggin' same:

"Hey Bob, I would like you to meet Nadine:"
"Hi there"
"She is from Newfoundland"

"Ahhh! " Big smiles "Whadd'ya at?"
It is at that point I usually look at them like they are a dog's deposit on my shoe and reply politely: "Sorry, I didn't catch that?"

I can be a bit of a bitch sometimes.

It is not that I am not proud of being a Newfoundlander or that I don't love the accents. I just hate the way it is used by others to make us feel like quaint little curiosities. Those poor uneducated country bumpkins who live on the land God gave to Cain. They proclaim us "the friendliest people in the world", and in the same breath "Not too bright though". Our funny little accents are often regarded as a backward corruption of "proper" English and encourages a perception by some people that we are somehow inferior. How ignorant.

We have a complex history that contributed to the way we developed our wonderful variety of dialects, our colorful lexicon and our quick jargon. We should be proud that we have something so unique and special. I am hoping we never lose it completely.

The people who created the Newfoundland Dictionary have made a great contribution to the preservation of this part of our heritage. For those of you who are interested, there is an online completion of a few of the words and phrases unique to Newfoundland and Labrador.

Until then me duckies, have a good one, eh?


Robert said...

The accent-thing is a bit of a hot button issue for me. I've always been subjected to 'you don't sound like you're from Newfoundland' or 'really, you're from 'round the bay? You sound like a townie' despite the fact I've lived in rural Newfoundland all my life. My new response has become 'sure I do, maybe Newfoundlanders (or outport Newfoundlanders) don't sound like you think they do.'

Steve said...

Reading your post I would assume that you are also put off by the term "Newfie", eh? I've explored the topic a couple of times on my blog and got varied responses. Typically, the ones who are most offended by it are folks I know from the mainland. That says something really... we may not receive the term negatively, but they see it delivered that way.

But, on the accent side of things... I don't get why you'd be offended. Imagine this conversation:

"Oh, you're french... Comment ca va?"

Wouldn't you think the person had a chip on their shoulder?

BTW, you should go to the Newfoundland Blogroll homepage and fillout the "ping" form to get your blog to the top of the blogroll when you enter a new post. More people will have the pleasure of reading your well-written blog. (Although, putting in a link to the Nissan commercial will get you hits from all over the world; trust me, been dere, done dat! {sorry})

nadinebc said...


After living up-along for awhile now my ability to shrug little slights off has worn off. It never used to bother me, heck I used to tell the Newfie jokes and such myself, play up to the stereotypes for a laugh. I used to think anyone who got upset over the whole “Newfie thing” was maybe taking themselves too seriously. Not so much anymore.

There was a man where I used to work in his fifties who was quite nice to myself and my husband, invited us to his home, out to his cottage. I had come to like him a lot. He always had a Newfie joke for us, and more than once I could supply the punch line for him, before he got to it. It seemed easy and harmless, and I think mostly it was. My tune changed when I overheard him complaining one day about a test file one of our partners sent to us to analyze, apparently something was wrong with the file, because I heard him remark “We better check it, because so-and-so is from out east so you know this is going to have to be red-done”

It is one thing when this kind of stuff is all light and jokes, but when you believe this stuff, well that is something else. Admittedly, I just don't have the tolerance I used to. It is a sore point with me now, and perhaps I am too sensitive to it, but I have lived here for 8 years, and that kind of attitude can weigh on a person.

Anyhow, thanks for your comment and suggestions. It is nice to know someone is actually reading this thing!

Table Mountains said...

years ago each little community along the south coast had a different dialect.i remember spending a summer in rose blanch with my grandparents and by the time i returned i had one good enough to irritate my grandparents in port aux basques who demanded that i should stop talking like that. : ) those days the communities where only connected by water.

Steve said...

I agree Nadine. Really. Like I stated, my friends from the mainland have stronger feelings against the term than I had because they were in on the joke. They knew that we are being ridiculed or looked down upon when the word is used. For many, the word "Newfie" is another "n" word that shouldn't be used.

But an accent is an accent. I've lived in New Brunswick for nigh on 10 years and have lost most of my accent. It comes back pretty tick when I visits home, I allow. But I'm not offended when my accent is recognized or acknowledged. Most people spark up a conversation involving their own pleasant memories of a trip to Newfoundland or their desire to visit someday. Occasionally, I run across some knob who has preconceived negative notions and I give those folks the attention and respect they deserve: none.

But you have done the right thing... something offends you or strikes the nerve of unjust attitudes and you write about it. Spread the word.

I'll share an anecdote, similar to the one you shared about the "mature" man you befriended: I lived in Montreal (boarding with my Aunt and Uncle) when I was 19. My uncle, a Quebecer, always had a Newfie joke. He loved them. I took them with good humour. One day I decided to share a Newfie joke with him. I told him this was one he could share at the office.

I UFO hovers over a human out in the ocean, rowing a dory. The man was singing. "I's da b'y dat builds da boat..." The aliens removed half the man's brain and he continued... "...and I's da b'y dat sails 'er...". Confused they decided to remove the rest of his brain. "Frere Jacques, frere jacques, dormer vous, dormer vous..." You should have seen my uncle. While I was telling the joke, he fidgeted like a little puppy waiting for a treat. When I hit the punch line, he lost all colour. He was pissed! He didn't speak to me for two days. Really!

His reaction was funnier than the lame joke. I'm glad I had that experience... I learned something that day and your blog post reminded me of that lesson.

nadinebc said...

He didn't speak to me for two days. Really!
When the shoe is on the other foot, many people don't like the fit! Thanks Steve!

WhitbyDude01 said...

My Wife and I did "the decorating challenge" (reality home improvement show) and I think made the mistake of saying we were from out east. In hindsight we should have said we were from Oakville Ontario. Anyways we both have an open mind but were sorely disappointed with wood jigsawed into shapes of seagulls and lighthouses all around our kitchen and living room with coffee stained hockey nets acting as "fishing" nets hanging from the ceiling. Plus there was about a dozen plastic seashells, starfish, and a singing lobster stuck on the coffee table. Apparently the designer thought this suited us because it would make us less homesick when we looked at the crap.

It's almost getting to the point with me that when my wife introduces us as being from Newfoundland I cringe. I'm thinking that whoever we are being introduced to has automatically deducted 20 IQ points for each of us.

My point? Just venting, that's all. I know a lot of people who don't think this way and I still feel fortunate to have grown up in Newfoundland....I just wish sometimes that there wasn't such a distorted perception of Newfoundlanders out there.

NL-ExPatriate said...

No matter what the stereo types or ignoramous comments

I'm proud to be a Newfoundlander Labradorian born and Breed!

Pity the poor fools for never having had the life and living experience we did.

Your no longer in Kansas(Karbaneir) Toto.

nadinebc said...

Thanks NL-ExPatriate !

John said...

I have been here in B.C. for 11 years and my newfie accent is as strong as ever,thank god.Most people I meet want to visit nfld or associate with us.A lot are newfie want-to-be's.I for one do not want to be a mainlander and blend in with the rest of boring canadians.We are different and unique so lets be proud of that fact.The only thing that is worst than a snobish mainlander is a newfie who wants to be a mainlander.

Anonymous said...

Guys and Gals, tired of dealing with your identity in Canada? Do what I did, MOVE HOME!

It's grand here. :)

Anonymous said...

l had the pleasure of working in Labrador and made many Newfie freinds. No Canadian is more sincere,only one problem where ever l went everyone thought l was hungry, but l will retain always those wonderful memories, especially those year end dances, no one and l mean no one can be a wall flower.

nadinebc said...

Thanks for visiting my blog- and about your kind words for the Big Land.

Kat said...

I so understand what you are saying about the accent....I lived in Newfoundland from birth to age 42 and then moved to the USA....I have lived in Montana.Arizona,Idaho and now Colorado and people will ask me questions that require an answer that starts with H or give me a gift of a big paper H with messages from friends with H missing of all the H words ....It gets old really fast .....but there are people who really like my accent and sometimes when asked where my accent is from I will say Boise Idaho and they look at me like ya sure lol Anyways I really enjoyed your blog