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 giggles...er...just 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:"
"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?