Newfoundland may be one of the most homogeneous places on earth both linguistically (98% of its residents speak English as their mother tongue) and culturally (roughly 95% can trace their ancestral roots to The British Isles). Yet, the island is home to the greatest regional diversity of dialects in all of North America.
Newfoundland was one of the first regions in the Western world to be visited and settled by Europeans beginning in the 1500’s, and, with almost 500 years of history, Standard English was left unfettered to evolve linguistically into what is known today as Newfoundland English.
Facilitating this linguistic process was the fact that, until joining Canada in 1949, Newfoundland was predominantly a fishing economy, where fishermen settled in small isolated coves, that were also divided along religious lines (Catholic versus Protestant).
Historically speaking, Newfoundland English was first acknowledged as a distinct dialect in the late 18th century when George Cartwright printed the Newfoundland words glossary. Today, Newfoundland even has its very own Dictionary of Newfoundland English.
Many of Newfoundland’s dialects incorporate elements from West Country England and southeast Ireland, while others combine elements from both regions. For instance, on your Newfoundland travels, you will immediately recognize a unique linguistic variation in consonants.
- 3 distinct pronunciations of the letter l
- Dropping or adding the letter h
- Pronouncing th as t or d and dropping the r
Newfoundland English also contains many distinct linguistic features including vocabulary, meanings, grammar, and everyday expressions.
- Best kind b’y. Ow’s ya gettin on? ⇔ I am feeling great. How are you?
- Da road is like de bottle. ⇔ It is slippery and dangerous to be driving/walking.
- Put de side back in her. ⇔ Close the door it is cold outside.
- Da place is maggoty wit skin. ⇔ There are a lot of attractive people here.
- You are cracked. ⇔ You are crazy/foolish.
A wonderful resource keeping Newfoundland’s linguistic culture alive is the Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador. Created by the Linguistic Department at Memorial University, this online interactive device takes you on a virtual tour of the province to experience the geographical and social variations of Newfoundland English.