Pace, Rock denizens and those abroad, I mean you no harm. This is more tongue-in-cheek than anything else (well mostly). I’ve been here two years now and as an anthropologist my ear is especially sensitive to your quaint phrasings.
I’m working again on transcribing a series of interviews about the Newfoundland fishery, conducted mostly with gentlemen fishers from the Burin Peninsula. When I first started these it was a serious job to translate their English into English that I understood.
Because there is no such thing as ‘the’ Newfoundland accent. Anyone here will tell you that you can grow up on the same street as someone else and have a completely different accent. I would say that each individual Newfoundlander has an accent unique to him or her.
While I quickly lost my Nova Scotia accent after moving to Victoria at age 8, I’ve managed to remember (and incorporate) enough of it that people don’t automatically assume I’m an outsider. Of course, having lived all over the country my accent is so muddled no one can really tell where I’m from. My husband, on the other hand, with his bred-in-the-bone Ottawa Valley accent (see Lee 2006) and the way he says ‘eggzit’ not ‘exit’ pegs him instantaneously as one ‘from away’ (not a Newfoundlander).
The Newfoundland accent is especially impenetrable to non-Canadians. Kª, who is from Kansas, and Kº, who is from Moscow, have difficulty comprehending Newfoundlanders in full swing.
I will here impart the knowledge I have gained in my two years on this island and my early childhood as a Maritimer, circa 1980s. I’ll add to this as things come to me, and I welcome input.
Forget that Gs exist at the end of gerunds. It’s all about “I’se goin’” and “You’se seein’”. Just wipe G out of your grammar bank.
While you’re at it you might as well erase Ts as well. Here in St. John’s all Ts are softened. They sound kind of like a ‘sh’ noise, but with the point of the tongue closer to the surface of the hard palette and a little further back towards the throat. Like how you would shush someone if you had no teeth. Lacking full awareness of the phonetic alphabet I will spell it thusly: ‘isth.’
Another letter, the H, or “haitch” as it is pronounced here, doesn’t really figure into local pronunciation. ‘The’ tends to come out simply as ‘t’ (e.g. “T’other day I says to Mam, I says …”) or ‘d’ (e.g. “whaddya got dere b’y?”). “Three” comes out as “tree”, and so on. H is pronounced at the beginning of words, such as “hurricane” and “hoose”.
Rs are extremely important to Newfoundlanders, and my Nova Scotian birthplace enabled me to pick this trick up right away. It’s like the opposite to the Boston accent (“you pahk the cah neah the hahbah”). Here it’s “You parrrk the carrr nearrr the harrrburrr.”
If you like to talk like a pirate, nobody will notice. Arrr!
If you see any words in a foreign language, pronounce them as incorrectly as humanly possible. Especially French and Portuguese ones (e.g. “Baccalieu” is pronounced “Backlo” in many places).
“Whaddya at?” This means, in common parlance, “how are you?” There’s a Great Big Sea song about this.
I try to use my familiar “‘sup?” as a response and it’s never particularly successful. Ebonics never made a strong inroad here, I guess.
Proper island response is “This is it.” But if you’re a true islander you leave off the T at the end of ‘it’ and it comes out sort of like ‘isth’ (see Pronunciation).
Quantify abstract concepts using “some” (e.g., “That’s some weather we’re having out there, b’y” or “That’s some nice shirt you got der me darling”).
Mention people the other person doesn’t know by first name or nickname, as if your conversation partner knew who they were (e.g. “I was talkin’ to Mam/Dad/Nan/Brenda t’other day dere …”).
Emphasize your important sentences by ending them with “b’y”, which is an abbreviation of “boy” (how you can abbreviate a single syllable I have no idea but there ’tis – e.g. “Some rain out dere, b’y!”).
Get used to strangers addressing you as “my love,” “my darling,” “me handsome,” “dearest”, “lovely”, etc., even if that stranger is 15 years younger than you and sporting several piercings. The inflections and conversation topics of most Newfoundlanders remind me of gossiping old people. Not that it’s a bad thing.
Instead of asking someone, “Where are you?” say “Where ya to?” Instead of saying, “Come over here,” say “come where we’re to.”
Conjugate all verbs in the third person singular (e.g. “I says, you says, he says”). To avoid confusion conjugate your pronouns accordingly: “I needs me tea and I needs you’se to gets it fer me.”
Words and Phrases of Note
Dildo is a place, not a sex toy. There is a giant squid there.
Gander is also a place, not a verb or a male goose.
Rooms is an eyesore of a museum/archives, not a place where you hang out. There is also a giant squid there, but a real one. And they have a fantastic view
“I’m near the Church” is not a valid descriptor in St. John’s. Everywhere is near a church. You can spit on five different churches standing in one spot. Be more specific.
“The Highway” is a valid descriptor in Newfoundland. The Trans-Canada Highway (TCH #1) is the only national highway in the province.
The Scope, St. John’s local independent newspaper, runs a “Best Of” contest every year. This year I had a good giggle at the results of the best local curse section. Most “townies” (St. John’s residents) are descended from Irish Catholics, so sacrilege is a key component of the curse. I will copy and paste this in full, from “Best of St. John’s 2009″:
Winner: Various combinations of “Lord” and “Jesus”
Other answers: Lard tunderin’ streetlamps! • B’y da Jesus • Dancing Blue-Eyed Jesus! • Dirty Dingus • Fish n Chips! • Fuckultitties • Frigit • Fack • Gentle Jesus in the Garden • I don’t give a jam-jam jesus! • Jesus Mary and Joseph • Jesus as an adjective (example: stubbed my toe on the jesus coffee table) • Jesus Murphy • Lord Lipton • Scrot • Sculpin face • Shitya (“I shrunk your sweater.” “ Shitya!” • Yuck B’y • You little frigger • You are drivin’ me! I am drove! • Cursing should not be celebrated.