June 22, 2011

Newfoundland English

Americans recognize that Canadians pronounce their vowels differently, a phenomenon called "Canadian raising." There's more to Canadian English.  In Newfoundland, the easternmost place in the U.S. and Canada, a strange, sing-song and sonorous version of English can be found.  The CBC news magazine-radio show "As It Happens" recently interviewed a "Newfie," who apparently lives in Labrador on the mainland, just north of the island of Newfoundland.  (The province is called Newfoundland and Labrador.)  You can listen to him at their website, starting at the 1:00 mark.

Here's a gem from the online Dictionary of Newfoundland English (2d ed. 1990):
unknown … Of a person, odd, strange, slightly deranged.
… There was a woman down to Gaultois who was a little unknown; she would steep tea but instead of drinking [it] she would throw away the tea and eat the tea leaves.1

I have observed that Americans pronounce "Newfoundland" something like /NOOF-in-lind/.   I was amazed to discover that Canadian broadcasters say /noof-ind-LAND/. 

Labrador and Newfoundland are linguistically interesting for at least one more reason.  As the North America area (notwithstanding Greenland) nearest to Europe, they received European travelers first (an 11th-century Viking settlement may be visited at the eastern tip of Labrador.)  Mark Kishlansky, A Basque History of the World (2001), discusses how Basque fishermen arrived there early (maybe even before Columbus's voyages) and how some Basque vocabulary may have been adopted by local Indians.

1. The dictionary points out that this usage is known from south Lancaster in England, too, citing Joseph Wright, English Dialect Dictionary (1898-1905, repr. 1965).