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Newfoundland English

Newfoundland English is a dialect of English specific to the province of Newfoundland and Labrador, distinct from Canadian English.

This separate dialect developed because of Newfoundland's history as well as its geography. Newfoundland, which was settled in the early 1600s, was one of the first areas settled by English speakers in North America. This has given the dialect time to develop. Newfoundland English was recognized as a separate dialect by the late 1700s when George Cartwright published a glossary of Newfoundland words. Newfoundland remained separate from Canada as a British colony (apart from a period of self-government that was destroyed by the Great Depression) until 1949. So, in comparison to the other provinces and territories, Newfoundland is a newcomer to the country. Geographically, the province is very isolated from the rest of Canada. It consists of Newfoundland, an island in the Atlantic Ocean separated from the mainland by the Strait of Belle Isle which is frozen over from November to June, and of Labrador, a large region of sparsely populated sub-arctic land.

Newfoundland English differs from Canadian English in vowel pronunciation (for example: in Newfoundland the words "fear" and "fair" are homophones); in morphology and syntax (for example: in Newfoundland the word "bees" is used in place of the normally conjugated forms of "to be" to describe continual actions or states of being: "she bees short" instead of "she is short", but normal conjugation of "to be" is used in all other cases); in preservation of archaic adverbal-intensifiers (for example: in Newfoundland "that play was right boring" and "that play was some boring" both mean "that play was very boring"). Dialect can also vary markedly from community to community, as well as from region to region, reflecting a past in which there were few roads and communities were very isolated.

Other marked characteristics of Newfoundland English include the loss of dental fricatives (voiced and unvoiced 'th' sounds) in many varieties of the dialect (as in many other varieties of non-standard English, they are replaced with the closest voiced or unvoiced alveolar stop ('t/d')), as well as non-standard or innovate features in verb conjugation. For example, in many varieties, the third person singular inflection is generalised to a present tense marker (so the verb "to like" is conjugated "I likes, you (or 'dee' in one or two communities on the north shore) likes, he/she/it likes, we likes, you (or ye in some areas) likes, they (dey) likes". Another interesting verb form is almost certain to have been taken from Hiberno-English, which, influenced by the Irish language avoids using the verb "to have" (Irish doesn't have a verb "to have" per se). Many Newfoundlanders from all areas will form past participles using "after" instead of "have" so for example "I'm after telling him to stop," instead of "I told him to stop," or "I have told him to stop."

There is also a dialect of French centred mainly on the Port au Port Peninsula on the west coast which has had an impact on the syntax of English in the area. One example of these constructs unique to Newfoundland is "Throw grandpa down the stairs, his hat", in which the hat makes the trip, not the grandfather. Another is the use of French reflexive constructions in sentences such as the reply to a question like "Where are you going?", reply: "Me I'm goin' downtown."

Newfoundland French was deliberately stamped out by the Newfoundland government through the public schools during the mid-20th-century, along with all other languages except for English, and only a small handful of elderly people are still fluent in the dialect. In the last couple of decades, many parents in the region have demanded and obtained French education for their children, but this would be Standard French education and does not represent a continuation of the old dialect per se. The people living in the Codroy Valley on the south-east tip of the island are also ancestrally Francophone, but represent Acadian settlers from the Maritime Provinces of Canada who arrived during the 19th century. This population has also lost the French language.

The greatest distinction between Newfoundland English and Canadian English is its vocabulary. It includes many Inuit and Native American words (for example: "tabanask" - a kind of sled), preserved archaic English words no longer found in other English dialects (for example: "pook" - a mound of hay), compound words created from English words to describe things unique to Newfoundland (for example: "stun breeze" - a wind of at least 20 knots), English words which have undergone a semantic shift (for example: "rind" - the bark of a tree), and unique words whose origins are unknown (for example: "diddies" - a nightmare).

A sad fact of Newfoundland English is that the dialect is steadily losing its distinctiveness through the action of the mass media and public education, which steadily became more and more available after Confederation in 1949. In general, each generation speaks a dialect of English closer to standard Canadian English. Pride in Newfoundland language and culture has encouraged a conscious retention of some obvious Newfoundlandisms, however, and some educated speakers can be observed switching between Canadian English for formal settings and language closer to Newfoundland English for personal communication.

Colourful local expressions include:

(Some examples taken from A Biography of the English Language by C.M. Millward)

The Newfoundland comedy group Buddy Wasisname and the Other Fellers refers to the Newfoundland dialect as "Newfinese".

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