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Welcome to the Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador

This interactive online dialect atlas documents the geographical distribution of many features of the traditional dialects of English spoken in Newfoundland and Labrador. Newfoundland and Labrador English is noted for its distinctiveness within North America, as well as for its considerable regional variation.

Before doing any searches, especially if you are a first-time visitor, we recommend that you read further below on the background and use of the atlas, as well as on the history of English in Newfoundland and Labrador.

A brief overview of Newfoundland and Labrador settlement history is also provided. Even today, regional differences in local speech may often be traced to the different origins – typically, southwest English vs. southern Irish – of early European settlers.

If you are ready to search our atlas’ databases, please select one of the areas documented in the atlas: pronunciation, grammar or words.

The Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador project is directed by Professor Sandra Clarke (Linguistics) and co-directed by Professor Philip Hiscock (Folklore) of Memorial University of Newfoundland. Further information regarding project participants and funding sources is provided in the Acknowledgements section.

Background on the Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador


Why an atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador English?

The English spoken in the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL) exhibits perhaps the greatest regional diversity to be found anywhere in North America. The settlement history of NL, along with its geographical setting, has proved ideal for the preservation of many older speech features which have declined more rapidly elsewhere. However, such factors as socioeconomic change, population loss and out-migration – along with the pressures on local varieties that result from increased access to higher education, plus greater exposure to the speech of mainland North America – mean that many traditional features of local speech are currently undergoing decline.

The aim of this atlas is to help to preserve the rich cultural heritage of the province by documenting an aspect of language that has, up to now, remained largely uninvestigated: the regional distribution of many of the traditional linguistic features (lexical, phonological, and morphosyntactic) that characterize NL English. Recent technological developments allow presentation of these linguistic materials in an online format, which could scarcely have been envisaged by their original collectors. In fact, this atlas is to date one of only a handful of online regional dialect atlases in the English-speaking world.

The Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador: A Brief History

The beginnings of this regional atlas date back to the mid 1970s, when Professor Harold Paddock of the Linguistics Department of Memorial University undertook a survey of similarities and differences in traditional features of pronunciation and grammar for 69 communities on the island of Newfoundland. In the early 1980s, he began a second phase of his atlas project: the development of a lexical questionnaire and the collection of approximately 600 different words and phrases from 20 communities representing Labrador as well as the island. Following in the tradition of dialect geography (the study of dialects in terms of their geographical distribution), both project components investigated the speech of older, less regionally and socially mobile community residents, in order to gain as much insight as possible into the traditional speech of NL. Professor Paddock published some of his findings in the following papers:

  1. Paddock, Harold. 1982. Newfoundland dialects of English. In Languages in Newfoundland and Labrador, second ed., ed. Harold Paddock, 71-89. St. John’s, NF: Memorial University of Newfoundland.
  2. Paddock, Harold. 1984. Mapping lexical variants in Newfoundland English. In Papers of the Seventh Annual Meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association, ed. Helmut Zobl, 84-103. Moncton: University of Moncton.

In 2002, a working group of Memorial University faculty members (Professors Sandra Clarke, Linguistics; Philip Hiscock, Folklore; and Robert Hollett, English Language and Literature) undertook to preserve the work of Harold Paddock and his research assistants by converting it to a computerized database format, and making it available online. They enlisted Professor Alvin Simms of Memorial University’s Geography department to help direct this process. Funding support was provided by Memorial University, in a number of forms: grants from the Institute of Social and Economic Research (ISER) and the J.R. Smallwood Centre; graduate student research assistance from the Departments of English, Folklore and Linguistics; and university-administered provincial and federal student job funding (MUCEP, GradSWEP and Canada Summer Jobs programs). This support, for which the project expresses its sincere thanks, produced an initial, non-interactive beta version of the atlas. Major funding in 2011 from the Social Science and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC), through its Public Outreach Dissemination Grant program (Grant 608-2010-0002), enabled the atlas to be placed online in its present interactive format. This development would not have been possible without the direction provided by Memorial University’s Distance Education, Learning and Teaching Support (DELTS), and Computing and Communications (ccwebworks).

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Words


The Words section of the Dialect Atlas of NL is based on fieldwork carried out in 1982 by Kathleen Manuel, under the supervision of Professor Harold Paddock. This fieldwork involved administration of an extensive lexical questionnaire in 20 different communities, both on the island of Newfoundland and in Labrador. The province was divided into 10 different dialect zones and, within each, a pair of communities was selected. Each represented one of two community types: on the one hand, a larger and more urbanized settlement, often serving as a commercial centre for its immediate region; on the other, a smaller and more rural type of settlement. Click on the name of any of the 20 communities listed below to see its location on the map.

 

Within each community, approximately six traditional, non-socially-mobile speakers were recorded, the aim being to recruit equal numbers of males and females. Speakers were selected to represent three different occupational areas: sea-based (the fishery, including both fishers and fish plant workers); land-based (forestry and farming); and trades-based (carpentry in particular).

The online sample contains a total of 124 traditional speakers: 62 males and 62 females. Responses for a particular lexical item may not be available for all occupational and gender groupings within an individual community, as respondents did not provide answers to every one of the questions in the questionnaire. Further, some responded to only certain sections of the questionnaire. On the other hand, any single question may have received more than 124 responses, in cases where individual speakers provided more than one answer.

Within the Words section of the atlas, you can search for a particular term (word or phrase). Alternatively, select a semantic area from the picklist provided; once you select a question, a set of responses appears. The pie charts below the responses give an overall gender and occupational breakdown of those who provided answers to the question.

To see where in NL any individual response is used, click the blue "View" button to its right. Select any pin on the map to display gender and occupational distributions for that community. The icon beside a response links it to its entry in the online Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

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Pronunciation and Grammar


The Grammar and Pronunciation sections of the Dialect Atlas of NL are grounded in materials originally compiled in the 1970s under the direction of linguist Harold Paddock, which were drawn from the tape-recorded collection of the Memorial University Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA). They show the regional distribution of 31 local features of pronunciation, along with 27 grammatical features. These features are documented for 69 representative coastal communities from all areas of the island of Newfoundland, the vast majority of them small and rural.

Click on any of the community names in the list below to see its location on the map.Note that communities marked with a double asterisk (**) no longer exist. Most of these disappeared in the late 1960s, as a result of resettlement initiatives on the part of the provincial and federal governments.

 

The atlas represents the speech of 80 traditional or conservative Newfoundland speakers; in general, then, each community is represented by a single speaker typical of his or her area. All were born between 1871 and 1939, and all but a quarter, before 1900. 75% of the speakers are male; many were engaged in fisheries-related activities during their working lives.

To see the geographical distribution of any given pronunciation or grammar feature across the 69 communities documented, select the feature from the pronunciation or grammar picklist. Choose one of the statements associated with this feature to see the communities which illustrate it. Clicking on the pin for any community displays the words or phrases in which the feature occurs in our data. In the case of pronunciation features, the actual pronunciation is also provided in the form of an IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet) symbol. In addition, for pronunciation features, the icon links to an audio clip containing the pronunciation in question; this is accompanied by a transcription in standard English of the contents of the audio file.

For more general information about the feature you have selected, click the information information icon icon just above the list of statements for the feature.

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Newfoundland and Labrador English Primer


The English of Newfoundland and Labrador is spoken by a people whose ancestry is, by North American standards, very homogenous. This – along with the province’s small (and until recently largely rural) population, and its relatively isolated geographical location – has resulted in speech varieties which are fairly conservative. Traditional Newfoundland and Labrador English tends to reflect many of the features of its two primary source areas: the southwest or West Country of England (particularly the counties of Dorset and Devon), and the southeastern corner of Ireland around the cities of Waterford and Wexford.

Over the centuries, some linguistic mixing has occurred. This is particularly true for vocabulary: for example, whatever their ancestry, many Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are familiar with the words sleeveen 'rascal' (from Irish Gaelic) and fousty 'mouldy, musty' (from West Country English).

Features of grammar and pronunciation were much less subject to transfer, one notable exception being the after perfect (e.g., I’m (just) after doing it), which has spread from the heavily Irish-influenced St. John's complex throughout much of the island of Newfoundland. Some half-dozen distinct dialect areas have been identified and partly described (see Paddock 1984). In recent years, there has been considerable linguistic change, as witnessed by the many differences across generations within the same communities.

Among the important features of vernacular English spoken in the province are aspects of phonology, morphology, syntax, suprasegmentals, and lexis. Popularly commented-on phonological items include non-phonemic /h/ in some English-derived dialects and the palatal ("clear") postvocalic /l/ of Irish-influenced ones. Morphological features include considerable regularization of irregular past forms of verbs (knowed, seed) and retention of "strong" irregular forms (hove as the past of heave). The well-attested use of a generalized present tense -s suffix, regardless of person (I/she/we leaves) is another, as is the habitual verb form bees (They bees here all the time), the latter found in areas settled by the West Country English. Though there are a number of suprasegmental differences from standard English (e.g. the popular idea that Newfoundlanders speak fast), these have yet to be studied systematically.


The following links may be of interest to you for further reading on the speech of Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Settlement History


Before European times, the native populations of Newfoundland and Labrador represented the two major cultural groups of North America: the Inuit of Northern Labrador, speakers of Inuktitut; and (in addition to the now-extinct Beothuk on the island of Newfoundland) the Labrador Innu (historically the "Naskapi" and the "Montagnais"), whose language belongs to the Algonquian family. Simultaneously with European settlement in the 16th through 18th centuries came a migration to Newfoundland of Mi'kmaq people from Nova Scotia.

Leaving aside a short-lived Norse settlement in the 10th century, European presence in Newfoundland and Labrador dates back to the 16th century, when western Europeans were attracted to the area because of its rich fishing grounds. Unbroken family ties go back to English over-winterers of that time in a small number of communities. The predations of war and piracy contributed to slow population growth during the 17th century; however, the 18th century saw a considerable increase in Newfoundland's population, with an acceleration that nearly doubled the numbers every two decades. Most of the earliest settlers were English, from the rural and town districts closely connected to the major fishing ports of southwestern England, Poole becoming the most important.

A small Irish presence in Newfoundland can be traced to the early 17th century. Unlike in much of North America, Irish settlement in Newfoundland almost entirely predates the famine emigrations at mid-19th century. Immigrants from southeastern Ireland flooded into eastern Newfoundland through the late 18th and early 19th centuries to service the fishing industry and to provide agricultural support to the growing town populations.

Labrador remained little settled by Europeans until the 20th century when a large military base was built in central Labrador, and a series of large iron mines were established in western Labrador. Coastal Labrador, indeed all of Labrador, has a smaller population than Newfoundland but a somewhat more cosmopolitan one in terms of its demographics. The earliest formal European influence on the northern coast of Labrador was that of Moravian missionaries from Germany, whose churches still are a cultural centrepiece in several Inuit communities.

By the beginning of the 19th century, the population of Newfoundland and Labrador was about 20,000 (including secondary settlement, largely from Nova Scotia, of French and Scots Gaelic speakers in the southwestern portion of the island). By the end of that century there were about 225,000 residents. The population of the province reached a peak of about 580,000 in the 1980s and early 1990s; since then it has declined, mainly the result of out-migration in search of work after the shut-down of much of the fishery in 1992. As of January 1, 2012, the province’s population stood at 511,036.

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Acknowledgements


The project directors, Professors Sandra Clarke and Philip Hiscock, would like to thank sincerely the following people and organizations for their invaluable contributions to the Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador:

Memorial University Dialect Atlas design and development team:
Special thanks to the following, for their unique contributions:
Memorial University undergraduate and graduate computer programmers/GIS specialists:
Memorial University undergraduate student research assistants:
Memorial University graduate student research assistants:
Memorial University research assistants, Harold Paddock’s two Dialect Atlas Surveys:
Collectors, MUNFLA tapes used in the Dialect Atlas:
Speakers, MUNFLA audio clips used in the Dialect Atlas:
Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council Memoria University
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