The island of Newfoundland has a language all its own. Born from the interaction of early English, Irish, and French settlers, and preserved by isolation, the uncommon speech of the province is a dialect of English that has been deemed one of the most distinct in the world, and it can vary from one community to the next, as well as from region to region. Though you should be able to understand the accent fairly easily, the odd grammar and alien words and phrases in common use on the island may leave you shaking your head or staring in blank incomprehension at the speaker.
A typical conversation in ‘Newfinese’ might go something like this:
“Ow’s she cuttin’, me cocky?” – How are you, my friend?
“Best kind, b’y. Ow’s she gettin’ on?” – I’m feeling great. How are you faring?
“I’m just ’bout gutfounded.” – I’m very hungry
“I’ll put da ol’ slut on. Put da wood in da ’ole an we’ll ‘ave a yarn.” – I’ll put the kettle on. Close the door and we’ll chat.
“Yes b’y. Fire up a scoff.” – Make some food
“Whatta yat? Is ya ’ard at it all de time or wa?” – What are you doing? Are you working hard?
“Yes b’y, I dare say, but n’arn.” – Yes, I expect I am, but there’s no fish. (N’arn being a contracted form of ‘nary a one’.)
A traveler in Newfoundland is known as a ‘come-from-away’, and you’ll likely be asked ‘where ya ’longs to’, which is to say, where do you come from? Friendly as the people are in this province, you’ll be engaged in plenty of conversation, so here are a few more samples of Newfoundland-speak to help make you feel more at home during your visit:
- Do you want some taken up? – Want some supper?
- Who knit ya? – Who’s your mother/parents?
- Stay where you’re to ’till I comes where you’re at. – Stay there until I get there.
- Yes b’y. – This is a staple, and it can mean many things, depending on its intonation—Ok!…No way! I don’t believe you…Really, it’s true…Is that so? You’ll just have to take this one in context.
- Mind now. – You don’t really expect that?
- I just dies at you! – You make me laugh.
- Oh me nerves, ye got me drove! – You’re driving me crazy.
- Put da side back in ’er. – Close the window.
- What odds? – Who cares?
- Lodge it on da bridge. – Put it down on the step outside.
- It’s a mausey day. – A foggy, wet day.
- I handy ’bout died. – I almost died laughing.
- I knows you’re not stun. – You’re stupid.
- G’wan! – You’re joking, right?
- I’ll drop over ’round by and by. – I’ll visit sometime.
- You’re some crooked/contrary – You are grouchy/hard to get along with.
Native Newfoundlanders do some strange things with the English language, but our speech has an endearing quality and charm that will have you hanging on our every word. Before long, you’ll be talking just like an islander, and taking home a few turns of phrase to confound and delight your friends. Yes, b’y, ’fore long ye’ll ’ave ’er scald!
Like this article? You might enjoy some classic Newfoundland sayings.