I find one of the most difficult parts of writing this column is, when quoting people, deciding when to use Newfoundland English rather than the standard mainland language I’ve been taught - or as my McCallum neighbours say, “When to use ‘Newfoundese’, and when to ‘clean it up’.” Terms which, when used by my friends, are actually quite funny. But when used by outsiders, can be offensive given the criticism many Newfoundlanders receive regarding the way they talk.
For me, it’s about trying to capture the beauty of the Newfoundland language, at the same time protecting the dignity of the individual I’m quoting. Not that those I’m quoting should require such protection, but there are always readers who need to think they’re better than others, and one of the ways in which these insecure people help themselves to feel better, is to make fun of the way that others talk.
Thus, I’ve often wondered how such differences in dialect are handled in school. How a townie teacher educated in Standard English responds to an outport child who uses speech patterns they’ve been exposed to since before birth. So I asked McCallum’s English teacher, Leanne Mills, about her preferences.
“I tell students that I believe there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to speak English,” the vivacious Mills, unafraid to share an idea or opinion, says with so much sincerity it’s not difficult to adore her. “I tell them that we’re all just trying to get our stories heard.
“So when students tell me it’s because they’re Newfoundlanders that they speak terrible English, I point out that Newfoundlanders simply speak different dialects. But that that doesn’t make Newfoundland English wrong. And that, such beliefs (that Newfoundland English is terrible) feed hurtful, ‘Newfie’ stereotypes.
“Now, having said that, because most children today are going to go on for further schooling, they do need to know what kind of English is going to be expected of them when they reach those schools. We do want them to be understood by a broad audience. For example, they can’t write, ‘How ya gettin’ on b’y?’ across the top of a University or College assignment.’ And we tell them this. But if they greet a friend that way, I’m okay with that. Because I believe that Newfoundland English is just as correct as Standard English.
“As for here in McCallum, these kids speak good Newfoundland English and good Standard English. And their accents aren’t as thick as other parts of Newfoundland either, which will serve them well – I find kid’s accents much sharper north of Gander where I come from. And McCallum’s kids’ accents aren’t as strong as their parents’ and their grandparents’ accents and I think that’s because these students talk regularly with outsiders on the Internet. And television influences them, of course. Not that there is anything wrong with a sharp accent – I love the Newfoundland accent - just that these McCallum kids will find it easier to fit in elsewhere, given the subtle, gentle accents they have.
“So while these students are isolated is some ways, in other ways they’re no longer isolated at all. And their English shows that – it’s a beautiful, constantly changing blend of the old and the new. So now all we have to do is convince them that there’s nothing wrong with that blend – that there is nothing wrong with Newfoundland English.” In fact, there is something really special about it.