by Alison Small
Dr. Sandra Clarke (L) and Dr. Philip Hiscock are investigating
dialects of the province.
By Alison Small
Newfoundland and Labrador is known for its unique dialects.
The province’s accents have contributed to its culture
in a significant way. A group of researchers from the Folklore,
Linguistics, and English departments have been researching
the varieties of English language used on the island and in
Labrador. Their research has led to the formation of two projects
related to Newfoundland dialect. The group includes Dr. Sandra
Clarke, Linguistics, Dr. Philip Hiscock, Folklore, and Robert
Hollett of the English department.
One of these projects is a Computerized Linguistics Atlas
of Newfoundland and Labrador. This atlas will allow people
to choose a community and hear what someone sounds like from
The idea of the atlas originally began in the 1970s when Dr.
Harold Paddock, a now retired Linguistics professor, compiled
a survey of archival recordings that were available. “Memorial
[was] very lucky to have a huge archival body of material
and audio recorded sound,” said Dr. Hiscock. In the
mid ’70s, Dr. Paddock found that there gaps in the archival
recordings. A student was hired and travelled throughout Newfoundland
and Labrador (approximately 21 communities) recording standardized
interview questionnaires as well as conversation. Dr. Paddock
analysed the data and designed maps; however, only a small
portion of the features of language were shown. The project
was put on hold when Dr. Paddock retired.
About 20 years later, the project has been revived by the
current group, who are also collaborating on this research
with Dr. Alvin Simms of Geography. They hope to produce a
book and a CD to help preserve and educate people on these
recordings. A Web site is also in the works.
“A book plus CD-ROM (will be created) so you’ll
actually be able to insert it into your computer, press on
a community and find out how people talk, or how they pronounce
a particular word, (or)what grammatical form they have for
a particular structure,” said Dr. Clarke.
The project will be of benefit, as well, because the recordings
will be maintained through digitization.
The second project the group is working on is a Newfoundland
and Labrador tape sampler project.
The need for it has been evident to Dr. Hiscock for some time;
during the period that he was archivist at the university’s
Folklore and Language Archive, he received many requests for
taped samples of Newfoundland accents. At the same time, Dr.
William Kirwin was putting together a sampler tape of Newfoundland
dialects, as was the Linguistics department for use in its
introductory course on the language varieties of Newfoundland
and Labrador. “Bill Kirwin put together a tape back
in the 1960s,” explained Dr. Hiscock. “That was
the beginning of the sampler of Newfoundland and Labrador
English.” One of the editors of the Dictionary of
Newfoundland English, Dr. Kirwin is now professor emeritus
in the English department, and directs the English Language
Years later, in the summer of 1999, Dr. Sandra Clarke was
organizing the 10th International Conference on Methods in
Dialectology. At the time, she was attempting to find a way
to make conference participants aware of the varieties of
dialects of the province. Professors Hiscock, Clarke and Hollett
decided to move forward with Dr. Kirwin’s project and
Their Sampler Project consists of approximately 50 speakers
on tape from Newfoundland and Labrador, including 11 from
Labrador. Samples were compiled from many sources, such as
the MUN Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA), the CBC, the
Labrador Interpretation Centre and the English Department’s
English Language Research Centre (ELRC), as well as personal
“What we are trying to do is include traditional speakers
who are representative of their particular area, so we started
off initially concentrating on the Irish Avalon; we have about
20 of those ... and then we went on to other parts of the
island and then Labrador," said Dr. Clarke. “[Here]
we found that there were very few recorded samples of half-decent
Dr. Hiscock said the group is quite proud of the good representation
of Labrador in this project.
The Sampler Project is funded by primarily by the Department
of Tourism of the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador,
while the Computerized Linguistic Atlas Project has received
support from Memorial’s J.R. Smallwood Foundation for
Newfoundland and Labrador Studies, as well as the Institute
for Social and Economic Research (ISER). Both projects have
also benefited from student research assistants via MUCEP,
SCP, SWASP and Gradswep funding programs.
The group hopes that Newfoundland and Labrador's dialects
will be conserved through these projects. Dr. Hiscock said,
“Making this available will be a big step. [Our taped
samples] not only represent local speech, they show natural
modes of speech performance.” Dr. Clarke said she hopes
that the projects will help preserve Newfoundland's cultural
and linguistic heritage.