Ever wonder why you might hear words like tabanask and ballicatter, and phrases like “John’s after telling me he’s leaving,” in parts of this province, but not in London, England – or London, Ontario, for that matter?
“Why is it that you can take English from the British isles and plunk it down on the northeast coast of North America, or in Australia, and after a couple of generations, something completely different emerges?” On Thursday, Sept. 28, distinguished British sociolinguist Dr. Peter Trudgill will pose and answer that question, and offer insight into why and how accents and vocabularies diverge.
His free public lecture, Why My English Is Different than Yours, will happen at Memorial’s St. John’s campus as part of the Henrietta Harvey Distinguished Lecturer Series.
Until 400 years ago the English language was confined pretty much to the British Isles, according to Dr. Trudgill, professor emeritus of the University of Fribourg, Switzerland and now lives in his home community of Norwich, England. Then the language expanded geographically, and was impacted in various locations by exposure to different topography, flora and fauna, indigenous languages and European languages that it was not rubbing up against in the British Isles.
“What may be particularly relevant for Newfoundland is the influence of close contact between the British and Irish,” he explained, noting that this led to Irish English features spreading into the language of those who weren’t Irish – hence “John’s after telling me....”
Dr. Trudgill likens Newfoundland to a kind of linguistic laboratory: “It’s one of the most interesting examples, because it’s a place where English was transported earliest.”
Aspects of the language can also tell us about the cultural and social realities they reflect, he said. “One would expect a more diverse technical vocabulary related to fishing here than in Alberta, for example.”
Other traits can be more subtle. For example, Dr. Trudgill has noted that in this province there are more people in higher socio-economic echelons who speak with a distinct regional accent. “There’s quite a lot of regional variation in Newfoundland and Labrador, and it doesn’t seem to carry the same kind of significance that it might elsewhere.”
In addition to this public lecture, Dr. Trudgill will share his expertise in classrooms, and give two daytime public talks:
Monday, Sept. 25; 3 p.m. Dialect Contact and the Sociolinguistics of Language History, Chemistry Bldg., Room C-2033, Memorial University
Wed., Sept. 27; 1 p.m. Non-standard Dialects and the School; Education Building, Room ED-5004, Memorial University.