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Dr. Gerard E. Van Herk

Dr. Gerard E. Van Herk

Canada Research Chair in Regional Language and Oral Text


Phone: 709-864-7632
Email: gvanherk@mun.ca

Research Involves: Social structures and relationships

Research Relevance: This research will shed new light on the processes of language retention and change and will enrich dialect and language change research worldwide.

Shedding light on language change

Contemporary Newfoundlandis an ideal “language laboratory,” with long-standing local dialects and languages in intense contact with standardizing forces. In fact, a recent worldwide study chose traditional Newfoundlandspeech as the most distinct variety of English on the planet. This project will develop the intellectual infrastructure to record change in progress and to make incredibly rich local archival holdings more accessible to modern research methods. Analysis of the resulting material will shed new light on the processes of language retention and change. Publishing findings and improving access to raw materials will enrich dialect and language change research worldwide.

Newfoundland’s integration into the Canadian political and cultural mainstream, rapid urbanization, educational advances, the growth of the oil and mining industries, and the collapse of the traditional fishery have all contributed to a situation of rapid sociolinguistic change. In fact, the gap between traditional varieties and potential target varieties is larger in Newfoundlandand Labradorthan in most of the English-speaking world, comparable sociologically to the position of Creole-speaking countries of the Caribbean. Investigating this process can offer a major contribution to researchers’ knowledge of change processes generally, but only if the range of linguistic behaviour in contemporary Newfoundland and Labrador is documented and described in this generation, before the most dramatic changes advance to completion. Such research can also offer major contributions to the growing fields of identity studies and gender studies.

As Canada Research Chair in Regional Language and Oral Text, Dr. Van Herk’s research will help optimize the processes of documenting, preserving, and analyzing evidence of linguistic diversity in Newfoundlandand Labrador.

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