Rapid Language Change in Newfoundland English


Gerard Van Herk (MUN), Becky Childs (Coastal Carolina University)


James Bulgin, Rachel Deal, Matt Hunt Gardner, Jennifer Thorburn


Newfoundland’s distinct social profile and history make it an ideal site for research into language change, a major focus of sociolinguistics. Early settlement and subsequent isolation have created a highly distinct traditional dialect, while recent major social changes such as political integration, urbanization, declining birthrates, educational advances, the growth of the oil industry, and the collapse of the traditional fishery have created the conditions for dramatic language change. This offers us the rare opportunity to document and analyze rapid change in a variety of English as it happens.

We use the methods and theoretical apparatus of variationist sociolinguistics to investigate linguistic variables chosen to illuminate the social factors of speaker agency, identity creation, and geographic and social isolation – factors often inaccessible to post hoc or narrow-focus research. Through archival research in Memorial’s rich audiotape archives, and especially through ethnographic fieldwork and sociolinguistic interviews, we are building a corpus of recordings stratified by age, gender, and degree of attachment to the community. By contrasting the linguistic patterns of different age and integration cohorts, we address the concerns of contemporary (“third wave”) sociolinguistics – agentivity, conscious identity affiliation – and shed new light on the traditional sociolinguistic issues of linguistic insecurity, class, gender, and isolation.

Selected publications

Van Herk, Gerard, Becky Childs & Jennifer Thorburn (in press). Identity marking and affiliation in an urbanizing Newfoundland community. To appear in Papers from the 31st Annual Meeting of the Atlantic Provinces Linguistic Association (PAMAPLA 31).

Childs, Becky, Gerard Van Herk, and Jennifer Thorburn. 2007. The Effects of Urbanization and Social Orientation: Locally Salient Variables as Indicators of Linguistic Change. NWAV 36. Philadelphia, PA.


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