The Unique Language of Newfoundland

It’s nearing the spring equinox, and Ryan Snoddon, meteorologist for the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation in Newfoundland and Labrador, calls for a change in the weather. “Let’s hope this is Sheila,” he says in an early morning webcast. He’s referencing St. Patrick’s wife who, according to local folklore, is responsible for administering the final brush of snow across the land before spring. It might be an overly optimistic forecast in this storm-battered corner of the North Atlantic, but Snoddon can be certain of one thing: his viewers will understand this piece of regional lingo. It’s one of thousands of terms employed only in Canada’s most easterly province, where language and landscape are deeply intertwined.

The cache of words used to describe Newfoundland and Labrador’s natural environment is as vast and wide as the province itself—geographic, atmospheric, vocational, poetic, and, like most of life lived along the coast, weather-dependent.

Known as “the Rock” for its jagged coastlines and impenetrable soil, the island of Newfoundland and its mainland counterpart, Labrador, was the first North American stop for an array of European peoples whose histories and vocabularies intertwined in this remote new world. Meanwhile the indigenous people—Inuit and Innu in Labrador, Mi’kmaq in west and central Newfoundland—had their own rich languages from which the newcomers occasionally borrowed. Missing, however, were the words of the Beothuk, the indigenous people of the island who were wiped out, along with their language, by the early 19th century. Scraps of their vocabulary were transcribed by the settlers (albeit poorly), but none of their words were adopted into spoken English.

Read more: Hakai Magazine

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