Wednesday, September 29, 2010
And other quirks of Newfoundlandese. Barbara Fradkin here, ducking the shells firing overhead between Vicki and Rick. This week I am up to my eyeballs, or perhaps earlobes, in Newfoundland dialect as I try to write the opening chapters of my new project. It’s the creative non-fiction biography of my father, who was born in an outport at the turn of the twentieth century and spent much of his first twenty-five years in various coves and harbours of the rocky island.
My father could turn his accent on and off at will, as can most educated Newfoundlanders, but I want to capture just the right feel of those remote villages more than a hundred years ago. To that end, I listened to endless hours of “The Republic of Doyle” (no hardship!), read books and stories by Newfoundland writers, including The Outport People, by Claire Mowat (wife of Farley), and Memories of an Outport Son by Art Lovelace. I listened to Great Big Sea, and watched the Newfoundland newscasts on my satellite TV to hear the interviews with Newfoundlanders. Some had lost much of their accent, others needed subtitles.
A hundred years ago, the outports on the remote rocky coastline were cut off from the outside world. No roads, telephone or railway to blur the uniqueness of their speech. When they needed a word, say for a bird or part of a boat, they made it up. Bits of Dorset, Devonshire and Ireland, where most had originated, still clung to their speech, especially their vowels. Bye for boy, lard for lord. H’s and th’s disappeared altogether.
But when it came time to put these unique sounds down on paper, I faced a challenge. Too much dialect, as in the title of this blog, stops the reader in his tracks, no longer hearing the musical lilt of the accent in his head, but instead struggling with indecipherable phonics. Some accents, such as German or French, are so familiar to readers that the writer can conjure up the sounds with almost no phonetic cues (You vill give me ze money!). Others, like Newfoundlandese, are more difficult to capture with a mere word or two. I am still working on it, trying for moderation where some of the th’s are t’s and the you’s are ye’s, but it will take many re-readings to smooth out the roughness. And in the end I will have to find an aging outport Newfoundlander willing to read it, to make sure I got it right.
All part of the joy of writing. 'Dat roight, me son?
Posted by Barbara Fradkin at 7:00 am