One of the biggest challenges I’ve had as a writer is separating proper English from Newfoundland English. I come from a province where the dialect is not only often entirely different from the rest of North America, but it also takes on different forms across the island. While my mother dropped her h’s from her speech (“’oly” instead of “holy”), my father living just 20 minutes away would not pronounce his th’s (“maff” instead of “math”).
In fact, we have our own dictionary. I’m not kidding.
There’s nothing wrong with this use of language, and I’m often surprised when others criticize the way we talk (Newfoundlanders included). Why should we be ashamed of individuality? Being from “the bay,” people automatically assume I should have a rough accent.
Mostly it’s disappeared over the years, but when my parents came to visit last summer, I slipped back into words and phrases I hadn’t used in awhile. My roommate couldn’t understand me.
So it’s my duty to school you all about Newfie-speak, in hopes of easing the transition should you ever make it here. We’ll begin with one of the most fundamental words in the language: b’y.
“B’y” (pronounced “bye”) is dynamic and complicated. Even the Newfoundland Dictionary doesn’t seem to know much about this word, but I’m certain it isn’t a warped version of “boy” as it applies to females too. My best guess is that it’s a shortened form of “buddy.”
You can toss this word into almost any conversation, but you have to do it right. There certainly cannot be any pauses, hints of uncertainty or improper emphasis.
Your best bet is to use it when speaking with friends and acquaintances, as “b’y” suggests amiable terms or at least an open, honest setting.
Here are some examples.
Disbelief, shock, dismay: “Go on b’y! You’re not serious?!”
Sarcasm, ridicule, impatience: “Oh yes b’y, like I’d do something like that.”
Happiness, endearment, excitement: “You knows I loves you b’y!”
You also can’t throw it into a normal conversation void of other Newfie words/attitude.
Not okay: “Excuse me b’y, could you please hand me that glass of expensive Merlot? I’d be ever so grateful.”
The delivery is just as important as the word itself. Nobody should be able to tell that you are an outsider. One evening my roommate, while removing his coat, said something like, “It’s pretty cold out there tonight b’y.”
I looked up slowly from my laptop. The word just hung there in the air, fat and lazy and uncomfortable.
While the context of the sentence was fine, it lacked attitude. And he knew it.
The word should flow like music. For your homework, I’d like you to study the following musical example and use the word at least once in your conversation with a respected superior tomorrow.
There you have it, your first lesson in Newfoundlandia. I hope you’re all the wiser for it.