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PRAJWALA DIXIT: More finesse in Newfinese than meets the eye

Newfoundland Flag - Stock
Newfoundlanders' turns of phrase are unlike any others. - 123RF Stock Photo

My Newfoundland (and Canadian) journey began at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport. Having travelled 14 hours straight from the other side of the globe, I arrived at Terminal 1 and boarded my connecting flight to St. John’s. Tired and hungry, I eagerly waited for the food trolley to arrive. Surprised that I had to pay for my food (as this wasn’t the norm from where I came), I opened my purse to hand the air hostess cash, unaware that they only accepted credit cards. 

While I sadly watched the food pass by (as I did not have a credit card), my co-passenger tapped my shoulder. “We’ll pay for it. Don’t you worry, me ducky!” said the kind lady, as the gentleman beside her took out his credit card and handed it to me. A little bewildered as to why she called me a duck and stunned by their gesture, I graciously accepted their generosity. Profusely thanking them for their act of kindness, I thanked my lucky stars, thinking that this was a one-off fortunate experience. Little did I know that this was my first taste to the renowned Newfoundland kindness of which Broadway sings praises today.

Seventh language

After landing in St. John’s, I arrived at my first home in Canada, relieved to discover that my landlord was a kind soul. Offering to drive me to the then-Future Shop, he showed me around the city, often adding “b’y” at the end of some of his sentences. When I questioned him who “b’y” was, he chuckled, politely explaining that it meant “friend” or “buddy” colloquially.

Soon, I began to realize that the friendliness in the city was not special treatment but the norm, a refreshing change from the concrete jungles I had previously inhabited. 

As time passed by and I became more acquainted with the city, I began using the bus, where random strangers would strike up a conversation with me about politics, food, and of course the weather! 

Many a time, the conversation began with “Whatta y'at?” 

Taking this question literally, I would usually reply, “I’m at the bus stop (with you - duh!)”

Today, “This is it b’y”, rolls straight off my tongue when asked the same! 

After spending close to a decade here, through hiking and kayaking, conversations with known faces and unknown strangers, I understood that I could use “Oh me nerves!” to express frustration, “crooked” to convey not a shape but the state of my mind, and “squat” to indicate that something was squished. My personal favourite remains “best kind,” which I frequently use when I am pleased with someone/something and to solicit pleasantly surprised laughter, as no one expects it to come from me.

Newfinese is best kind

While researching for this piece, I found that the dialect of “The Rock” has had an international influence in its formation. Arising from the jagged beauty of the coastline, Newfoundland’s lexicon is filled with words related to the coast and the weather. This is evident from a quick look at the local weather forecast, where the meteorologist will occasionally intersperse terms like “mauzy” or, seldomly, “sun is splittin da’ rocks” through their forecasts. 

In addition to Innu and Inuktitut, French, Spanish, Irish and West Country English have added to this dialect’s rich history. Exhibiting perhaps the largest amount of regional diversity in North America, today, the dialect continues to attract many linguists from far and wide. 

Through my (nearly) three decades of life experience and travels, I can say that most people appreciate when one attempts to learn the lay of their land – be it through culture, language or food – something that I have consciously tried to do to the best of my ability. Being my seventh language, Newfinese has been by far the most fun to learn. A reflection of the caring nature of the people who inhabit this province, Newfinese is a dialect filled with warmth, compassion and care. 

Finding finesse in Newfinesse is quite simple. It comes from imbuing the kind and generous spirit that the people in this province possess.

Prajwala Dixit is an Indian-Canadian engineer, journalist and writer in St. John’s, NL who writes a biweekly regional column for the SaltWire Network. When she isn't engineering ways to save the world, she can be found running behind her toddler, writing and volunteering. Follow her at @DixitPrajwala   


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