‘Dictionary of Newfoundland English’ turns 30

Colin MacLean
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Suzanne Power, centre manager of the English Language Research Centre at Memorial University, flips through a copy of the Dictionary of Newfoundland English in what is known as “The Dictionary Room.” The room is where the original authors of the Newfoundland dictionary did much of their work. The 30th anniversary of the dictionary’s publication was recently celebrated at MUN. — Photo by Colin MacLean/The Telegram

It may seem like an odd notion to celebrate the birthday of a book, but when it’s a book of such iconic stature, that can perhaps be forgiven, laughed Suzanne Power.

Power is the centre manager of the English Language Research Centre at Memorial University, otherwise known as The Dictionary Room because of its connection to the creation of the “Dictionary of Newfoundland English.”

It’s the 30th birthday of that book, which was the toast of the academic community at MUN late last week as the centre celebrated with a ceremony and symposium.

So why all the fuss over one book?

Well, because it’s the Newfoundland book, said Power.

“This is one of the most iconic publications in the history of the province. Hands down,” she said.

“It still stands out as this scholarly work — two decades in the making.”

“Dictionary of Newfoundland English” was first published in 1982 and quickly became a common sight in many Newfoundland households.

It was the result of the tireless efforts and decades of work by three chief editors: William J. Kirwin, John Widdowson and George Story.

It became a symbol of the uniqueness of the island, said Power, and its mystique has only grown with time — which is why

it deserved a birthday party, she said.

“Just the sheer magnitude of work that went into the dictionary is probably the biggest reason it needs to be celebrated. But also there’s also a renewed interest in academia anyway, in identity creation and maintenance — what it means to be a Newfoundlander or a Labradorian. So a book like this ... it speaks to everyone’s feelings of ‘we’re special.’

“We have our own dictionary, and it’s not because people can’t understand us. It’s because we have a lexicon that deserves to be celebrated,” she said.

Sandra Clarke, professor emeritus of linguistics at MUN, was one of several people who gave presentations during Saturday’s symposium on Newfoundland English.

She spoke about a dialect atlas that she, and a number of other researchers, have been working on for the past 10 years. An example of her research would be the fact that there are about 35 different words on the island for “touton,” and mapping where each version is used.

Her work is something of an extension to that already accomplished by the makers of the Newfoundland dictionary, she said.

Which only goes to show what a tremendous literary work the dictionary is. It is the standard, she said.

“Look at the resource that we have to consult. So for researchers it’s an incredible tool,” she said.

“It has, I think, played a role in the culture of Newfoundland.”


Organizations: English Language Research Centre

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • David
    November 13, 2012 - 11:30

    turns whaa? turty?! G'wan b'ye!