Editor of dictionary on regional English in U.S. to lecture at MUN
The chief editor of an American dictionary dedicated to region-specific words will deliver a special lecture at Memorial University in St. John’s this Wednesday.
While Joan Hall has never been to Newfoundland and Labrador before, she was already familiar with its language eccentricities through the “Dictionary of Newfoundland English.”
“I was actually delighted to hear some of the words I’ve read about,” said Hall, chief editor of the “Dictionary of American Regional English.”
Hall has been making her way across the island over the past week in advance of her lecture titled “From Adam’s Housecat to Zydeco — The Vitality of American Regional English.”
A Memorial University Faculty of Arts event, the George Story Lecture in Humanities takes place Wednesday at the Bruneau Centre’s Innovation Theatre starting at 7:30 p.m.
While people from different parts of America or Newfoundland may be able to understand each other when they engage in conversations, Hall said some words still manage to surprise.
“Although on a whole we all understand one another perfectly well, we still get surprised by the fact that sometimes we use words that other people don’t understand, or sometimes other people use words that we don’t understand, and I think most people find that’s quite fun and exciting,” she said.
Though there may be sticklers advocating for proper usage of the English language, Hall said people should take pride in their unique ways of describing day-to-day life.
“Sometimes they think, ‘Oh my goodness, I must have used a dialect word. I should be embarrassed.’ But they shouldn’t be, because the words we use are a good reflection of where we come from, where our communities have come from, our ancestors, and I think variety is delightful. It’s worth preserving.”
Hall was a graduate student in the late-1960s at Emory University in Atlanta when she became involved in a dialect survey for rural Georgia.
“At that time I heard about the (dictionary) fieldwork and thought, ‘Oh, I’d really like to do that.’”
It wasn’t until a few years later as she was finishing her dissertation that Hall’s advisor mentioned that founding editor Fred Cassidy was looking for an editor.
“I applied and I was lucky enough to get the job.”
Formal editing work on the first volume began in 1975, covering words and phrases from A-C. It was finally published a decade later in 1985. The final volume was published last year, covering words and phrases that start with ‘Si’ and continuing on to Z. Hall became the publication’s chief editor following Cassidy’s death in 2000.
Asked to give her initial take on Newfoundland English as she has thus far encountered, Hall said it has been fun to hear words that are new to her.
“I wasn’t familiar with bakeapples,” she said of the berry that’s called a cloudberry in other parts of the world. “I’m not sure if it’s true or not, but some people say that it comes from a misinterpretation of a French phrase meaning, ‘What’s that berry called?’”
Tuckamore, mug up, and scrunchions are other new words and phrases Hall has encountered so far on her trip. She has also enjoyed hearing the differences in speech patterns from one community to the next.
Her own dictionary and the Newfoundland one have some connections. The “Dictionary of American Regional English” quotes or makes reference to its Newfoundland counterpart in at least 50 instances, according to Hall. She also points out that the second edition of the “Dictionary of Newfoundland English” makes reference to the first volume of her book.
“There are many similarities, sometimes just because people came from the same southwestern English community, for instance, and settled in Newfoundland and some places in the U.S. So they both brought features of the vocabulary with them and they’ve been maintained both in your country and ours.”