Newfoundlanders and Labradorians are a fiercely proud lot. Canada’s youngest province has spent much of its history defending itself from outside forces both real and imagined.
Our inferiority complex vis-à-vis the rest of Canada and the world, however, can sometimes manifest itself in ugly ways. The current fracas over famous visitors mispronouncing Newfoundland has not been our finest hour, and it reveals a striking lack of self-awareness among a certain share of our population.
Anthony Bourdain is a famous chef-turned-globetrotter with a hardscrabble life story that could have easily gone in a much different direction for the CNN star. He almost lost himself to addiction — a sadly common fate in the food service industry.
But he cleaned himself up and now earns a living travelling the world and giving attention to corners of it that many of his viewers would never otherwise see.
His story and success through legendarily hard work and perseverance against long odds — and his acerbic humour and appreciation for a few sociables — make him a perfect fit for Newfoundland. And so he came to shoot an episode here of his highly-rated CNN show “Parts Unknown,” shining a bright light on the province as a tourist destination and culinary hot spot.
The show’s glowingly positive depiction of the place and Bourdain’s obvious affinity for it were quickly swamped by that old standby — locals’ prickliness that an American visitor can’t pronounce Newfoundland correctly.
Never mind that it’s a hard word to pronounce if you’ve never seen it; ignore that many place names on Earth would trip up even our province’s most skilled linguists; forget, even, that many local dialects in the province mangle syntax and grammar in equal measure, dropping and adding letters and syllables in a way that often renders the language indecipherable to visitors.
Forget all of this.
Bourdain’s transgression was unforgivable to the minority of the province’s residents who insist on flawless pronunciation while they themselves speak in what can charitably be referred to as a generous interpretation of the language of Shakespeare.
The province’s infinite quilt of accents and patois is undeniably a vital part of its heritage. But “I seen” is just wrong, and it’s everywhere in Newfoundland.
The province’s self-appointed language police should both lighten up and look in the mirror. Mocking visitors for how they speak is a great way to keep them from coming back. Doing so while peppering your own language with errors and mispronunciations is even worse.
Our friends in Saskatchewan, Miramichi, and Iqualuit don’t agonize over visitors' mangling of their place names. They’re just glad they visited.
Ottawa (originally from Corner Brook)