My older brother alerted me to this article.
How to (and how not to) pronounce Newfoundland
Since mispronouncing Newfoundland can apparently get people killed, the National Post asked Memorial University’s Philip Hiscock, an expert on the Newfoundland dialect, to outline the rainbow of methods by which to pronounce Canada’s 10th province.
The standard pronunciation by any Newfoundlander born after the 1970s.
After the province officially changed its name to the cumbersome “Newfoundland and Labrador” in 2001, time-strapped locals have started compressing the island’s name just to get through it.
This was the version preferred by Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first premier and the figure who ushered it into Confederation. Pronouncing “new” this way was common across much of English-speaking North America in the early 20th century.
It’s hard to blame a tourist for reading “Newfoundland” on a map and pronouncing it as “new found land.” But this Britishized pronunciation could be commonly found on the island itself in the years before 1910.
No self-respecting Newfoundlander anywhere, ever, has pronounced their homeland’s name with a dismissive “lund.” And while most of Canada has figured this out, small pockets of British Columbians still persist in getting it wrong (including your humble, Victoria-born correspondent).
Mill workers in the frontier town of Larkspur, Colo., saw two men enter a cabin in search of a dictionary. Seconds later, they heard a gunshot.
The Webster’s had not even been thumbed through when mill worker William Atcheson, 23, threw a punch. Teamster John P. Davis recovered and, “true to his Texan breeding and education,” drew a revolver and fired point-blank into his assailant’s abdomen.
The year was 1876 and Davis and Atcheson had just drawn first blood in a dispute that has divided Newfoundlanders ever since.
“One wanted to put the accent on ‘found,’ and the other on ‘land,’ ” said the Rocky Mountain News, which reported on the unusual brawl in its March 29, 1876 edition.
While the modern “noo-fn-land” is the undisputed leader in the battle over the correct pronunciation of the word Newfoundland, it arose out of a pitched struggle of rival inflections.
“It’s a generational thing, but just exactly what the dividing line is I don’t know, but if you’re born after 1970, chances are you primarily put the stress on the first syllable,” says Philip Hiscock, a folklorist at Memorial University and an expert on the Newfoundland dialect.
“And if you’re born before 1950, your primary pronunciation would be to stress the last syllable.”
The 1939 guidelines for the Broadcasting Corporation of Newfoundland read “all three syllables are to be given equal value, but a slight stressing of the final syllable will be permissible.” In essence, early 20th century Newfoundlanders would have received their news from broadcasters who favoured the British “new found land.”
But while pockets of “new-found-land” speakers persisted into the late 20th century, by the Great Depression young Newfoundlanders already considered it outdated and wrong.
It was Joey Smallwood, the province’s influential first premier, who successfully championed “nyoo-fn-land,” antecedent to the version we know today, said Hiscock.
Both as a politician and as a newspaper columnist, Smallwood was an “untiring proponent of the modern pronunciation of ‘nyoo-fn-land’ against all others, including what he saw as the ‘stilted’ … NEW-FOUND-LAND,” wrote Hiscock in a 2005 paper.
After the Second World War, Newfoundland soldiers are also reported to have returned pronouncing their country’s name as a bizarre mash-up of regional, English and Canadian interpretations.
The Day (New London, Connecticut)
The Day (New London, Connecticut)Newspaper story announcing the deathbed confession of John Peter Davis, who murdered a man for mispronouncing “Newfoundland”
But among warring camps, the only undisputed sin is when the “land” is degraded into “lund”— a form most commonly spoken by Americans and small pockets of British Columbians.
“In all the documentation and living memory reports we have, ‘lund’ has always been an incorrect pronunciation,” said Hiscock.
“You can say almost anything in the first two syllables, but that last syllable has to have an ‘and’ in it,” he added.
John P. Davis was never apprehended for the 1876 murder. The air was still thick with gunpowder smoke when he disappeared into a Colorado snowstorm and slipped past a posse of vigilantes rounded up to catch him.
In all the documentation and living memory reports we have, ‘lund’ has always been an incorrect pronunciation
Through the Colorado’s Douglas County History Research Center, the National Post confirmed that a William “Atcheson” did indeed exist. Born in New York City to an Irish ship’s carpenter, he mysteriously disappears from U.S. census rolls soon after 1876.
So too, does Davis.
“If he was on the run, he’s not likely to have told a census taker his name,” said Shaun Boyd, an archivist at Colorado’s Douglas County History Research Centre.
Only in 1912, as he lay dying in Peoria, Ore., would the aging fugitive come clean, spurring a bedside “informant” to alert Colorado authorities by letter.
“The Oregon informant says Davis is living in Peoria, and can be had if the Colorado authorities come after him,” read a December 1912 edition of the Denver Post. The tale of the shocking death-bed confession would soon be reprinted in newspapers across the United States.
“A few of the older Castle Rock pioneers remember the tragedy because of the trivial nature of the quarrel,” read a 1912 article published in the Oregonian.
But Davis, it turned out, was not on his death bed.
He recovered, only to find that he was now being hunted by both Atcheson’s brother and the Colorado Springs district attorney.
“It is understood that Davis is now better and regrets having made a confession,” wrote the Associated Press.
Denver Post One of many newspaper accounts published in 1912 of the murder of William Atcheson over the pronunciation of “Newfoundland”
It is not known if their efforts succeeded. In 1978, the Douglas County courthouse and any possible records of a trial, were lost in a fire.
At the time of the shooting, Newfoundland was still a remote British colony of 160,000 people. Union with Canada was two devastating world wars away, and even Dominion status would need to wait a generation.
And most tragic for Davis and Atcheson, both men were probably pronouncing the colony’s name correctly.
Whether “new-FOUND-land or “new-found-LAND,” somebody in the fishing colony was probably uttering one of them as Atcheson bled out on the floor of a Colorado cabin 4000 kilometres away.
“In the 19th century, both those pronunciations, or some version of them, were in use in Newfoundland,” said Hiscock.