Top of Page Home Search Heritage Web Site


SOURCES FOR THE DICTIONARY

Classified lists of the sources cited in the Dictionary articles are set forth in the Bibliography and they represent our selection from the total corpus of evidence at our disposal. But that evidence is considerably larger than the portion actually cited and, moreover, is of such discrete and varied nature as to require summary description.

Printed Sources. For more than two hundred years printed sources have formed the base upon which historical dictionaries have rested and the present work, in part, follows that tradition. Our aim was to read intensively the body of literature devoted to the island of Newfoundland and coastal Labrador from its beginning in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries down to about 1850, and thereafter to read and excerpt more selectively as the volume of material became more extensive.

In the earlier period, the principal works were usually composed by outsiders writing about the country, and readers of the Dictionary articles will soon become familiar with the limited number of names and works which occur repeatedly in the quotations: Gilbert's Voyages & Enterprises (1583); James Yonge, the Devonshire surgeon, describing visits of the West Country fishing fleet in 1663, 1668 and 1670; the 1699 Act of Parliament which set down in formal terms the customary regulation of the Newfoundland fisheries which had grown up during the preceding hundred years; Joseph Banks, writing about his scientific collecting in 1766; George Cartwright with his detailed journal of sixteen years' residence on the coast of Labrador, beginning in 1770; Aaron Thomas, diarist and seaman (1794); the clergymen Anspach (1819) and Wix (1836); and others. These writers, and their successors Bonnycastle, Jukes, De Boilieu, Wilson, and the many twentieth-century visitors (or resident outsiders such as Grenfell) who have written about their observations and experiences, form an important and much-used resource for the Dictionary; and, as their abundant and conscious use of italics and quotation marks indicates, they contributed richly to the historical record of Newfoundland English, though in using their work we have exercised a necessary caution in distinguishing between their own use of the language and their attribution, implied or overt, of regional usage. Of course the dialogue composed by these accomplished professional writers should not be trusted as much as the grammatical evidence in the Dictionary's quotations taken from taped speech.

With native-born Newfoundland writers we are usually on more assured ground since their pamphlets, books and essays frequently tend to employ the vocabulary and idioms assimilated during childhood and youth in Newfoundland. Especially after 1807, when the printing press was introduced to the region and the settled population moved towards the status of an official colony, these writers produced works that become staple sources; Bond, Cormack, Howley, Prowse, Tocque and others are the recurring names in the quotations. In the nineteenth century, too, begins the flood of ephemeral works: pamphlets written and printed locally, Christmas annuals, magazines and trade reviews, some of them rare even in public collections and a few surviving in apparently unique copies. We have read as many of them as possible; and we have also drawn heavily on local newspapers, especially the two long-lived St John's papers, the Daily News and the Evening Telegram, together with the Newfoundland Quarterly.

Special care has been given to the large corpus of ballads which from about 1830 forms the principal local literary source, and we have augmented this by the plays, poems and fiction of Newfoundland and adopted Newfoundland writers ranging from Lowell and Duncan to the steadily increasing number and variety of writers of our own century: Duley, Guy, Horwood, Pratt, Russell, Scammell, and others.

One source for the documentation of the regional lexicon, place-names, perhaps needs special mention since it has not, in our experience, been much used by lexicographers. As occasion offered, we have cited these and other topographic terms from the record of their historical incidence on maps and charts in the work of E. R. Seary,19 for they often provide the earliest authentic evidence of terms which later appear in more familiar kinds of printed sources (see baccalao, blow-me-down, bread-and-cheese, salvage). A specialized work of great importance for the record of the lexicon of a coastal people has been cited with particular frequency: the British Admiralty's Newfoundland and Labrador Pilot. We have used it mostly in the 8th edition (1951, 1953); but in its origin it reaches back through an unbroken tradition of marine surveys to the work of Cook and Lane in the eighteenth century; in its record of coastal features with lexical significance, of conditions of ice, wind and water, it has been an important source and one the very language of which is a constant reminder of the depth of the influence of nautical idiom on the speech of the region (see brandies, ground, growler, gulch, ledge, run, sunker, tickle).

Finally, there is a considerable number of glossarists of local words and expressions—natives and visitors alike—whose lists we have drawn upon for our evidence: Cartwright (1792), Moreton (1863), Patterson (1895-7), England (1924-5), Devine (1937), English (1955), and others.20 Though these writers are placed, for obvious reasons, among our printed sources, it should be borne in mind that they were almost exclusively collectors from 'oral' sources, and we do not attribute to them either more or less weight or authority over the other non-printed sources for the Dictionary simply because they achieved print. But we are deeply indebted to these predecessors for their pioneering attempt to collect and record the regional lexicon.

We have naturally made heavy demands, rarely disappointed, on the custodians of printed material related to the region, particularly the Provincial Reference Library, St John's, and the University's Centre for Newfoundland Studies, the latter also acting as intermediary in securing through inter-library loan material not available locally. In nearly every case this has enabled us to use the most authoritative text of a given work, either the earliest printed text or one available in a critical edition. But few Newfoundland texts have been edited with high standards of scholarship, and occasional problems of a special nature have been posed by the existence of some works in variant issues and editions. For example, Whitbourne's Discourse and Discovery of Newfoundland survives in eleven editions and issues (and one manuscript) dated variously between 1620 and 1623, two of them with considerable textual variation and all with a bibliographical relationship which has only recently been clarified.21 Cormack's Narrative of his journey across the island of Newfoundland in 1822 is available in several printed editions which have not been systematically collated and critically edited. The texts of the ballads are notorious for variation introduced by the singers from whose lips (for the most part) the compositions have been collected, as well as for a lax tradition of printing and editing. In these and other similar instances we have occasionally cited now one text of a work, now another, in illustrating a word, giving the quotation from a designated edition or editions listed in the Bibliography.

Historical Manuscripts. At an early stage of our work we decided not to attempt to read and excerpt the large collections of historical manuscripts relating to Newfoundland and Labrador such as those preserved in the Provincial Archives (assembled contemporaneously with work on the Dictionary), or abroad in the Public Record Office of Great Britain, the British Library, and elsewhere; and we have, in general, adhered to that decision for the simple and pragmatic reason that we could not afford the time it would have taken to do otherwise. But we have been led to make some exceptions to the general rule and, because they were readily available to us (in the original or in photographs) and filled important gaps in the printed record, we have systematically drawn evidence from a number of particular manuscript sources, including the Willoughby Papers, now located at the University of Nottingham, for the period 1610-1634; the Pulling Manuscript (BM Add MSS 38352) for 1792; the Diary of the Rev. Henry Lind from the west coast of Newfoundland (c1850); the sealing logs of Capt. Edward White for many of the years between 1854 and 1886; the manuscript Reminiscences of J.P. Howley, covering the years 1868-1910; the Twillingate Minute Book of the Fishermen's Protective Union (1912-1942); and a few other miscellaneous documents, some in private hands but most of them in public collections.

Occasionally we have found it necessary to go to microfilm copies of the original documents preserved among the papers of the British Colonial Office, especially the 194 series dealing with Newfoundland in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in order to resolve doubts about the accuracy of a published transcript or to seek corroborating evidence for the occurrence of a word (see, for example, sud line). But for the most part we have relied on the copious extracts from this series, and other historical manuscripts, given in such standard works as those by Reeves (1793), Pedley (1863), Prowse (1895), Innis (1940, 1954), Head (1976), etc.

Field Records. Collecting from nonprinted sources specifically for the Dictionary began with the inception of the work and was both accelerated and broadened in 1959 as dialectology was formally introduced to Newfoundland.22 Field-workers quickly discovered a richness of vocabulary similar to that documented in the British Survey of English Dialects (1962-8),23 and words, pronunciations and meanings obtained in direct interviewing became part of the lexical store for the Dictionary.

Collecting for the Dictionary was also conducted by the editors in a variety of other ways as well: check-lists of words were circulated among informants for verification and information; collections were made by our students in courses taught at Memorial University; and many items were collected over several decades in the ordinary course of living, and listening, in Newfoundland. Material drawn from this body of data is cited in the Dictionary articles with the code letter P.

Folklore and Language Archive. Next to the printed sources, the largest single category of material upon which we have drawn is that contained in the Memorial University of Newfoundland Folklore and Language Archive (MUNFLA). Assembled over a period of almost a decade and a half, and still growing,24 the Archive is the repository of materials of immense richness for, among others, the lexicographer.

In listing the Archive sources excerpted and used in the Dictionary we have set up in our Bibliography four headings: card collection, manuscript collection, questionnaire collection, and tape collection; these are cited in the Dictionary with the code letters, C, M, Q and T respectively.

The first three groups of data, from C, M and Q sources, are chiefly student collections, made as part of formal training in undergraduate courses in folklore and usually the result of investigation of the traditional life of particular home communities. At the time (1975) when we completed our excerpting of the Archive, it contained 25,000 carded items, 1000 individual manuscript collections, and 5000 questionnaire responses, each catalogued and accessioned, and recording the name of the collector, the informant, the place and date of collecting. The topics investigated range from material culture, stories, rhymes, riddles, games, ballads and songs, to accounts of the economic activities—the round of work—of the settlements, their patterns of belief and behaviour; and the submissions frequently display, in a natural and unselfconscious way, the familiar lexicon of the region. Some of the collecting instruments, especially a large and diverse questionnaire administered by 1300 student-collectors in the winter of 1966-67, contained sections specifically designed by the editors of the Dictionary to elicit vocabulary.

While excerpting these collections for the lexical items, we also created a separate file of over 20,000 cards containing proverbs and proverbial comparisons which, together with a considerable store of printed reports, have been used as occasion offered in writing the Dictionary articles.

The tape collection of the Archive included by 1975 some 2000 original tapes a substantial number of which were recorded in the field by Herbert Halpert and J.D.A. Widdowson working in most of the areas of the island of Newfoundland. A considerable portion of these have been typed in running transcripts which can, like a printed book, be scanned, the lexical items marked, phonetically transcribed from the tape itself, and provided with context sentences and exact reference to collector, informant, date, and community.

For many kinds of books and articles since the mid-nineteenth century, the motives and conditions of publishing sometimes distort the vernacular speech of the people, except in the vocabulary of the gear and procedures connected with the fisheries. In this situation the taped conversations in the Archive (and indeed the student reports gleaned from grandparents and older friends and relatives) have provided a salutary corrective to the words, usages, and meanings excerpted from printed works. The recordings are most frequently of men and women born before 1900, and, as will be observed from many citations in the Dictionary, they deal with the times and activities of the older members of the speakers' families, and reach well back into the nineteenth century. The recall of these transmitters of a largely oral culture is minutely detailed and factual, and the result in the mass of the Archive sources is a splendid verbal record of the pronunciations, forms and terms of earlier generations.

We have elsewhere assessed the evidence collected from these sources from the point of view of the regional lexicon,25 but the conventions of historical lexicography have been so heavily weighted towards an exclusive reliance on printed evidence that it is perhaps useful for us to repeat some of that discussion, for as with the data drawn from the records of trained field-workers, these Archives sources are, of course, essentially oral.

There is good reason why lexicographers have not commonly drawn upon nonprinted materials for their work. For one thing, it takes much time and trouble to collect it, as Dr Johnson long ago observed:26

I could not visit caverns to learn the miner's language, nor take a voyage to perfect my skill in the dialect of navigation, nor visit the warehouses of merchants, and shops of artificers, to gain the names of wares, tools and operations, of which no mention is found in books ... it had been a hopeless labour to glean up words, by courting living information...

Moreover, orally collected data does not, by its very nature, easily lend itself to the practice of rigorous and precise documentation of the kind essential to historical lexicography; a word heard on radio, spoken on television, or overheard in the street usually passes too quickly for verification.

Yet several dictionaries which we have habitually used in our work, and which have influenced our practice, have in one way or another gone beyond the printed record. One of the most important of these, Wright's English Dialect Dictionary (1898-1905), for example, drew heavily on the personal contributions of numerous correspondents, and their data is inserted among the other kinds of evidence utilized in the dictionary, identified by the initials of the informant, together with material from unprinted collections of dialect words.27 And of course the numerous regional glossaries compiled for and printed by the English Dialect Society expressly for use in the Society's dictionary which Wright undertook to edit, together with the other glossaries issued by sister organizations in the counties of England and elsewhere in the British Isles, were in many cases essentially a record of oral use. Like the EDD, the Scottish National Dictionary (begun in 1931) relied in part on a network of local informants as well as upon printed sources; and a more recent work, The Dictionary of Jamaican English (1967) by Cassidy and LePage, similarly rests partly on a base of non-printed evidence: questionnaire responses especially, and a limited number of tape recordings and field records. To these will soon be added the long-promised American equivalent of the English Dialect Dictionary, Cassidy's Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE), which is being constructed from materials assembled from varied sources over many decades by the American Dialect Society, from extensive field investigation, including tape recordings and massive questionnaire data, as well as from a reading of regional books and newspapers."28


Figure 3

What the Archive has, in effect, done is to bring together a large corpus of data from oral sources in both written and taped form and, through a careful policy of accessioning, cataloguing and transcription, turn these into documents which can be examined, verified, collated and used (like printed data) critically and precisely. In our practice, therefore, printed data, while remaining one of the staples of our work, is complemented by both manuscript and oral evidence. (See Figure 3 in which the percentages refer to the totals of specified sources, not to degree of use in citations, i.e. to 'types' not 'tokens.') Nothing less, we believe, would suffice in a work of this kind undertaken in a region in which the local tradition of print is late and relatively weak but which displays a tenacious and robust oral culture;29 and the reader of the majority of the articles presented in the Dictionary is invited to consider the losses and gains which would have resulted from reliance on any less broad a range of sources than we have in fact used.


  1. See especially his Place Names of the Avalon Peninsula of the Island of Newfoundland (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1971).
  2. See G.M. Story, 'A Critical History of Dialect Collecting in Newfoundland,' Regional Language Studies ...Newfoundland, 6 (May, 1975), 1-4.
  3. See Short-Title Catalogue of English Books: 1475-1640, 2nd ed (London: The Bibliographical Society, 1976) ii, 452.
  4. See G.M. Story, A Newfoundland Dialect Dictionary: A Survey qf the Problems [St John's], 1956, and 'Research in the Language and Place-Names of Newfoundland,' J Can Ling Assoc, (1957), 47-55; J.D.A. Widdowson, 'Some Items of a Central Newfoundland Dialect,' Can Journ Ling, x (1964), 37-46; W.J. Kirwin, 'The Dialects,' in The Avalon Peninsula of Newfoundland; An Ethnolinguistic Study (Ottawa: The National Museum of Canada, 1968), 56-73; three theses directed by W.J. Kirwin: H.J. Paddock (1966), Virginia Dillon (1968), and R.G Noseworthy (1971).
  5. The Newfoundland population has been so long separated from the agricultural communities of the West Country investigated for the SED that only a small number of useful parallels in the parts devoted to the southern counties have been recorded in our headnotes.
  6. See Herbert Halpert and Neil V. Rosenberg, Folklore Studies at Memorial University: Two Reports, [St John's:] Folklore Reprint Series No. 4, 1978, 1-13, for an account of the origin of the Archive, the methods by which it was assembled, and an account of its accessioning and cataloguing system.
  7. Story, Kirwin and Widdowson, 'Collecting for the Dictionary of Newfoundland English,' Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, ccxi (June, 1973),104-8.
  8. A Dictionary of the English Language (London: J. and P. Knapton and others, 1755), vol i, C 1v.
  9. EDD, vol. i, Preface, and xi-xiv.
  10. See Frederic G. Cassidy, 'What's New About DARE ?' in Papers in Language Variation, ed David L. Shores and Carole P. Hines (University of Alabama Press, 1977), 13-17.
  11. See Herbert Halpert, 'Folklore and Newfoundland,' Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada, 8 (1969), 10-22; G. M. Story, 'Notes from a Berry Patch,' Transactions of the Royal Society of Canada, Series IV, x (1972), 163-77.