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The parish bull is after the squigglys again. That's Bermudianese for 'a man with a lot of children is chasing pretty, available women again'. It's one of the oddities that Britanni Fubler discovered while studying the Bermudian dialect as part of a research project at the University of Toronto.

Miss Fubler will be giving a talk tonight called 'How You Handlin' Me?' about the lexical, phonological and phonetic properties of the Bermudian dialect. She will reveal more about parish bulls and squigglys and other unusual Bermudian words, and discuss how the dialect is changing and the role that Bermudians can play in saving it. She recently graduated from the University of Toronto with an honours bachelor of arts degree in linguistics.

“I became interested in Bermudian culture from being away,” said Miss Fubler. “I was away for high school and then I went to university in Canada. I became genuinely interested in what was Bermudian, especially being in an international environment. The dialect part came when I started university and got into linguistics, and the study of language. I wanted to make sure that I studied something relevant to Bermuda that paired with the study of language and our dialect.”

She wrote two papers. To study accent and dialogue she conducted interviews, and then ran the interviews through special linguistics software to analyse things like vowel usage. She also conducted surveys to find out how well known words like “squiggly” were. She found that there is probably more than one accent in Bermuda one Bermudian dialect and a standard dialect. A dialect includes grammar as well as vocabulary. For example, many Bermudians might ask 'where's my socks to?' instead of 'where are my socks?'

“I will talk in my presentation about how our dialect is different from a standard English,” she said. “We have a lot of British influence, and an American influence in terms of our vocabulary. Outside of that I think we have some West African influence through the slave trade. It is going to take more research to learn more about the origin of our dialect. What I can tell you is that the acoustic analysis shows that we do have more British influences in our accent. The lexical analysis shows that we are a dialect that is alive as we are inventing new words and adding them to our vocabulary. We are also changing the meaning of some words, like 'ace boy'.

Ms Fubler didn't think that the Bermudian dialect was disappearing, but she thought it could be at a point of change.

“It is at a point of sink or swim,” she said. “In the next 80 or 90 years we could lose it or maintain it. It depends on how we view it moving forward. Any dialect is at risk of being lost if the speakers have a negative view of it or, if there is linguistic shift which makes the dialect obsolete. I think that Bermuda's dialect, along with other dialects, is at a 'sink or swim' point because using a more standard dialect is becoming more prestigious in our world today which could jeopardise the livelihood of local dialects like ours. It's up to us as a community to decide whether or not this is something we want to preserve.”

In previous talks in Bermuda, she surveyed Bermudians about their feelings about the Bermudian dialect before and after the talk. She found people held it in greater estimation after they learned more about it.

“It tells you something about yourself that you otherwise wouldn't have had the time to discover or had the resources to explore,” said Miss Fubler. “Thankfully, through my professors at University of Toronto I was able to explore this side of our culture. The majority of the feedback has been positive. There has been very little research on this topic in previous years that I could find. I found three published research papers. There was one written in 1933, and the rest were in 2001 and 2005. They touched on the social aspects of it, but I touched more on the analytical and acoustic parts of the dialect. I wanted to put some scientific evidence on paper that would translate to the global community.”

Some people might blame technology for a loss of cultural dialect. Many young people today spend more time on their phones using 'text speak', than they do their native language. They also spend a lot of time listening to television, which has predominantly American shows. However, Miss Fubler said she wasn't very concerned about the impact of technology.

“Technology is global now,” she said. “Almost every young person has a cellphone. I wouldn't say it is influencing us any more than it is any other country. I haven't done research into that area so I can't give you any definites. I don't think television is affecting us in the way that we think either. It doesn't have that much of an impact at all. I will be talking about that more in my presentation.”

In her lecture, she will also explore the class implications of the way that people speak in Bermuda. She said class was definitely one of the linguistic factors that impact the way people speak in Bermuda, along with age, race, and education.

“It does affect the way we use our dialect here, to some degree,” said Miss Fubler. “I haven't been able to pinpoint where that plays into things, but it does have an impact.”

While at the University of Toronto, Miss Fubler completed a minor in Portuguese, and did a language immersion programme in the Azores. She said she did not really include Portuguese Bermudians in her paper because that was a whole different ball game.

She is currently taking a year off to work in Bermuda, and hopes to go back to school to study speech pathology in either the United Kingdom or the United States. She is willing to e-mail her papers to people who are interested.

“Once I get more participants and solidify my research I hope to present it internationally and give it to online linguistic journals to publish,” she said.

Tonight's talk will be at the Bermuda College in the North Hall lecture theatre from 6.30pm to 8.30pm. For more information, e-mail bfubler[AT]gmail.com .

Britanni Fubler (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Britanni Fubler shown here with some Bermudian 'vurds' on her BlackBerry. If you know what this means, you must be Bermudian. (Photo by Akil Simmons)
Britanni Fubler (Photo by Akil Simmons)

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Published November 03, 2011 at 2:00 am (Updated November 03, 2011 at 9:48 am)

Do you know the 'Bermudianese' for ....... ?

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