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Book to celebrate island’s unique dialect

Encouraging pride: Rosemary Hall, left, and Brittani Fubler are researching the Bermudian dialogue (Photograph by Sarah Lagan)

Two Bermudians who have been researching the charms, intricacies and origins of the Bermudian dialect will see their work published in a book being sponsored by the Ministry of Community and Cultural Affairs.

Linguist and speech therapist Brittani Fubler and Rosemary Hall, who is completing a PhD on the subject at Oxford University, will both contribute to the book which is expected to be published in 2018.

Ms Hall told The Royal Gazette: “We are both doing individual and joint research. Because it is very academic we want to make it more accessible to the general public and so we are hoping to include some history about Bermuda, the dialect, personal stories and photos — we are just celebrating our culture with a focus on our dialect.

“The fieldwork involves making recordings with Bermudians and it is a great way of getting oral history. We are getting amazing stories from the Thirties and Forties.” Ms Fubler added: “And those are just as important as our study on the dialect.

“We are hoping to get some prominent Bermuda icons in there as well as ‘nana’ and ‘papa’ from around the corner and we would like to include some children as well because they are important. We are both really excited.”

Ms Fubler and Ms Hall hosted two events dedicated to Bermudian dialect last week, sponsored jointly by Community and Cultural Affairs and the Bermuda Historical Society — a lecture and an open discussion.

One of the main topics of discussion was dealing with the “misconception” that using a dialect is wrong.

Ms Hall explained: “We were trying to help combat some negative attitudes about the accent. We talked about switching accents between different situations, which is normal but a lot of people we spoke to in our interviews said they are worried it doesn’t sound proper, they are ashamed of their accent or try not to use it. We were trying to stress that the dialect is unique and it is something to be proud of.

“In linguistics, which is the science of language, we see all dialects as equally grammatical and by that we mean there is internal structure. It means communication succeeds so changing word order from standard English is grammatical and is fine. In professional settings and in education it is important that everybody has access to the dialect of English that we come to identify as being standard but it is not objectively any better than any other dialect of English. In one way it is not unique, there are regional dialects around the world. I think sometimes Bermudians think they are speaking incorrectly when standard English dialect is actually the minority — only about one per cent of English speakers use it.”

Some classic Bermudian sayings were discussed in the forum as well as some new additions. Ms Fubler recalled: “Someone brought up ‘I talk to her’ which means we are dating though people don’t really use it much anymore. There are some ingrained ones like ‘ace boy’ which are not going anywhere and a more recent word that was mentioned — ‘wassy’ which means intoxicated.”

Ms Fubler and Ms Hall would like to hear from anyone who is interested in getting involved in the book.

Anyone interested can get in touch by e-mailing bfubler@gmail.com or rosemary.alice.hall@gmail.com or calling 504-6398