Culture: Talking The Bermudian Talk …

November 22, 2010

1EarlYou say vernacular, we say “wernacular” — and this tendency to transpose “v” and “w” is one of the reasons why Bermuda’s unique accent continues to be the subject of continuing popular and scholarly interest around the world.

Recently the International Dialects of English Archive added a Bermudian section to its on-line collection. The world’s first online archive of global accent and dialect samples, the collection — created by University of Kansas theatre professor Paul Meier – now includes a four-minute interview with a 26-year-old Bermudian man who demonstrates the Bermuda vernacular.

The faux Bermudian accent used by an actor playing a local charter fisherman in the upcoming Jack Black movie  “Gulliver’s Travels” has drawn criticism from Bermudians and Bermudaphiles at the film’s official website. ”That was so not a Bermudian accent,” read one comment in a feedback section for the film’s trailer. “I’m so tired of the generic Caribbean accent – especially because Bermuda is not in the Caribbean!”

In 2001, former Cultural Affairs Officer Ruth Thomas, MBE explained the origins of the distinctive Bermuda vernacular, saying it evolved from diverse influences including the 17th century English spoken by Bermuda’s earliest settlers and later waves of Caribbean and Portuguese immigration.

“The English language that Bermuda’s first settlers brought with them has evolved into two main forms—a standard English and a local vernacular,” she wrote in an essay for a Smithsonian Institute Folklife Festival which Bermuda participated in. “Many Bermudians switch back and forth between them at will, depending on the situation. For example, standard English is used in professional settings and in writing, while vernacular Bermudian English is spoken on more casual occasions. Some people who always use the vernacular orally write in perfect standard English.

“As much as any other aspect of culture, Bermudian speech reflects the islanders’ connections with neighbours around the Atlantic. Early settlers to Bermuda came from various places in England and brought their various local accents and vocabularies with them. Bermudian speech also echos influences from the United States, Canada, and the Caribbean. Portuguese speakers immigrated to Bermuda in the mid-1800s, first from Madeira then from the Azores. Most came without knowledge of English. Eventually, they added a different accent, rhythm, cadence, and even vocabulary to the English spoken on the islands. Some young Bermudians try to emulate the English of the Rastafarian community in Jamaica, reggae dub poets, or American rap artists. In spite of evolutionary change in Bermudian English and the effects of frequent contact with other English-speaking countries, some elements from the past still linger. An example is the way Bermudian English sometimes interchanges the sounds /v/ and /w/; for example, ‘Vere is Villiam’s wiolin?’ for ‘Where is William’s violin’?”

In a lengthy research paper on Bermudian English, former Standford University student Luke Swartz — now a submariner and computer specialist in the US Navy — said the island presented an interesting case study in English dialects – ”in many ways unique among such dialects in the world.”

The rhythm and cadence of the Bermudian accent lends itself to differing interpretations on both sides of the Atlantic. Legendary Bermudian actor Earl Cameron (pictured) has said because the Bermudian accent sounds American to British ears, he was able to land a speaking role in a 1940s London production of Robert Sherwood’s play ”Petrified Forest” — set in Arizona.

Former superstar resident  Michael Douglas, half-Bermudian  but raised in America, says the Bermudian vernacular sounds distinctly British to him: he has told interviewers his children with actress Catherine Zeta Jones, Dylan and Carys, had both  ”picked up the Bermudian accent … which is like a cross between Cornish and Dorset” while they grew up and attended school here until 2009.

Peter Smith and Fred Barritt, both performers in The Not The Um Um Show, compiled “Bermewjan Vurds – a Dictionary of Conversational Bermudian” in 1988, a tongue-in-cheek phrasebook which remains in print and has been cited online.

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  1. Bermuda Dialect College Workshop | | October 14, 2011
  1. sidekick says:

    Own dialect? please…Bermudaians are just too damn lazy to properly annunciate their words.

    • Onionseed says:

      Why are you taking such an attitude? Man, your sort of ignorance vexes me. The island’s dialect is as uniquely Bermudian as anything can be. It has been determined to be a legitimate topic for study by scholars for the last hundred years. It has been celebrated by no less a museum by the Smithsonian. But you put it down to Bermudian laziness! Go talk dickty somewhere else if you don’t like the way we speak!

    • Jays says:

      how long have you been living in bermuda? 3 hours?

      • ReelBeermoode'inHur says:

        Onionseed nuff respect!! Some peepol jest like to complane all de time!!

    • UncleElvis says:

      at least some of us know how to spell “enunciate”, buh.

      (Not that spelling something correctly is important when denouncing a group for their language skills or anything…)

      • OnTheSquare says:

        LOL!!! Exactly UE.

        • Triangle Drifter says:

          LOL. Better to keep quiet & be thought to be a fool than to opwn ones mouth, or spelling, & leave no doubt.

          An accent or dialect is nothing to be ashamed of. Try traveling the US South or Appalatian states & meet the people. It is hard to believe that some of it is English. It is mutual. They don’t understand us either.

          • UncleElvis says:

            According to Bill Bryson’s book “Mother Tongue”, that Appalachian accent you find way up in the mountains is actually remarkably close to Olde English, like Chaucer would have spoken.
            And yet, folks look down on it.

            Well, I guess some people need to put others down to feel better about themselves…

    • Bermy-2-De-Bone says:

      Cha! Some ‘Bize’ just don’t travel enough to realize how unique a ‘Bermy’ accent is. It really strikes you when you go to a new country and need to correct your words to be understood… even amongst other islands who havee equally unique ‘slang’. It is so common to find Americans thinkin we sound British and vice versa. I work with a variety of nationalities and the v/w switch was a subject of converstaion today!!!
      Nice one Bernews!!

    • Mary Williams says:

      And the fact that you could not even spell check the words “Bermudian” and “enunciate” means what? Lazy!

    • BDADIVA says:

      Sidekick – Bye fack off, bye!! Shrongwiffu?? Aink NOFFIN wrong wiff hah we talk!

    • Chris Astwood says:

      Never mind that you do not know the difference between the meanings of the words ‘annunciate’ (to announce or declare something), and ‘ennunciate’ (to say or pronounce words clearly). Go learn your own language before you insult our version. If you are a Bermudian yourself, go re-evaluate the ways that you try to generate feelings of self-worth.

      • Chris Astwood says:

        Damn it there’s only one N in them there words. Now your idiot spelling has infected mine.

    • Proud Bermy says:

      @sidekick Have you lost your mind! I am so glad i just saw this post this morning cause I would hate to have to educate you on Bermudian culture and language. It seems you were out of something to say and wanted to feel important enough to be attacked, publically.

  2. Bri says:

    I found this to be most interesting! Thanks Bernews….

  3. Fan Speed says:

    Bye no bye!

  4. Call as it is says:

    wonders where that terry is for this report?

    he always types a lot of trash that is supposed to read Bermudian

  5. uhmm uhmm says:

    uhhmm uhmm – uhmm sayinn… real talk like.

  6. aald says:

    that island didnt look like bermuda, it surely wasnt bermuda, nor was that a bermudian accent. smh. we should sue. maybe we’d get enough to fix our deficit.

  7. Way To Go says:

    Yes that accent was definately horrible… so not Bermudian not even a little bit definately someone from another island and they could have even done an arial view shot of Bermuda. Had to be a tight budget but really tho…. it wouldn’t have cost that much to have just have a Bermudian play the role of a Bermudian.

  8. CanadianLuv says:

    I loveee the Bermudian accent!!! It’s so beautiful, but every time I visit the Island and experience the nightlife all the Bermudian DJ’s & MC’s speak in patwa! I find that very odd! lol

  9. Doug says:

    Onionseed – don’t you mean “wexes”?