or, stuff that I dragged out of my head

Location: Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada

Thursday, January 26, 2006

After All

Last night after idly browsing channels for a while we settled on a documentary about Tommy Sexton and Codco, and at one point Sexton's very Newfoundland mother said, in part, "...and I thought, 'Something's after happening'."

Now, I grew up with this expression and others like it and had scarcely ever given it a second thought, but it suddenly occurred to me that it's very non-standard English, to say the least. In fact, I could hardly imagine where it might have come from: how could "She's after running off" possibly mean "She has run off"?

So naturally my research assist (that would be Jim, who has a computer in the living room) got on the case, and this is what he discovered.

Newfoundland English owes a great debt to Irish English, since a great many settlers from Ireland landed there and figured it couldn't be any worse than what they'd left. Now, in Irish Gaelic, there is no such verb as "to have". I would scarcely have believed it, but they make do nicely without it, as it turns out. Possession--"They have a house"--is indicated by affixes which match up to English prepositions such as "at", "on", and "after" (in this case, some approximation of "The house is at them"), and these also serve to indicate the past tense--"They have gone"--alongside the past participle ("They are after going").

So there you have it. It's not just because of the segregated (Catholic/Protestant) school systems that people call Newfoundland "Little Ireland".


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