Bermudian English in the Oxford English Dictionary
As we had not time to answer questions during the live session, they were addressed by the presenters and are available to view below.
Bermudian English in the OED – Q&A
The interviews that Rosie mentioned with 80 Bermudian speakers — will that be eventually stored/archived publicly (to the general public) and if so, what organization/institution?
Dr Rosemary Hall: My original interviewees gave consent for the recordings to be used for research but not for them to be accessible publicly. Therefore the interviews are not stored publicly at present, but I am very open either to creating a publicly accessible archive (for those interviews where informants give their consent), or to creating a wider oral history archive in Bermuda comprising new interviews. If you have thoughts, ideas or requests please do contact me (firstname.lastname@example.org).
Did Dr Hall consider Collie Budz performances and persona? If so, does Dr Hall have an opinion of it?
Dr Rosemary Hall: Yes! To me it is appropriation. The linguist Dr Anika Gerfer has done some fascinating work on this too.
How did OED date the words’ usage origin?
Dr Danica Salazar: One of the main tasks of an editor working on an OED entry is to trace the word’s development. Their research might lead them to search newspaper archives, online forums, academic studies, magazines, law tracts, recipe books, or social media for published evidence of the word. If a key example is available in a library or archive beyond digital access, editors also have the opportunity to enlist the help of the OED’s network of researchers, who are based at institutions around the world, to track down the elusive example.
Rosie mentioned a number of individuals studying/presenting Bermudian English — could those names be provided again please?
Dr Rosemary Hall: Sure [name removed]! There’s work by the Bermudian scholar Britanni Fubler, Swiss linguists Nicole Eberle and Daniel Schreier, American Professor Nicole Holliday, and British linguist Peter Trudgill. The very first work was done by Harry Morgan Ayres in 1933.
Thank you very much 🙂
How does the OED reconcile the importance of written record with current and historic issues of privilege (literacy, who gets published, etc.) and culture (oral traditions, etc.)?
Dr Danica Salazar: OED editors have always had to rely on published sources, not because they consider written evidence to be superior to spoken evidence, but because published sources come with publication dates which allow them to accurately date the usage of words. However, with the greater availability of digital databases that include material beyond books, newspapers, and magazines, OED editors now have better access to a more diverse range of evidence sources such as letters, diaries, manuscripts, song lyrics, and videos. In addition, the OED’s international network of consultants helps lexicographers find more authentic evidence for different varieties of English by putting them in touch with local libraries and informing them of local authors whose work needs to be represented in the dictionary. Finally, social media provides OED editors with a massive number of examples of language use that are written and dated but are actually closer to the spoken rather than written register, thus opening new avenues of research into varieties of English for which published evidence is more limited.
What do you need as a source to date a phrase?
Dr Catherine Sangster: This gives more information about how to tell us about antedatings:
As a speaker of Australian English, it amazes me how often people get it wrong – ‘for example, they routinely assume Australians use a short a in ‘bath’ like Americans, rather than the long a actually used. Does that happen in Bermudian English, and what sounds do people usually get wrong?
Dr Rosemary Hall: Interesting question! Usually, the less familiar people are with an accent or dialect, the less accurate their impersonations will be (this is also the reason why people from the UK have trouble distinguishing AusE from NZE, or American from Canadian Englishes…let alone imitating any of them). In the UK, people often use post-vocalic ‘r’ in performances of rural East Anglian dialects (infuriating East Anglian speakers!), even though rhoticity isn’t a feature of many of them at all and is more common in the SW of England.
Even in a place as small as Bermuda, though, parody can still often be an inaccurate representation of its target. As in many varieties, BBerE has more than one variant for a given variable in many cases, but often the white performers are only able to approximate one of them. V-w is a good example; parodists usually perform a simple ’switch’ rather than the bilabial fricative variant discussed in the webinar. When performing vowel sounds, parodists often get the length or the quality ‘right’, but not both (this is true in Bermuda of the vowel sounds in words like MOUTH and GOAT). All this highlights the fact that these features aren’t in their normal repertoire, and contradicts claims that they are simply mocking themselves.
Dr. Hall: In your first presentation, I thought I heard you say Bermudian English was the result of the interaction of several English varieties (Welsh, English, Irish, etc.) What about interactions with slave creoles in in U.S. where Plantation Creole played a role in development of African-American Vernacular English and whose lexicon influenced standard American English? A parallel in Bermudian English after 200 years of slavery?
Dr Rosemary Hall: Definitely. It’s likely that many of the enslaved people in Bermuda had encountered English or English-based creoles already which is likely why a creole did not form in Bermuda.
I really enjoyed the discussion. I am not certain this can be answered.
At the end of the discussion, I wanted to ask what role does the circumstances/nuance play in parody?
For example – all true by the way – if I, as a Black Bermudian stop to a local fisherman, who is White, and he’s barefoot, spent a life on the water, and he’s using what the panel appears to be saying is “Black Bermudian English”, is he parodying me or is that the authentic way a White Bermudian of a certain class speaks?
What if, I am in Tokyo, Japan, and among a group of North Americans. A White Bermudian hears me, introduces himself, and he says “ve byes are a long way from de Rock…”, with the most wistful look in his eye? What if, years later, I see that acquaintance, who now works in International Business, and he makes a joke in Bermudian vernacular to his colleauges, how does one interpret that?
I would encourage the researchers in their work.
Kristin White: Beyond the actual linguistic ‘proof’ of dialect parody, there is a feeling that we get when we are in the presence of it. I can feel when something is mockery, I know in my gut when it’s mean-spirited. Before I ever learned the terminology to explain it, I could sense when it was happening. And I’m sure this person can too, but we often discount our ‘feelings’ to be able to provide something that seems more concrete.
For me, having the language and the understanding of the lexicography doesn’t mean that I now go around with a notebook and pencil marking down, and keeping score of it, but it does affirm the feeling that I already had. And, if I wish, it gives me the tools, beyond solely my feelings (although that is perfectly valid), to point it out to someone that I think would be receptive.
Not sure if that adds anything actually lol… but wanted to provide that perspective.
Dr Rosemary Hall: Thank you – this is a great question that gets to the heart of the complex nuance of what is parody vs. what is linguistic accommodation (adjusting our speech to sound more like our interlocutor) vs. simply overlapping accents. Black and white Bermudian accents are different, but linked and overlapping; this is unsurprising given the history of Bermuda, and I think it’s also part of what makes Bermudian dialect parody so insidious, because it’s easily deniable and it’s very tricky to tease apart different types of dialect performance given the similarities and historical connections between the accents. This is why if you object, many white Bermudians will say they are just parodying themselves, or will refer to arriving on the island first, saying things like ’well, no-one can be more Bermudian than me’ (incidentally, this is contradicted by the fact that ‘Bermudian’ is often used by white Bermudians as a sort of coded short-hand for ‘Black’…).
Each individual’s life experiences and social networks will affect how much their speech overlaps with another’s. So, as Kristin says, telling what is parody and what is not is a complex business and often your gut is the best test. It’s very hard (and sometimes dangerous) to make generalisations, but what I’ll say is that my data came from affluent, older white men living very much in Bermuda’s International Business and ‘ex-pat’ facing world, and with that comes a community of practice where racist dialect parody is extremely commonplace. For that group, I could empirically prove that the parodists were using linguistic features outside their normal repertoire. A white fisherman from St David’s, for example, may be likely to have more linguistic features in common with some Black Bermudians, and so what you’re hearing could be exaggerated parody or simply an accent quite similar to your own – it depends on the content of what they say and all sorts of other factors (is the pitch exaggeratedly variable? Do they invoke stereotypes either explicitly or implicitly? Do they speak this way with other white Bermudians?)
I also think it’s important to say that parody can be well-intentioned, but still harmful and racist at the same time. It’s so common that a lot of white Bermudians will do it without necessarily realising the symbolism and the repercussions. That isn’t an excuse: we all need to educate ourselves about why this can be so harmful – but I think it applies to your Tokyo example. The white Bermudian far from home can be well-meaning and wistful, but at the same time doing something deeply problematic with language that makes you uncomfortable and that probably isn’t representative of their everyday speech. And, as Kristin says, you don’t need to look to an academic to determine how to interpret a particular interaction – it’s very much about how you feel.
Hope that’s helpful! Please feel free to get in touch (email@example.com) with further thoughts or questions.