Linguist collecting Haliburton stories for study 0
When language comes up in this country, it's usually the French/English divide.
Sometimes discussion centres on Aboriginal languages soon to be lost.
What is rarely discussed are the subtle, but unique, dialects specific to the towns and hamlets throughout Canada.
In her study of rural sociolinguistics, professor Sali Tagliamonte is coming to Haliburton to record stories and dialect from the area throughout this week.
"In different places in Ontario things can be quite different. It's the differences that we've never really focused on. We've been so attentive to French and English and multiculturalism that we don't really pay attention to the fact that in different communities and places right within the province there are many ways of talking about things . as we tell stories our culture is embedded in our stories," Tagliamonte said in an interview with the paper.
The academic's motivation to document and analyze northern and rural Ontario dialects came from the speed of linguistic change in the country's cities.
" There are incredible changes going on in the urban centre here," Tagliamonte said of Toronto, where she lives and works at the University of Toronto as a linguistics professor.
Multiculturalism dictates that the language changes, but she hoped the roots of Canadian English could still be found in the outlying areas.
Born in Kirkland Lake with a family history based in northern Ontario, Tagliamonte was keenly aware that another world existed outside of the city and that the individual, distinct cultures of rural towns could hold valuable information on the development of English.
"I started thinking I really want to go back to my own roots," she said.
Eight towns have been visited in the course of the study, which will likely take 10 years to complete.
In each community she visits, Tagliamonte offers to donate the digital recordings back to the local museum or library as well as transcriptions of the interviews and a booklet of stories.
All of the stories recorded are confidential and are released using pseudonyms unless the participant gives permission for real names to be used.
This practical side of the study isn't the standard fare of academia, which normally focuses on intellectual analysis rather than wider public engagement.
"I make it that way [more accessible] to the best of my abilities," she said.
The history recorded in her interviews can contribute to the record of the community - something Tagliamonte strongly believes should be preserved.
Her previous studies have resulted in a book, Roots of English: Exploring the History of Dialects. She has also studied English dialects of people of African descent in the Caribbean and Canada among her long list of academic accomplishments.
Our dialects - the way we say things and the words we choose - are an integral part of our culture and should be regarded as precious, the researcher said.
"Language is never divorced from the community. Part of what I do is try to piece together why language changes, who changes it, what the history of a language is," she said.
In Toronto, where language is rapidly changing, pieces of Canadiana are being lost.
The quintessential Canadian "eh" is rarely heard in the city of 2.5 million, Tagliamonte said, and the words she uses from her childhood in Ontario's north make her own kids laugh.
A term like "soaker," used for when you put your foot in a wet patch of earth soaking your shoes, socks and pants, is unusual in the city nowadays, she said.
Tagliamonte's interviews include talking about the past, working life, community memories and unique phrases such as "jobber's moon," which she recently learned.
(The saying was described to her as meaning a full moon that allowed enough light to work under.)
The differences between rural Ontario and the province's cities as well as the diversity amongst small towns themselves point to how each place was formed.
"The roots of the varieties of the communities still show. For example, in places like Haliburton, we may still find Irish features even though people might not think of them as Irish features," she said.
The founding industries of the regions also contribute to the words used today.
All of this contributes to a true patchwork of culture across the province that Tagliamonte wants to document as thoroughly as she can in her work.
"It's important for me to put things together so people in Ontario learn something about the way Ontario was settled and how people talk in Ontario. We're not all the same," she said.
"To me, dialects are national treasures. They encode our history and our culture and our evolution."
If you were born and raised in Haliburton and want to talk to Tagliamonte about the region's history for her project, you can email her at firstname.lastname@example.org. She will be in Haliburton the week of May 14 to 19.