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Lunenburg English

Lunenburg English is a dialect of English, spoken in the town of Lunenburg and Lunenburg County in the province of Nova Scotia. It is sometimes called "Lunenburg Dutch".[1]:1 The dialect shows unique features in pronunciation, e.g. lack of rhoticity, in syntax and vocabulary, which portray the various sociohistorical influences.


Lunenburg was founded in 1753. Troops from Braunschweig-Lüneburg settled in Nova Scotia as well as many Germans, some Swiss and French (from Montbéliard).[2]:140; [1]:18 In addition, between 1759 and 1768 around 8000 New Englanders settled in Nova Scotia as well and also had a great influence upon the dialect in the county.[3]:60; [4]:14; [5]:199

Although German emigrants at this time were mostly from the Palatinate and Württemberg, the town Lüneburg where the name originates from was in the Electorate of Hanover. This might be due to some German veterans who had been in the King's service.[1]:19 During the early years of the settlement German, French, and English were all spoken privately and in church.[2]:140–141 However, French died out first, while German prevailed longer.[2]:14; [6]:103 The majority of the Lunenburg settlers belonged either to the Lutheran Church or the Reformed Church.[1]:26 Several Lutheran churches used German for the sermons and received German-speaking clergy from Germany or Pennsylvania, USA until the end of the 19th century.[2]:141; [1]:27 Thus, the Lutheran church helped to preserve the language in public use.

German was more commonly used in the countryside than in the town itself. Most families who used German in the town were engaged in farming or simple labour. Nowadays it is not spoken in the town anymore.[2]:141 The ninth census of Canada in 1951 reveals that 15,531 out of 33,183 of the population in Lunenburg show a German ethnic background. However, only 78 residents who presumably were all from the oldest generation listed German as their mother tongue.[1]:24, 29

Pronunciation in Lunenburg county "is known to be the only mainland White Canadian community to be non-rhotic".[5]:197 This shibboleth, however, cannot be traced back to the German influence since German in the 18th century was highly rhotic.[5]:197; [2]:143 However, New England speech is /r/-less and one suggestion is that the New Englanders who settled seven to eight years after the non-English speaking Foreign Protestants taught them English, so they had great impact upon the dialect.[4]:14; [5]:199


There are several unique characteristics regarding the pronunciation. The most distinctive is the treatment of /r/ before consonants and in final position of a word.[2]:143; [7] However, there are also some homonyms and some smaller particularities that are limited to the region.

Treatment of /r/ before consonants and after stressed vowels

The /r/ is lost after stressed syllables:[2]:143

  • after [aː]
farm [faːm]
park [paːk]
  • after [ɪː]
hear or here [hɪː]
gear [ɡɪː]
  • after [ɛː]
air [ɛː]
pair, pear or pare [pɛː]
  • after [ɔː]
sort (homonym of sought) [sɔːt]
warm [wɔːm]
oar, or, ore (homonym of awe) [ɔː]

However, after [ɜː] the members of the community were constantly rhotic, e.g. in words like first, work, or turn[5]:197 and the ⟨r⟩ is realized as [r] before vowels, e.g. furry [ˈfɜri].[2]:143

There are some incidents when the /r/ is pronounced [ʌ]:[2]:143

  • in unstressed syllables final er, or etc. is pronounced [ʌ]
butter [ˈbʌtʌ]
  • if er is followed by a consonant, it will also become [ʌ]
  • after [ai] and [au] the /r/ will be pronounced [ʌ]
fire [faiʌ]
hour [auʌ]

Not all people in Lunenburg speak this way nowadays, especially younger people tend to use the /r/ more.[2]:144; [5]:197 This is due to the immigrants' influence who come from other parts of the province or people from Massachusetts.[2]:144

German influence

While the non-rhoticity derives from the New England settlers, there also characteristics in pronunciation that probably come from the German settlers.

One example is the tendency to use [v] for w, hw and v, which is particular to the Lunenburg County and probably rooted in German, since in German w is pronounced [v].[1]:109

Another example is the substitution of [d] and [t] for the English th sounds:[1]:152; [6]:104

  • de for the
  • dose for those
  • dem for them
  • der for there
  • dey for they

Sample of a conversation between two people: "De kids vere over der in da woods, gettin inda dis an dat." "Dey never did?" "Yeah, an now dey gone da get some of dem der apples you see." "You don't say?" "no foolin, dey over der now." "Dey brung some of dem apples over heera da day before." "Oh, dey vere some good eatin I bet." "Now look, you make no nevermind, dose vere da best apples I ever did have, dey vas some good." "Oh, here dey come now, dey bedda know da wash der feet off."

For most words ending in "T" the consonant stays silent. i.e.: ge for get

A heavy accent is placed on "or", "oor" and "our" where ever it is placed. i.e.: four, floor, more, door etc.


The few syntactical characteristics that are following are becoming very rare or slowly went out of use already.[1]:105; [2]:145

One example is the splitting of a verb which is very common in German and used in Lunenburg as well.[1]:105; [2]:145

German: mitgehen ('to go with someone')
Examples: Will you go with? I am going with. Come on with!
German: Abwaschen ('to wash off')
Example: Wash your face off!

Thus, use, once, and with can be found in final position of a sentence.[1]:2


Lots of vocabulary is from German stock, however, there are also extraordinary New England features that are rare or not used in the rest of southwest Nova Scotia.[1]:84

  • get awake instead of wake up[1]:89
  • all in the sense of all gone (as in German); for example: My money is all.[2]:146; [1]:3
  • [frɛs] from German fressen "to eat greedily"[2]:146
  • raised doughnuts have the name [ˈfasnak] which comes from the German word Fastnacht[2]:146; [1]:84
  • [ˈæpl̩snɪts]: slices of dried apple, [snɪt] (singular) derives from the German word Schnitte[2]:146; [1]:52
  • [ˈlɛpɪʃ] means insipid and derives from the German läppisch[6]:104; [2]:146

See also

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  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p Wilson, Harry Rex (1958). The Dialect of Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s Emeneau, M. B. (1935). "The Dialect of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia". Language 11 (2). 
  3. ^ Boberg, Charles (2010). The English Language in Canada: Status, History, and Comparative Analysis. Cambridge University Press. 
  4. ^ a b Chambers, Jack K. (2010). "English in Canada" (PDF). Retrieved 2012-07-20. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f Trudgill, Peter (2000). "Sociohistorical linguistics and dialect survival: a note on another Nova Scotian enclave". In Magnus Leung, ed. Language Structure and Variation. Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell International. 
  6. ^ a b c Orkin, Michael M. (1970). Speaking Canadian English. Toronto: General Publishing. 
  7. ^ Kay-Raining Bird, Kiefte (2010). "Canadian Maritime English". In Daniel Scheier, Peter Trudgill, Edgar W. Schneider, Jeffrey P. Williams, eds. The Lesser-Known Varieties of English: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 67. ISBN 9780521710169.