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Canadian English

History
Canadian English is by and large the outcome of the two earliest settlement waves. The
first wave was a direct result of the American Revolution in 1776, with about ten thousand socalled United Empire Loyalists fleeing the territory of the newly-founded United States. The
Loyalists were New World dwellers who preferred to remain British subjects in what was to
become Canada. They came from the mid-Atlantic states, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, upstate
New York, on the one hand and New England on the other hand. This wave, peaking in the mid1780s, settled the province of Upper Canada, now Ontario and their speech patterns are
responsible for the general make-up of Canadian English today (that is, the notion of the
founder principle), including its more American than British twang.
The second wave started in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic wars and, until 1867 when
Canada gained considerable independence from Britain (Confederation), was responsible for
over a million immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, and importantly, Ireland. There is
some dispute as to the degree of influence of this wave, which was much larger than the first one.
However, existing studies strongly suggest that the first (American) wave was most influential in
everything but one area of language: that is, language attitudesthe evaluation of linguistic
items as more or less desirable and interference with consciously accessible language features.1

Dialects

1 http://public.oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-use/canadian-english/

In 2008, Charles Boberg did an acoustic analysis of Canadian speech, and found that
there are differences between regions. Sample findings include:

Almost all Canadians have Canadian raising (the vowel in about can sound like
American a boat). But around Toronto the diphthong tends to be fronted (bt or a-behoot), while in Western Canada and the Prairies it tends to be back (bt or a-buh-oot).

The vowel in goose is a back vowel (u:) in the Atlantic provinces, but a more fronted
(:) elsewhere.

Atlantic Canadians, and many Eastern Canadians in general, have a fronted a in words
like start ().

In the prairies, the vowel in words like face is frequently a monophthong (fe:s or fehs)
than elsewhere.2

The WestCentral Canadian English dialect is one of the largest and most homogeneous dialect
areas in North America, ranging from Ontario, through the Prairie Provinces to British
Columbia. It forms a dialect continuum with the accent in the Western United States, and borders
the Canadian North, and U.S. North Central and Inland North dialect regions. 3
Regional variation
British Columbia
The dialect is very similar to the English spoken in the Prairies and Washington, Oregon, and
Idaho. BC is home to a very diverse population. In parts of the Fraser Valley the intonation and
cadence of Dutch and Mennonite German have influenced local English. British accents and a
wide range of European and Asian second-language flavoured English have always been
common, to the point of the British flavour being identifiably a hallmark of early 20th Century
British Columbia, as has been English as spoken by First Nations peoples, which is distinct as an
accent but also remains largely undocumented. Canadian raising (found in words such as "about"
2 http://dialectblog.com/2012/08/28/yes-canada-has-regional-dialects/
3 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West%E2%80%93Central_Canadian_English

and "writer") is less prominent in BC than other parts of the country and is on the decline further,
with many speakers not raising /a/ before voiceless consonants. Younger speakers in the Greater
Vancouver area do not even raise /a/, causing "about" to sound like "abowt". The "o" in such
words as "holy," "goal," "load," "know," etc. is pronounced as a back and rounded [o], but not as
rounded as in the Prairies where there is a strong Scandinavian, Slavic and German influence.
The interrogative "eh" is not used as frequently as in the rest of Canada, however "hey" and
"huh" are commonly substituted.
Chinook Jargon
Pacific Northwest English and British Columbian English have several words still in
current use which are loanwords from the Chinook Jargon, which was widely spoken
throughout British

Columbia by

all

ethnicities

well

into

the

middle

of

the

20th

Century. Skookum, potlatch, muckamuck, saltchuck, and other Chinook Jargon words are widely
used by people who do not speak Chinook Jargon. These words tend to be shared with, but are
not as common in, the states of Oregon,Washington, Alaska and, to a lesser degree, Idaho and
western Montana.
Prairies
A strong Canadian raising exists in the prairie regions together with certain older usages
such as chesterfield and front room also associated with the Maritimes. Aboriginal Canadians are
a larger and more conspicuous population in prairie cities than elsewhere in the country and
certain elements of aboriginal speech in English are sometimes to be heard. Similarly, the
linguistic legacy, mostly intonation but also speech patterns and syntax, of the Scandinavian,
Slavic and German settlers who are far more numerous and historically important in the
Prairies than in Ontario or the Maritimes can be heard in the general milieu. Again, the
largeMtis population in Saskatchewan also carries with it certain linguistic traits inherited from
French, aboriginal and Celtic forebears.
The noun bluff (and the adjective bluffy) in reference to an aspen and willow grove
typically surrounding a slough, appears to be unknown outside the Canadian prairies, whereas
the eastern Canadian and international use of the term in reference to a low cliff or abutment, is

largely unknown in western Canada and causes some puzzlement to newly arrived westerners in
Ontario.
Ontario
Canadian raising is quite strong throughout the province of Ontario, except within
the Ottawa Valley. The Canadian Shift, is also a common vowel shift found in Ontario. The
retraction of // was found to be more advanced for women in Ontarians than for people from
the Prairies or Atlantic Canada and men.
Northern Ontario
Northern Ontario English has several distinct qualities stemming from its large FrancoOntarian population. As a result several French and English words that are used interchangeably.
In Northern Ontario some people are found to pronounce the word "envelope" as Anvelop. A
number of phrases and expressions may also be found in Northern Ontario that is not present in
the rest of the province.
Southwestern Ontario
In Southwestern Ontario (roughly in the line south from Sarnia to St. Catharines), despite
the existence of the many characteristics of West/Central Canadian English, many speakers,
especially those under 30 speak a dialect which is influenced by the Inland Northern American
English dialect found on much of the American regions adjacent to the Great Lakes, though there
are minor differences such as Canadian raising (listen to "ice" vs "my"). Additionally there is a
tendency to round the mouth after pronouncing the vowel "o" which is distinct from the General
American Accent. Also, the vowel of "bag" sounds closer to "vague" or "egg"; "right" sounds
like "rate"; and the "ah" vowel in "can't" is drawn out, sounding like "kee-ant".
Golden Horseshoe
Residents
the /n/ in Toronto,

of

the Golden
pronouncing

Horseshoe are
the

name

known

to merge

variously

the

second /t/ with

as [too], [to] or

even [to]or [t]. This, however, is not unique to Toronto as Atlanta is often pronounced
"Atlanna" by residents. In Toronto and the other areas within the Greater Toronto Area,

the th sound // is often pronounced [d]. Sometimes // is elided altogether, resulting in "Do you
want this one er'iss one?" The word southern is often pronounced with [a]. In the area north of
the Regional Municipality of York and south of Parry Sound, notably among those who were
born in the surrounding communities, the cutting down of syllables and consonants often heard,
e.g. "probably" is reduced to "prolly", or "probly" when used as a response. In Greater Toronto,
the diphthong tends to be fronted (as a result the word about is pronounced as [bt] or a-behoot).
Eastern Ontario
Canadian raising is not as strong in Eastern Ontario as it is in the rest of the province.
In Prescott and Russell, parts of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and Eastern Ottawa, French
accents are often mixed with English ones due to the high Franco-Ontarian population there.
In Lanark County, Western Ottawa and Leeds-Grenville and the rest of Stormont-DundasGlengarry, the accent spoken is nearly identical to that spoken in Central Ontario and
the Quinte area. Phrases such as "got it" is often pronounced as []. Okay is often
pronounced as [ke], while "hello" is often pronounced as [helo].
Quebec
English is a minority language in Quebec, but has many speakers in Montreal, the Eastern
Townships and in the Gatineau-Ottawa region. Uniquely, Montreal-native anglophones do not
fully merge Mary and merry, which are homophones to most speakers of Canadian English.
Among Eastern Townships-native anglophones, syrup is often pronounced as sir-rup. Quebec
also has French influence. A person with English mother tongue and still speaking English as the
first language is called an Anglophone. The corresponding term for a French speaker
is Francophone and the corresponding term for a person who is neither Anglophone nor
Francophone is Allophone. Quebec Anglophones generally pronounce French street names in
Montreal as French words. Pie IX Boulevard is pronounced as in French, not as "pie nine", but as
"pee-nuff". On the other hand, Anglophones do pronounce final d's as in Bernard and Bouchard;
the word Montreal is pronounced as an English word and Rue Lambert-Closse is known
as Clossy Street.4
4 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West%E2%80%93Central_Canadian_English

Grammar
Variation in grammarmorphology and syntaxcan also be found in Canadian English.
Reported since the early 1980s, but never thoroughly studied, Standard Canadian English allows
(to give just one example) the placing of as well sentence-initially. Thus, in a sentence such
as The Canucks had good forwards that day. As well, their blue liners were better than last time,
other standard dialects would usually accept as well only after last time, i.e. sentence-finally.5

Vocabulary
Words are most accessible to speakers, and comments abound. Terms like washroom public
bathroom, all-dressed pizza pizza with all the available toppings on it, garburator in-sink
garbage grinder, parkade car parking structure or the ubiquitous toque woolen hat are easy to
find and are sometimes used as ad-hoc identity markers in Canadian regions.
Historically speaking, about 70 percent of Canadianisms, which are defined as terms
native or of characteristic usage in Canada, are comprised by noun compounds that are
especially difficult to spot: for instance, butter and tart are ordinary words, but butter
tart pastry shell with a filling of butter, eggs, sugar and raisins is a type 1 Canadianism. In the
historical Canadian dictionary project, four basic types of Canadianisms are recognized:

type 1: form origins in Canada;


type 2: preserved in Canada;
type 3: having undergone semantic change in Canada;
and type 4: culturally significant terms. 6

Pronunciation

5 http://public.oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-use/canadian-english/
6 http://public.oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-use/canadian-english/

We can find the linguistic expression of the Canadian east-west connection at all linguistic
levels. Vowels, for instance, love to change but when they change in Canada they have been
shown to rarely for some changes neverto cross the Canada-US border. For example, the
Canadian shift, first detected in the mid-1990s, affects the short front vowels, i.e. the three
vowels exemplified in black, pen or tin. In Canada these vowels move in the opposite direction
to the well-established Northern Cities Shift in parts of the United States. So in Canada, the
vowel in black, for instance, is pronounced farther back in the mouth. Canadian dialects are
actually diverging from the American dialects that have experienced the shift, and this despite the
high levels of interaction between the two countries.
Other features include Canadian raising, the most-widely known Canadian
pronunciation

feature.

Canadian

raising

affects

the

diphthongs

in

words

such

as wife, price or life and house, about or shout. Canadian pronunciations, though far from
universal, are often perceived as weef instead of wife and a boot instead of about by outsiders.
There are also other, less well-known Canadian differences, such as the Canadian integration
pattern of foreign sounds represented by <a>. In words like pasta, lava, plaza, and drama the
foreign <a> sound acquires the vowel in father in American English and British English, but the
vowel of cat in Canadian English.7

7 http://public.oed.com/aspects-of-english/english-in-use/canadian-english/