Written to the song: Complicated — Avril Lavigne

“Canada is like a loft apartment over a really great party. Like: “Keep it down, eh?” — Robin Williams

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Toronto, Canada.

Canadian English is unique for its vocabulary, pronunciation, dialects, and specifically its homogeneity — how most of Canada’s English is relatively the same (sorry Newfoundland). Just as an individuals language (vocabulary, speech patterns, and even accents sometimes) evolves throughout a lifetime, so does language across the country. Our countries’ language is constantly growing and changing.

For me, learning about sociolinguistics is very interesting as it is fascinating to learn about language changes. Language change is influenced between genders, social classes, and ethnic communities. These different groups share slang which spread across neighborhoods, cities, and even the whole country. When analyzing language between genders, women are known for using more formal language, though are also more likely to adopt new language changes before men (Walker, 2015).

Canadian English is interesting, because often our English is a combination of American English and British English. This point is even evident in our spelling. Yes, typically we use British spelling for words like “colour” or “centre”, but in some cases using the American or British spelling is okay. For example, both “analyse” and “analyze” are accepted spelling, but is one used more than the other? Studies show that younger Canadians are eliminating some older Canadianisms (terms unique to Canada), and opting for the American alternative. For example, more Canadians of my generation don’t know the older Canadianism of “chesterfield”. We tend to opt for the American “sofa” instead. As well, we are dropping some of our Britishisms for Americanisms, such as “tap” instead of “faucet”.

What makes Canadian English particularly unique?

  1. “Eh”. Canadians are known for incorporating the expression “eh” in their speech. “Eh” is used as an affirmative, to replace “isn’t it?” or “aren’t you?” to see if you agree to the posed question. For example “It’s hot out, eh?”, rather than “it’s hot out, isn’t it?”
  2. Canadian raising. This is a unique concept to Canadian English, which shows like South Park like to incorporate into their script. It is the idea that our vowels “ay” and “aw” are pronounced different when preceding the sounds /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, and /f/ (York University, 2000). For example the typical Canadian “sorry” (“sow-rry” vs. American “saw-rry”).
  3. Canadian vowel shift. The merger of the low-back vowels, making the words “cot” and “caught” sound exactly the same. This shift in pronunciation was first noticed in Canada and is slowly making its way down to the USA (BBC, 2015).
  4. Our vocabulary!! We have words to describe ways to keep us warm in the winter (toque), some national delicacies (Timbits, beavertails, nanaimo bars), and to describe the people that escape the winter for warmer countries (snowbirds). Different Canadian provinces and communities have their own slang, but overall Canadians and Americans don’t always have the same terminology (excuse me, do you know where the “washroom” is?)

Canadian English is unique for its history, pronunciation, and vocabulary created to describe a unique Canadian experience. Yes, my generation is incorporating more Americanisms and slang in our language, but that isn’t a bad thing. Language change is natural and is really beautiful to analyse (or is it “analyze”?), all the way from “eh” to zed.

Sources:

“Canadian Raising and Other Oddities.” Canadian Raising and Other Oddities. N.p., n.d. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

Walker, James A. Canadian English: Sociolinguistic Perspective. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.

“Why Is Canadian English Unique?” BBC. N.p., 20 Aug. 2015. Web. 14 Aug. 2016.

Author of “Q & A a Day for Travelers”. https://www.linkedin.com/in/anna-frenkel/

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