In this post we are going to learn some curious facts about Canadian English, which is a variety of English used in Canada. More than 25 million Canadians (85 percent of the population) have some knowledge of English according to the census. Canadian English spelling can be described as a mixture of American English, British English, Quebec French, and unique Canadianisms. Canadian vocabulary is similar to American English, yet with key differences and local variations.
The term “Canadian English” is first attested in a speech by Rev. A. Constable Geikie in an address to the Canadian Institute in 1857. Geikie, a Scottish-born Canadian, reflected the Anglo-centric anti French attitude prevalent in Canada for the next hundred years when he referred to the language as “a corrupt dialect,” in comparison to the “proper” English spoken by immigrants from Britain.
Canadian English is the product of waves of settlers from Britain and France, and British and Irish immigration over a period of almost two centuries. It also is influenced in part by languages of the First Nations people, with some extra words from their languages being added into the vocabulary.
The aboriginal languages have added words to the Canadian English vocabulary, not found in other English dialects, (I.E. “Inuit”) , and the French of Lower Canada provided vocabulary to the English of Upper Canada, which is why Canadian English contains words borrowed directly from French, not found in American or British English.
Pronounciation in the Maritime Provinces is nearly identical to that of Scottish and Irish English.
Canadian spelling of the English language combines British and American rules. Most notably, French-derived words that in American English end with -or and -er, such as colour or centre, usually retain British spellings (colour and centre), although American spellings are not uncommon. Also, while the U.S. uses the Anglo-French spelling defense (noun), Canada uses the British spelling defence. (The spelling defensive is universal, as is true for offence and offensive.) In other cases, Canadians and Americans stand at odds with British spelling such as in the case of nouns like tire and curb, which in British English are spelled tyre and kerb.
Like American English, Canadian English prefers -ize endings whenever British usage allows both -ise (the Cambridge model) and -ize spellings (the Oxford model) (e.g. realize, recognize). However, some of the technical parts of the Air section of Transport Canada, e.g., Air Policy, use a compromised Cambridge model; e.g., tires instead of tyres, but organisational rather than organizational.
Canadian spelling rules can be partly explained by Canada’s trade history. For instance, the British spelling of the word cheque probably relates to Canada’s once-important ties to British financial institutions. Canada’s automobile industry, on the other hand, has been dominated by American firms from its inception, explaining why Canadians use the American spelling of tire and American terminology for the parts of automobiles.
Although there is no single linguistic definition that includes Canada as a whole, a fairly homogenous dialect exists in Western and Central Canada. Except for the Canadian Shift of the short front vowels, the phonology of the English spoken in Western and Central Canada is identical to that of the English spoken adjacent regions in the US.
The island of Newfoundland has its own distinctive dialect of English known as Newfoundland English (often referred to as ‘Newfie’) while many in the other Maritime provinces – Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island – have an accent that sounds more like Scottish English and, in some places, Irish English than General American. There is also some French influence in pronunciation for some English-speaking Canadians who live near, and especially work with, French-Canadians.
There are also some particularities such as the pronunciation of the “ou” sound. For instance, “about” sometimes sounds like “aboot”. But generally Canadian English is easy to understand for both native and nonnative English-speakers.
Where Canadian English shares vocabulary with other English dialects, it tends to share most with American English; many terms in standard Canadian English are, however, shared with Britain, but not with the majority of American speakers. In some cases the British and the American term coexist, to various extents; a classic example is holiday, often used interchangeably with vacation. In addition, the vocabulary of Canadian English also features words that are seldom (if ever) found elsewhere. It also retains strong influences from French (Canadians would say “serviette” more often than “napkin”) and Native languages (“kayak” is Inuit, and many Algonquian words entered the language, such as “moose”, “skunk”, “chipmunk”, “raccoon”, “squash”, “moccasin”, “woodchuck”, and “toboggan”). There are also some regional expressions across all provinces and territories. An example or this variety is the word for a rural vacation home: Western Canadians call it a “cabin”, Central and Eastern Canadians call it a “cottage”, Anglophones in Quebec call it a “chalet”, and those in New Brunswick call it a “camp”.
Canadian students add grade before their grade level, instead of after it as is the usual American practice. For example, a student in “10th grade” in the U.S. would be in “Grade 10” in Canada. (In the UK the order is as in Canada, but it would be for example “Year 10” rather than “Grade 10.” Quebec anglophones may instead say “sec 5” [secondary 5] for Grade 11.)
Most Canadian students receive marks rather than grades in school. (“What mark did you get on that exam?”) Students write exams, they do not take or sit them. Those who supervise students during an exam are generally called invigilators as in Britain, or sometimes proctors as in the U.S.; usage may depend on the region or even the individual institution.
Canadian universities publish calendars, not catalogs as in the U.S. The specific high-school grade (e.g. Grade 9 or Grade 12) or university year (e.g., first year, fourth year) is stated; these may be individualized (e.g., “The Grade 12s failed to graduate”; “John is a first year at Carleton”). The American terms sophomore, junior and senior are not widely used, although first year university students are sometimes known as freshmen or frosh. Some jurisdictions in the province of Manitoba currently use Senior 1-4 instead of Gr 9-12.
The term college, which refers to post-secondary education in general in the U.S., refers in Canada to either a post-secondary technical or vocational institution, or to one of the colleges that exist as federated schools within some Canadian universities. Most often, a “college” is a community college, not a university. It may also refer to a CÉGEP in Quebec. In Canada a “college student” might denote someone obtaining a diploma in business management while “university student” is the term for someone earning a bachelor’s degree. For that reason, “going to college” does not have the same meaning as “going to university,” unless the speaker clarifies the specific level of post-secondary education that is meant.
Units of Measurement
Adoption of metric units is more advanced in Canada than in the U.S. due to governmental efforts during the Trudeau era. Official measurements are generally given in metric, including highway speeds and distances, fuel volume and consumption, and weather measurements. However, many Canadians often use Imperial units such as pounds, feet, and inches to measure their bodies; cups, teaspoons, and tablespoons in the kitchen; and miles for distances (less common). The term “klicks” is sometimes used interchangeably with kilometres.
The price of gasoline – the American English term is preferred over petrol – requires some awkward translation between Canadian and American figures. Even before the metrication efforts of the 1970s, the translation of “dollars per gallon” required not only replacing Canadian vs. American currencies but also a conversion between Imperial (4.546 L) vs. U.S. (3.785 L) gallons. It is common to express the rate of gas consumption as mileage, despite the typical notation of gas volumes in litres. Older residents may also use the unit “miles per Imperial gallon” (vs. miles per U.S. gallon) instead of the international “litres per 100 km.” A rare “kilometres per litre” is sometimes used as a substitute that can be viewed as “ metrified” but not strictly SI.
Words mainly used in Canadian English / Canadianisms
Canadian English has words or expressions not found, or not widely used, in other variants of English. Additionally, like other dialects of English that exist in proximity to francophones, French loanwords have entered Canadian English.
Allophone: A Canadian whose first language is neither French nor English.
Canucks: Another word for Canadians, and the name of Vancouver’s hockey team.
Loonie: A one-dollar coin that pictures a loon (a bird with a wistful call).
Toonie: A two-dollar coin.
Parkade: A parking garage (most used by Western Canadians).
Skidoo: A snowmobile.
Duplex: Two houses under one roof.
Humongous: Something very, very big.
Not Bad Words in Canada
To do dick / dick all: to do nothing, hang around.
Homo milk: homogenized milk.
To be pissed: to be drunk.
To be pissed off: to be annoyed.
A suck: a whiner, a crybaby.
Some Winter Words
These are part of every Canadian’s Vocabulary
Blizzard: a snowstorm with heavy snowfall, high winds, low visibility, and temperature below -10 Celsius / 14 Fahrenheit.
Ice storm: freezing rain that coats everything, including roads, trees, and power lines, with a thin layer of ice.
Cold snap: when temperatures drop 25 degrees of more within eighteen hours.
Chinook: a warm, dry, westerly wind that blows in the winter off the Rocky Mountains and into the Great Plains. It can raise temperatures by 20 Celsius / 36 Fahrenheit in fifteen minutes.
Snow tires / all-season tires: both kinds of tires that are considered as a “must have” on Canada’s roads.
Traction mats: what you put under the wheels to get your car moving when it gets stuck in the snow.
Galoshes / rubbers: rubber overshoes that protect fine leather shoes from the snow and salt on the winter roads.
Skidoo boots: boots with an inner shell and an outer plasticized shell. Canadian children wear them very often.
Tuque: a knitted winter hat that keeps your ears warm.
The English spoken in Toronto has some similarities with the English in the Northern U.S. Slang terms used in Toronto are synonymous with those used in other major North American cities. There is also a heavy influx of slang terminology originating from Toronto’s many immigrant communities, of which the vast majority speak English only as a second or tertiary language. These terms originate mainly from various European, Asian, and African words.
Some Torontonians use buddy (without a capital) as it is often used in Newfoundland English – as equivalent to that man (I like buddy’s car). Some Torontonians pronounce the name of their city as the elided “Trana” or “Tronno” (often with nasal alveolar flap instead of N).
In 1998, Oxford University Press produced a Canadian English dictionary, after five years of lexicographical research, entitled The Oxford Canadian Dictionary. A second edition, retitled The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, was published in 2004. It listed uniquely Canadian words and words borrowed from other languages, and surveyed spellings, such as whether colour or colour was the most popular choice in common use.
For more interesting facts about Canadian English, click on the links below:
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