The Canadian accent seems to often appear in media as either non-existant, or it’s so over generalized that it’s comical. And while it’s almost true that we say “eh?” as much as the stereotype, there are a few points that distinguish the Canadian accent in its sound and its history from other English-speaking accents.
Canada, like many historical colonies, is an amalgamation of many cultures and language influences, but none had more long-lasting effects than England and France. There are arguably at least 7 geographically-based accents across Canada, and while every small pocket of Canadians will argue that their own accent is unique, it is interesting to consider the beginning of what would become the Standard Canadian accent. As a colony of two countries, the three main sources of language were British English, French and various Aboriginal languages that mixed together, dependant on what part of the country you were in. Just as so, the two official languages are English and French, whilst each province has their own de facto official language, complete with slight vocabulary changes. For example, Quebec is predominantly different to any other province’s language, as English is not highly spoken. However, with the vastness of the country, it is important to note that some phrases, pronunciations or vocabulary are not used nationwide, but each province is usually able to distinguish if you’re “not from around here”.
American and Canadian English are classified as “North American English” as they share the same phonetic structure through their vowels and consonants. Phonologically, some of the more salient features that distinguish us are as follows:
- Canadian Raising: perhaps the most easily identified feature, Canadians will raise their tongue slightly when pronouncing certain vowels in front of voiceless consonants like /f/, /s/, /θ/, or /t/ Most commonly known as the “aboot” phenomenon, which is an inaccurate exaggeration. There is raising when you compare how Canadians say “about” vs. “a boot” or “a boat”.
- Vowels tend to be more fronted than British English, but do still have a spectrum of open and closed vowels.
- Merger of cot-caught and similar words with /ɑ/ vs. /ɔ/ vowels
- Consonants tend to be the same as Standard American English/North American English, with features like voiced plosives within vowel boundaries as in [t] being represented as /d/ in “little”, or “batter”.
Notes on Canadian dialect features
The use of “sorry” in media is almost on par with how frequent it’s actually used - which is all the time. In various ways. A Canadian speaker will know that “sorry” can be used as anything from a genuine apology when you do something wrong, an involuntary apology even when it isn’t your fault, an interjection to make a point, or the equivalent to “excuse me/pardon me”. As mentioned before, every province has a unique lexicon or syntax, but to name a few you’d likely hear across Canada, here is a quick guide:
- Tuque/Toque → Warm winter hat Double-Double → a coffee with two cream and two sugar, popularized by the chain of coffee establishments Tim Hortons Additionally, Canadians will use the word “Timbit” to denote donut holes, and again, this was popularized by the brand Tim Hortons
- Loonie/Toonie → the word for the Canadian one and two dollar coins, respectively
- Runners → Similar to British English on this one, an alternative word for “sneakers” or “running shoes”
- Parkade → an underground parking lot, also known as parking deck or garage
- Mickey → a 375 millilitre bottle of liquor
- Riding → a constituency, a basic unit of a political party at the level of the electoral district
- Hooped → meaning “broken” or “useless” Ex; “Your car is hooped now, you’re gonna be walking to work.”
- Give’er → the contraction of “give her” but meaning something closer to “go for it” or putting in a lot of effort Ex; “Just give’er!”
- Eh → /ay/, the Canadian equivalent to the question marker ‘huh?’ in American English. You can see it at the end of the sentences to ask agreement or disagreement to a statement (see below), or alone to show disbelief. Ex; “You going to the mall, eh?”