The Distinctive Characteristics of Canadian English

Canada Day - Canada Celebrates Its 150th Anniversary
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Canadian English is a variety of the English language that is used in Canada. A Canadianism is a word or phrase that originated in Canada or has special meaning in Canada.

"What is distinctly Canadian about Canadian English," notes linguist Richard W. Bailey, "is not its unique linguistic features (of which there are a handful) but its combination of tendencies that are uniquely distributed" (English as a World Language, 1984).

 Although there are many similarities between Canadian English and American English, the English spoken in Canada also shares a number of features with the English spoken in the United Kingdom.

Examples and Observations

  • "Standard Canadian English is distinct from both Standard British English and Standard American English. Additions to, and divergences from, the English of the motherland, once derided by genteel British visitors to Canada, are now recorded in—and given legitimacy by—Canadian dictionaries. . . .

    "Canadians who are aware of some of the unique elements of Canadian English are less likely to assume that their usage is wrong when they look in vain for a familiar word, meaning, spelling, or pronunciation in a British or American dictionary. Similarly, they are less likely to assume the speakers of other dialects of English are making a mistake when they use an unfamiliar word or pronunciation."
    (Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage, 2nd ed. Oxford University Press, 2007)
     
  • Canadian Words and Sounds
    - "With respect to lexical variation, or vocabulary, Canadian English [is] much closer to American than to British English where those varieties differ, though a small set of unique Canadian words . . . [shows] that Canadian English is not simply a mixture of British and American forms. Canadianisms like bachelor apartment, bank machine, chesterfield, eavestrough, grade one, parkade, runners or running shoes, scribbler and washroom are not merely words for things found only or mostly in Canada, but Canadian words for universal concepts that have other names outside Canada (compare American studio apartment, ATM, couch, gutters, first grade, parking garage, sneakers or tennis shoes, notebook and restroom; or British studio flat or bed-sit, cash dispenser, settee, gutters, first form, car park, trainers, exercise book and lavatory or loo).

    "In phonological and phonetic terms, Standard Canadian English is also much more similar to Standard American than to Standard British English; in fact, it was shown that, with respect to major variables of phonemic inventory, Standard Canadian and American English are largely indistinguishable."
    (Charles Boberg, The English Language in Canada: Status, History and Comparative Analysis. Cambridge University Press, 2010)

    - "In terms of pronunciation, Canadians tend to sound like Americans to most people from outside North America; distinctive features include the rhotic pronunciation of car, the 'd'-like pronunciation of bottle, and the use of American alternatives like 'tomayto' for British English 'tomahto,' and 'skedule' for British English 'shedule.'

    "Canadian English does not follow American English in all such cases; British English preferences are found in words like news, which is pronounced 'nyoos' rather than 'noos,' and in the pronunciation of anti, where American English has 'antai.'"
    (Simon Horobin, How English Became English. Oxford University Press, 2016)
     
  • Canadian Bilingualism
    "Canada is an officially bilingual country, though the balance is heavily tipped toward English: in 1996, of a population slightly more than 28 million, 84% claimed a knowledge of English, while only 14% were exclusively French speakers (97% of whom live in Quebec), and fewer than 2% knew neither official language."
    (Laurel J. Brinton and Margery Fee, "Canadian English." The Cambridge History of the English Language: English in North America, ed. by John Algeo. Cambridge University Press, 2001)
     
  • Eh?
    "Canadians often use the particle eh (as in It's nice, eh?) where Americans use huh. . . . As elsewhere, eh is used in Canada to mean Could you repeat what you said, but more commonly it is a question tag, as in You do want to go, eh? (=don't you?), or serves to elicit agreement or confirmation (It's nice, eh?) and to intensify commands, questions, and exclamations (Do it, eh?)."
    (Tom McArthur, The Oxford Guide to World English. Oxford University Press, 2002)

     
  • The Lighter Side of Canadian English

    Auggie Anderson: That guy. What is he wearing?
    Natasha Petrovna: Green tie, ugly shirt.
    Auggie Anderson: And what does that tell you?
    Natasha Petrovna: He's a businessman with no style?
    Auggie Anderson: No. He's a Canadian businessman. An American would have ordered ham or Canadian bacon. He ordered back bacon and she asked for a serviette.
    (Christopher Gorham and Liane Balaban in "Communication Breakdown." Covert Affairs, 2010)