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Canadian English

Canadian English is the form of English used in Canada, spoken as a first or second language by over 25 million Canadians (as recorded in the census of 2001). Canadian English spelling is a mixture of American and British. Pronunciation of the English language in this country is very close to American pronunciation, with some remnants of British pronunciation in certain regions. One strong example of this is Eastern Canada's heavily Irish sounding accent.


Canadian spelling of the English language, for the most part, retains British spelling rules. Most notably, words that in American English end with -or, such as 'color' or 'favor', become 'colour' and 'favour' in Canadian and British writing. In other cases, though, Canadians and Americans stand at odds with British spelling, such as in the case of words like 'tire' and 'draft', which in British English are spelled 'tyre' and 'draught'. English words which were originally imported from the French language in previous centuries, such as 'theater' and 'catalog', are usually spelled following French spelling rules in Canadian and British English, and so are spelled 'theatre' and 'catalogue'; however, American spelling of these words is also acceptable, as is often the case with alternative American spellings.

A business-history explanation for some Canadian spelling rules is possible. For instance, the British spelling of the word cheque probably relates to Canada's once-important ties to British financial institutions. Canada's car 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 a car. In fact, a major Canadian retail hardware and home goods chain is known as Canadian Tire. Many of the Commonwealth spellings are kept in order to form constructions such as "CITY CENTRE-VILLE" in which the former two words can be interpreted as English, and the latter two as French. This makes use of the relative position of adjectives to the noun in both languages.

British spellings which include digraphs (or the two-letter equivalent) are beginning to disappear from Canadian spellings. Words such as encyclopædia, dæmon, fœtus and pædiatrician are spelled encyclopedia, demon, fetus and pediatrician, although many Canadian dictionaries offer both spellings as an option and medical journals still include ligatures. 'Manoeuvre' (instead of the U.S. 'maneuver') is still the more common spelling in Canada though.

A plausible contemporary reference for formal Canadian spelling is the spelling used for Hansard transcripts of the Canadian Parliament. Many Canadian editors, though, use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2004), often along with the chapter on spelling in Editing Canadian English and, where necessary (depending on context) one or more of the other references listed in this article's "Further Reading" section.


Main article: phonemic differentiation.

The primary aspect is a feature called "Canadian raising," when diphthongs are raised before voiceless consonants. For example, whereas many American dialects pronounce the first diphthongs in the words writer and rider the same, a Canadian will pronounce them (approximately) as /ɹʌjɾəɹ/ and /ɹajɾəɹ/ (in IPA transcription). That is, the first part of the diphthong in both words in American English is ahh as in father; the first part of the diphthong in writer in Canadian English is uhh as in cut, a higher vowel than the American usage. However, some American English accents, particularly those near Ontario, speak like this. Note also that Canadian English shares with American English the phenomenon where /t/ and /d/ become /ɾ/ after a vowel and before an unstressed vowel. Canadian raising preserves the voicelessness of /t/ and the voicedness of /d/ where it is etymologically appropriate, even where the contrast is lost in the consonant itself.

Similarly, about will be raised from /əˈbaʊt/, as it is in American "Atlantic" dialect, to /əˈbʌʊt/ ("aboahwt"), or nearly even /əˈboʊt/ ("aboat") in some dialects. The stereotypical "aboat" pronunciation, lampooned in the American television series South Park is not usual; the stereotype may derive from an interpretation of the "aboot" pronunciation as heard by someone who is used to the much lower "abawt" pronunciation, or from a misinterpretation of the spelling of the "word" aboot. Ironically, the "aboat" pronunciation is quite common in parts of the U.S. Upper Midwest, such as Minnesota.

Anecdotally, the "abuhwt" vowels are heard in Ontario and further west, and the "aboot" vowels are heard in the Eastern provinces. Also heard are: "can't", in Ontario, almost "canned," whereas in the west, it becomes more "kahnt."

A recently identified feature (1995) found among many Canadians is a chain shift known as the Canadian Shift. This is not found in the Atlantic Provinces, east of Quebec; it is only found in Ontario and further west. For people with this shift, "cot" and "caught" merge in rounded [ɒ] position. The short-a of "bat" then moves down to [a], while the short-e of "bet" becomes [æ], which is short-a in other accents. This shift is still a relatively new phenomenon, so not all Canadians have it. Of the ones that do, not all have the last stage. Canadians without the Shift typically pronounce "cot" and "caught" as an un-rounded [ɑ], as in the western United States.

There is a tendency to monophthongize the long "a" and "o" sounds, resulting in /beːt/ for "bait" and /boːt/ for "boat" (though this occurs usually in rapid speech). Finally, the broad /ɑ/ of foreign loan words in words like "drama" or "Iraq" are usually pronounced like the short "a" of "bat": /dɹæmə/, /ɪɹæk/.

Like American English, Canadian English is largely rhotic. This means it maintains the pronunciation of r before consonants. Rhoticity has been largely influenced by Hiberno-English, Scottish English, and West Country English.

Americans sometimes claim to be able to recognize some Canadians instantly by their use of the word eh. However, only a certain usage of eh (detailed in the article) is peculiar to Canada. It is common in southern Ontario, the Maritimes and the Prairie provinces. In some parts of the United States, American English exhibits features of Canadian English, including Canadian Raising and the use of eh. Canadian accents are sometimes detected among Michiganders and their northern fellows.

Other variations

Canada shares similarities with English English in pronouncing words like fragile, fertile, and mobile. While American English pronounce them as /fɹædʒl̩/, /fɝɾl̩/, and /moʊbl̩/, Canadians pronounce them as the British do sounding like /fɹædʒajl̩/, /moʊbajl̩/ An exception is missile, where the American and British versions are to be almost equally. And the American pronunciation of fertile is now becoming very popular in Canada, even though the British pronunciation remains dominant.

In American English, words like semi, anti, and multi are often pronounced as /sɛmaj/, /æntaj/, and /mɔɫtaj/, whereas the British pronounce them like /sɛmiː/, /æntiː/, and so on. Canadians tend to prefer the British pronunciation of these words, though American pronounciation has made headway.


Where Canadian English shares vocabulary with other English dialects, it tends to share most with American English. For instance, automotive terminology in Canada is entirely American. Canadians may prefer the British term railway to the American railroad, but most railway terminology in Canada follows American usage (eg., ties, as well as cars rather than sleepers and carriages). Given the number of cross-border railways, this makes sense.

However, some terms in standard Canadian English are shared with Commonwealth English, but not with American English. These include:

  • Tory for a supporter of the federal Conservative Party of Canada, the historic Progressive Conservative Party of Canada or a provincial Progressive Conservative party
  • solicitor and barrister for lawyers (although in Canada, a lawyer is usually referred to as a barrister or a solicitor only in formal and professional usage; the American "lawyer" "attorney" or "counsel" predominates in everyday contexts. In the British system, the solicitor and barrister are two different people; in Canada, the same lawyer occupies both roles but will often use terms like "Barrister and Solicitor", or "QC" [Queen's Counsel, an honour given in some provinces for a certain level of experience] as formal or official titles.])
  • bum for the American "butt" (the two words coexist in Canadian English, and bum is most commonly used as a polite or childish euphemism)
  • busker for a street performer
  • tin (as in tin of tuna) rather than can.
  • arse is commonly used in Atlantic Canada. West of the Ottawa river, ass is more idiomatic.

Several lexical items come from British English, such as lieutenant (/lɛf-/) and light standard (an obsolete British word for lamp-post). Several political terms are uniquely Canadian, including riding (a parliamentary constituency or electoral district) and to win by acclamation (to win uncontested).

Like other dialects of English that exist in proximity to francophones, French loanwords have entered Canadian English, such as:

Canadian English also has its own words not found in other variants of English. In 1998, Oxford University Press produced a Canadian English dictionary, after five years of lexicographical research, called The Canadian Oxford Dictionary; a second edition was published in 2004. It listed uniquely Canadian words, words borrowed from other languages and surveyed spellings, such as whether colour or color was the most popular choice in common use.

In Canada, the word 'premier', as meant to be the leader of a provincial or territorial government, is pronounced "prem - yare" , "Preem year" or "preem - yehr" in most places, as opposed to the United States, where it is pronounced "prem ear. Premiere, (the first showing of a movie), is pronounced the same in Canada as the rest of the world.

Uniquely Canadian English words include:

  • Allophone: a resident of Quebec who speaks a first language other than English or French.
  • Bachelor apartment: a one room apartment with a small kitchen and a bathroom. Mostly just referred to as "a bachelor". Where as the sentence "There's a bachelor for rent down the road" may seem a little risqué to non-Canadians, a Canadian would just, without blinking, ask how much it is.
  • Back bacon: elsewhere called "Canadian bacon"
  • Biffy: outdoor toilet usually located over a septic tank
  • Blochead: a member of the Bloc Québécois
  • Brown bread: whole wheat bread
  • Butter tart: a single serving, sweet pie, often with raisins
  • Chesterfield (also Northern Californian English and British English): a sofa, couch, or loveseat[1]
  • Double-double: a cup of coffee with two creams and two sugars
  • Dipper (or 'kneedipper'): a member or supporter of the New Democratic Party
  • Family Compact: a group of influential families who exercised substantial political control of Ontario during part of the 1800s
  • Garburator: a garbage disposal unit located beneath the drain of a kitchen sink
  • Gettone (in Toronto and environs): foosball; pronounced roughly as in Italian
  • Grit: a member or supporter of one of the federal or provincial Liberal parties (but not the Québec Liberal Party)
  • Homo milk: whole (homogenized) milk
  • Joe job: a lower-class, low-paying job
  • Keener: an enthusiastic student, not necessarily a positive term
  • Kitty Corner: diagonally opposite corners of an intersection as in "Joe's Cafe is kitty corner to Tom's Garage"
  • Kraft Dinner: often shortened to "KD", known elsewhere as "Kraft macaroni and cheese"
  • Loonie and toonie: Canadian one- and two-dollar coins
  • Nanaimo bar: a confection named for the town of Nanaimo, British Columbia
  • Parkade: parking garage
  • Robertson: a Canadian square-headed screw or screwdriver. While this is used outside of the country for that screw head type, the screws are much less common.
  • Shit disturber: a person who tends to create controversy or chaos
  • Ski-Doo: a brand name now used generically to refer to any snowmobile. Can also be used as a verb.
  • Snowbird: a Canadian who spends the winter in the States (often Florida). Often retired.
  • Timbits: a brand name of doughnut holes made by Tim Hortons that has become a generic term
  • Trousseau tea: a reception held by the mother of a bride, for neighbours not invited to the wedding
  • Tuque: a thick winter hat that covers the head and ears (usually called a "Beanie" in American English.)
  • Washroom : bathroom, restroom. A bathroom has a bathtub in it. Washroom is almost always used for public toilets. Rarely do you see a sign reading 'bathroom' in a public restaurant, shopping mall, etc., in Canada.
  • Whitener: powdered non-dairy additive for coffee or tea

There are a few meaning differences between Canadian and American English; for example, to table a document in Canada is to present it, whereas in the U.S. it means to withdraw it from consideration. Also, a 'rubber' in the U.S. and Canada is slang for a condom; however, in Canada it is also another term for 'eraser'.

Canadians mostly use the term 'gasoline', rather than the British term 'petrol'. Gasoline prices require 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 (4.5 L) vs. US (3.8 L) gallons.

Often native French Canadian speakers will use calques of French idioms, so in Quebec it is relatively common of for both Anglophones and Francophones to "close the light" or to "open the light"; meaning to turn on or off the light in a room. This was especially common in the Gaspé, where until recently Anglophones and Francophones lived in mixed communities for generations.

When pronouncing letters of the alphabet, Canadians will almost invariably use the Anglo-European (and French) "zed" rather than the American "zee" for the letter Z. Canadian students add "grade" before their grade level, instead of after it as is the usual, but not sole, American practice. For example, a student in "10th grade" in the USA would be in "Grade 10" in Canada. (Quebec anglophones may instead say "sec 5" (secondary 5) for Grade 11.) It should also be noted that in Canada, the specific high school grade (eg. Grade 9 or Grade 12) or university year is stated and not the American terms "freshman" or "sophomore". Also, while in the United States the term "college" refers to post-secondary education in general, the term "college" has a different meaning in Canada. It refers to either a post-secondary technical or vocational institutions, or to the colleges that exist as individual institutions within some Canadian universities. Most often, "college" is a community college, not a university. In Canada "college student" might denote someone obtaining a diploma in plumbing while "university student" is the term for someone earning a Bachelor's Degree.

Past participles also tend to be used differently in Canada and the United States. In general, Canadian English speakers will tend to say "the cookies are burnt"; Americans will say "the cookies are burned."

There is also greater resistance to turning nouns into verbs in Canada. Until recently, many Canadian teachers rejected the verb to contact.

Adoption of metric units is more advanced in Canada than in the US due to governmental efforts during the Trudeau era; while Canadians still often use pounds, feet and inches to measure and weigh themselves, outdoor temperatures, food packaging, fuel and highway speeds/distances are almost always metric.

The Bob & Doug McKenzie "Take off to the Great White North" comedy routines, popular in the early 1980s, drew heavily on linguistic differences such as pronunciation (such as 'Trona' for Toronto or 'brudle' for brutal) as well as once-obscure historical terms such as "hoser" or "hosehead" (originally used to refer to gas siphoning on the prairies in the depression era).

The province of Newfoundland and Labrador, which was an independent dominion until March 31, 1949, has its own dialect distinct from the rest of Canadian English. (See Newfoundland English.)


Regional variation


The English spoken in Toronto is closely related to the midwestern American accent, but with a more literal interperetation of long 'o' sounds, such as in 'gone' and 'fog'. One regional accent which differs from the rest of the city, though, is the North York slur; some residents of that part of the city have a slightly larger tendency (though it is by no means a rule) to slur their words than those who live in the southern portions of Toronto. Slang terms used in Toronto are unanimous with those used in other major North American cities. There is also a heavy influx of slang terminology originating from Toronto's vast immigrant community, who speak English only as a second language. These terms originate mainly from various European, Asian and African words.

Ottawa Valley

The Ottawa valley has its own distinct accent, and is known as the Ottawa Valley Twang.

Cape Breton Island


  • removal of pre-consonantal [r]
  • faster speech tempo
  • use of "Eh?" interrogative


  • Newfoundland English is a distinct dialect of the language with its own pronunciation and vocabulary. Please refer to that article for more information.


  • among native Montreal anglophones, a distinction between /æ/ and /a/, unique in Canada, so that Mary and merry are not homophones
  • among native Eastern Townships anglophones, they will often pronounce syrup as sir-rup.
  • short a in words like drama; in common with most Canadians, Quebecers and Ontarians pronounce words of foreign origin (Datsun, Mazda, etc.) as if the vowels are French.


  • subtle Canadian raising, although in Ontario it is often quite strong
  • in southwestern Ontario (especially rural areas), some speakers also have aspects of the Midwestern US accent, e.g. "not" sounds like "naht" (/nɔt/ → /nat/), combined with Canadian raising (see USA below).
  • Many speakers in Ontario and the provinces further west have a new chain shift called the Canadian Shift. (see Canadian English)
  • accent is slightly modified to signify sarcasm or emphasis: "not" becomes a heavily stressed "nat", for example, and "hockey" may sound like "hackey" (with an æ).
  • in Ontario, widespread use of Eh? interrogative.
  • more frequent voicing of intervocalic s in resource, for example
  • short a in words like drama; in common with most Canadians, Ontarians and Quebeckers pronounce words of foreign origin (Datsun, Mazda, etc.) as if the vowels are French.
  • Many Ontarians do not pronounce the second "t" in "Toronto" (hence, 'Toronno')
  • in Central Ontario (that is, the region around Toronto) in particular, voiced th and d are often not distinguished, the two pronunciations frequently appearing together (Do you want this one or dis one?, for example). Sometimes (particularly in North York, see the above section), the "th" is dropped altogether, resulting in Do you want this one er'iss one.


  • strong Canadian raising, second syllable of "about" is pronounced [ʌʊ] rather than RP [aʊ].

The main distinction between Canadian (Prairie) pronunciation of this diphthong is in its resolution. Namely, an American pronunciation resolves the 'a-'sound [ɶ] (or, alternatively, the schwa sound ([ə]); please see external source for explanation of this notation) resolves with an 'oo'-sound [u], as such: 'a bah oo t'; whereas the Canadian pronunciation resolves with an 'oh'-sound [ɔ], as such: 'a bah oh t'.

See also


External links

Further reading

  • Canadian Raising: O'Grady and Dobrovolsky, Contemporary Linguistic Analysis: An Introduction, 3rd ed., pp. 67-68.
  • Canadian federal government style guide: Public Works and Government Services Canada, The Canadian Style: A Guide to Writing and Editing (Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1998).
  • Canadian newspaper and magazine style guides:
  • Canadian usage: Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine, Guide to Canadian English Usage (Toronto: Oxford University Press, 2001).

Published on: 2005-09-07 (27775 reads)

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