Canadian English | The Canadian Encyclopedia


Canadian English

English is one of Canada’s two official languages. According to the 2016 Canadian census, English is the mother tongue of approximately 19.5 million people, or 57 per cent of the population, and the first official language of about 26 million people, or 75 per cent of the Canadian population.


English is the majority language in every Canadian province and territory except Quebec (which has a French-speaking majority) and Nunavut (which has an Inuit language majority who speak Inuktitut and Inuinnaqtun). In Quebec, English is the mother tongue of 8.1 per cent of the population, and the first official language of 13.7 percent of the population.

Within Quebec, the proportion of English-speakers (or anglophones) has declined sharply from the 19th century, when it was about 25 per cent. A higher birthrate among French-speakers (or francophones) and the departure of many anglophones to pursue better economic opportunities in other provinces gradually reduced that proportion to about 14 per cent by the mid-20th century. Beginning in the 1970s, a more dramatic reduction was prompted by political developments. The provincial government introduced language laws designed to protect the vitality of French by restricting the use of English in business, education, government and public signage; English now has no official status at the provincial level in Quebec (see Quebec Language Policy). At the same time, many francophones began calling for the separation of Quebec from Canada. Most anglophones objected to the language laws and opposed separation. Many responded to the conflict by leaving Quebec; by the 1990s, an exodus of close to 200,000 anglophones had reduced Montreal’s English-speaking community by one-third. Despite these losses, English is still the mother tongue of about 8 per cent of Quebec’s population, and 44.5 per cent of the population report being able to speak both English and French. In greater Montreal, where the majority of Quebec’s English-speakers now live, English is the mother tongue of 13.2 per cent of the metropolitan population (533,845 people).

Even where English is the majority language, it often coexists with other languages. In Toronto and Vancouver, high levels of immigration from non–English-speaking countries have reduced the proportion of native speakers of English to just over half of the metropolitan population. It should also be remembered that not all native speakers of English in Canada are native speakers of Canadian English; some are immigrants who grew up in other English-speaking countries and therefore speak other types of English. In the discussion that follows, Canadian English will be taken to mean the type of English spoken by people who acquired native competence in English while growing up mostly in Canada. (See also French Language; Indigenous Languages of Canada; Languages in Use.)


Canadian English owes its very existence to important historical events, especially: the Treaty of Paris of 1763, which ended the Seven Years’ War and opened most of eastern Canada for English-speaking settlement; the American Revolution of 1775–83, which spurred the first large group of English-speakers to move to Canada; and the Industrial Revolution in Britain, which encouraged an even larger group to join them in the 19th century. These and other events determined the patterns of English-speaking settlement in Canada, which in turn influenced the current form of Canadian English.


English was first spoken in Canada in the 17th century, in seasonal fishing communities along the Atlantic coast, including the island of Newfoundland, and at fur trade posts around Hudson Bay. Following the transfer of Nova Scotia to Britain under the Treaty of Utrecht (1713), permanent English-speaking settlements were established in that province, such as Halifax, founded in 1749. After the expulsion of the French-speaking Acadian population in the 1750s, Nova Scotia’s English population was expanded with pioneers from New England. Extensive English-speaking settlement of the rest of eastern Canada was made possible by British victory in the Seven Years’ War, after which France ceded its remaining Canadian territory to Britain in the Treaty of Paris (1763).

United Empire Loyalists

Two decades later, following the American Revolution, approximately 45,000 United Empire Loyalists, who had supported Britain during the war, fled to Canada, mostly from the mid-Atlantic and New England states. Their arrival in 1783–84 provided the first substantial English-speaking population in what would become Ontario, Quebec, New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Most of the Loyalists who arrived in Quebec were resettled further west, in Ontario, to avoid conflict with the French Canadian population. American immigration continued into the early 19th century — bolstering the population of Ontario and pioneering the Eastern Townships region of southern Quebec — but was brought to an end by the War of 1812. By this time, Ontario had a mostly ex-American population of around 100,000, stretching from Windsor to Cornwall, and Toronto had been founded as the town of York (1793). The late 18th century also saw smaller groups of British emigrants make their way to Canada; from southeastern Ireland and southwestern England to Newfoundland and from the Scottish Highlands to parts of the Maritimes and eastern Ontario (though many of these people spoke Irish or Gaelic, rather than English, when they arrived).

British Settlement

The next major wave of English-speaking settlement followed the Napoleonic Wars, when Britain faced problems connected with overpopulation and the economic and social consequences of the Industrial Revolution. These problems encouraged many British people to emigrate. Hundreds of thousands came to Canada in the early- and mid-19th century, more or less completing the settlement of the central and eastern parts of the country, from southern Ontario to the Atlantic coast. The largest numbers of these immigrants were Irish, with Ulster Irish predominating in frontier regions of Ontario and southern Irish in the lumber camps and major cities of Quebec and Atlantic Canada; English immigrants were the second largest group and Scots the third. As Canada’s largest city, the centre of its industrial development and a major port of entry for immigrants, Montreal gained an English-speaking majority by the 1850s, including a large Irish working class and a smaller but highly influential Scottish merchant class, which directed much of Canada’s commercial and industrial development.

Westward Expansion

The earliest English-speaking settlements in western Canada also began in the early and mid-19th century, with such settlers as Scottish farmers in Manitoba’s Red River Colony, established in 1811, and American gold prospectors in British Columbia in 1858 (see Fraser River Gold Rush). The West was also dotted with fur trading posts by this time, from Winnipeg ( Fort Garry, established in 1822) through Edmonton (1795) to Victoria (1843). But the majority of English-speaking settlement of the West was made possible by the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railway in 1885. A subsequent “land boom” brought millions of immigrants to Canada and encouraged many eastern Canadians to move west.

While large groups of western pioneers arrived from the United States, Britain and Europe, the dominant group in most places, both numerically and socially, was Canadian-born migrants from Ontario. Saskatoon, for instance, was founded in 1883 by the Temperance Colonization Society, a group of Methodists from Toronto, and eastern Canadians dominated the early elites across the West. The first mayors of Edmonton, Saskatoon, Regina and Winnipeg were all from Ontario; Calgary’s was from New Brunswick. The first premier of the Northwest Territories and those of the new provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan were also from Ontario. It was therefore Ontario English that became the main model for the English of western Canada, despite the diverse origins of the general population of the West.

Modern Canadian English

More recent immigration to Canada from all over the world, though involving much larger groups of people than earlier periods, has had comparatively little effect on the development of Canadian English, which reached something like its present form by Canada’s Confederation in 1867. With such a large Canadian-born population to blend into, the children of today’s immigrants rapidly assimilate to the patterns of the English already spoken by the majority of people in their adopted communities. Nevertheless, Canadian English, like all dialects and languages, continues to evolve, with small changes seen in each generation of speakers. We can measure these changes by comparing data on today’s speech, collected in recent studies such as the Dialect Topography survey of J.K. Chambers, from the mid-1990s, or the North American Regional Vocabulary Survey and Phonetics of Canadian English projects of C. Boberg, from the late 1990s and early 2000s, to surveys of Canadian English carried out in the 1950s (by H.B. Allen, W.S. Avis and R.J. Gregg) and in 1972 (The Survey of Canadian English: A Report, by M.H. Scargill and H.J. Warkentyne).

Even if the main features of Canadian English are relatively stable, new words and ways of saying things arise all the time, while older expressions go out of fashion and disappear. Some of these changes, together with the stable features of Canadian English, are discussed in the following sections.

A Unique Dialect

Canada’s history of English-speaking settlement might be expected to have created a hybrid variety of English with a distinctive blend of American and British features. This is indeed what we find, together with a few features that are uniquely Canadian. Nevertheless, in the most general sense, the English spoken today by most Canadians from British Columbia to Nova Scotia is clearly a type of North American English, most similar to that of the western United States and to General American English. This is particularly true of its grammar (how words and sentences are put together, which linguists call morphology and syntax) and of the most systematic aspects of its pronunciation (what linguists call phonology and phonetics).

Many linguists attribute this North American character to the influence of the Loyalists and post-Loyalists, who to a large extent founded Canada’s English-speaking population and thereby created a common origin with American English. In most places, the children of 19th-century British settlers and those who came after them would have adopted the local variety of English that had developed from 18th-century Loyalist speech, which was later transferred to western Canada when Ontarians settled there in the late-19th century. Several of the main features of Canadian English, however, can also be found in the regional dialects brought to Canada by British settlers from northern and western England, Scotland and Ireland, so their presence in Canada may reflect a combination of both sources of influence.

The English of Newfoundland, which remained a separate British colony until 1949, has traditionally been seen as distinct from that of mainland Canada, reflecting its more specific origins in southwestern England and southeastern Ireland (especially the region around Waterford). Though many young Newfoundlanders have recently been shifting their speech toward general Canadian patterns, the speech of most people in the capital, St. John’s, still retains a notably Irish-influenced character that separates it from general Canadian English. The rich local vocabulary of Newfoundland has been catalogued in a Dictionary of Newfoundland English with thousands of entries (see Dictionary).


The colonial American English that the Loyalists brought to Canada was established in the 17th century, before several of the changes that created modern Standard British English had occurred in southeastern England. In particular, most modern North American English retains the /r/ sound after vowels, in words like start and north, and has the same short-a sound in words like trap and bath, rather than the lengthened and further-back /ah/-sound of bath and similar words (past, staff, etc.) that is heard today in London.

Other general North American features shared by Canadian English may reflect more recent American influence. The /t/ sound, when it occurs after a stressed vowel in the middle of a word, as in city, better, Ottawa, battle and party, sounds more like a /d/: “siddy,” “bedder,” “Oddawa,” “baddle” and “pardy” (linguists call this “flapping”). The vowel sound of words like news, student and Tuesday, which is like that of few in British English, is more like that of food in the US and Canada: “nooze,” “stoodent,” “toozeday” rather than “nyooze,” “styoodent,” “tyoozeday” (though some Canadians prefer the British variants).

(Courtesy Jimiticus.)

Low-back Merger and the Canadian Shift

Other phonological features divide North Americans by region. The most important is what linguists call the “low-back merger,” a collapse of the distinction between two vowels pronounced in the lower-back part of the mouth — those of words like lot versus words like thought. These sound different in Britain and in parts of the eastern United States. In Canada, as in the western United States, they sound the same; lot and thought rhyme, while cot and caught, stock and stalk and don and dawn are homophones. This merger is thought to be the cause of a phonetic pattern called the Canadian Shift, a change in progress in modern Canadian English that involves a lowering and retraction of the short front vowels in words like kit, dress and trap. For instance, head may sound something like had in other dialects, while hat may have the same vowel quality as many Americans’ pronunciation of hot (especially those living across the border from Ontario, in Buffalo or Detroit).

Canadian Raising

Another distinctive Canadian pronunciation pattern is called Canadian Raising. This is a shortening of the diphthongs in words like price and mouth, causing the vowel to be produced somewhat higher in the mouth than in other dialects. (Diphthongs are two-part vowels; in the vowel of spy, for instance, the first part sounds like the vowel of spa and the second part sounds like the vowel of see [“spah-ee”].) Since Canadian Raising only occurs before the voiceless consonants /p/, /t/, /k/, /f/, /th/ and /s/, Canadian English distinguishes the raised and unraised vowels in pairs of words like type v. tie, write v. ride, spike v. spy, shout v. loud, south v. sound, or house v. how. While some American dialects also raise the vowels of price words, raising in mouth words is more distinctively Canadian.

Foreign "a" Words

Equally distinctive is the way Canadians adapt or “nativize” words borrowed from other languages whose vowel sounds are spelled with the letter a. Speakers of British English vary in this respect between the /ah/ sound of palm for words like avocado, lava and saga and the /æ/ sound of trap for words like kebab, mantra and pasta, while Americans prefer the /ah/ sound in all of these words. Canadians, by contrast, tend to use /æ/ in all of them, though younger Canadians have begun to use a more American /ah/ vowel in some words, like macho, mafia and taco. In a related pattern, most Canadians, like the British, use the vowel of cost in words like Costa Rica, whereas Americans prefer the vowel of coast.

British Pronunciations

Though the most systematic aspects of Canadian pronunciation follow North American patterns, pronunciation of individual words sometimes follows the British norm. For instance, Canadians pronounce the –ile suffix in words like fertile, futile, hostile, missile and mobile with a full vowel like that in profile, whereas Americans rhyme futile with brutal, hostile with hostel, missile with thistle, mobile with noble, etc. For most Canadians, shone, the past tense of shine, rhymes with gone, as in Britain, not with bone, as in the US.


American Versus British Words

British and American English have developed distinct vocabularies for many aspects of modern life, especially in such semantic domains as clothing, food and transportation. In general, Canadians follow the American model in these cases; like Americans, they say apartment rather than flat, diaper rather than nappy, elevator rather than lift, flashlight rather than torch, freight car rather than goods wagon, fries rather than chips (Canadian chips are what the British call crisps), pants rather than trousers, sweater rather than jumper, truck rather than lorry, and wrench rather than spanner. Canadian cars, like American, have hoods, fenders, mufflers, trunks, turn signals and windshields — not bonnets, wings, silencers, boots, indicators and windscreens — and drive on gas from gas stations, not petrol from filling stations or petrol stations.

In a few cases, however, most Canadians prefer British words: bill rather than check for the tally of charges in a restaurant; cutlery rather than silverware for knives, forks and spoons; icing rather than frosting for the top layer of a cake; icing sugar rather than powdered sugar for the finely ground sugar sprinkled on desserts; tap rather than faucet for the device that controls the flow of water into a sink; and, zed rather than zee for the last letter of the alphabet.


Canadians also display a small set of their own unique vocabulary, which can be called Canadianisms. In discussing Canadianisms, it is important to distinguish between international words for things that occur only or mostly in Canada, and uniquely Canadian words for things that occur internationally.

The first type of word represents the uniqueness of Canada but not of Canadian English. It is not difficult to think of distinctively Canadian things: flora and fauna that are found only or mostly in Canada, like the Canada goose, Canada jay or Canada lynx; aspects of Canadian Indigenous cultures, like the buffalo jump, pemmican or the totem pole; Canadian historical artifacts, like the Hudson’s Bay point blanket, the Red River cart or the York boat; Canadian inventions, like IMAX films, kerosene, the McIntosh apple, Nanaimo bars, poutine, the Robertson screw or the snowmobile; Canadian institutions, like the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police or the United Church of Canada. All of these things contribute to a Canadian cultural identity and their names are Canadian words in one sense, yet if people outside Canada found occasion to refer to them, they would use the same words as Canadians. In a parallel way, Canadians use Australian words like boomerang, didgeridoo, kangaroo and koala; these words are part of World English, not of Canadian or Australian English exclusively.

Only the second type of word, where Canadians use their own word for something that has other names in other dialects, is a true Canadianism in the linguistic sense. Some examples include the following: a small apartment without a separate bedroom is a bachelor in Canada but a studio in the US and Britain; a machine that performs banking services is a bank machine in Canada but an ATM in the US and a cash dispenser in Britain; the structures along the edge of a roof for collecting rainwater are eavestroughs in much of Canada but gutters in the US and Britain; the years of school are grade one, grade two, etc., in Canada but first grade, etc., in the US and year one, etc., in Britain; pencils used for colouring are usually pencil crayons in Canada but colored pencils in the US and colouring pencils in Britain; orange cones used to manage traffic during road repairs are pylons in Canada but traffic cones in the US and Britain; a tight-fitting woolen winter hat is a toque in Canada but a beanie in the US and Britain; and, a public toilet is a washroom in Canada but a restroom in the US and a lavatory or loo in Britain.

Nonetheless, Canadian English often shows variation in the use of these words, with Canadianisms competing with other words, usually the American variants. This sometimes results in the decline or disappearance of Canadianisms. The best-known example is chesterfield, which used to be the standard Canadian term for what is called a couch in the US and a sofa or settee in Britain; today, while some older Canadians continue to use chesterfield, most younger Canadians say couch.


The French and British were not, of course, the first people to occupy the land that became Canada; for thousands of years before their arrival, it was home to a wide array of Indigenous cultures and their languages. When European settlers arrived, many of the things they encountered, like aspects of the natural environment, were already familiar to them and were given pre-existing European names: bay, bear, beaver, birch, bison, cod, deer, duck, eagle, fir, fox, frost, glacier, grasshopper, gull, hail, hare, ice, lake, lobster, loon, maple, marsh, mosquito, mountain, owl, pine, poplar, prairie, puffin, river, salmon, seal, sleet, slush and snow are all European words, among thousands of other examples. Even many unfamiliar things were given European names, adapted to fit new, North American meanings, like robin, which denotes different birds in North America and Europe.

Many terms connected with Indigenous cultures, like chief, dogsled, harpoon, peace pipe, snowshoe, sun dance and sweat lodge, are also of European origin. In a few cases, however, words were borrowed from Indigenous languages. Many of these are shared with American English, since the international border is irrelevant to the natural and Indigenous worlds. A few examples of Indigenous loanwords in North American English are caribou, chinook, chipmunk, husky, igloo, inukshuk, kamik, kayak, moccasin, moose, mucky-muck, mukluk, muskeg, powwow, raccoon, saskatoon, skunk, sockeye, teepee, toboggan, wapiti and wigwam. Admittedly, most of these do not occur very often in everyday speech and their number is remarkably small, compared to the much larger vocabulary transferred from European languages. The major contribution of Indigenous languages to Canadian English is therefore not in common nouns or other parts of ordinary vocabulary, but in place names, something few modern Canadians stop to think about: the names Manitoba, Mississauga, Niagara, Nunavut, Ontario, Ottawa, Quebec, Saskatchewan, Toronto, Winnipeg, and Yukon — as well as the name Canada itself — all come from Indigenous languages.


Along with Canadian Raising of mouth words, discussed above, the most popular stereotype of Canadian English is the word eh, added to the end of a phrase to solicit confirmation that the hearer has understood or agrees with what the speaker is saying. A Canadian might say, “The game starts in half an hour, eh? So we have to leave now,” or, “Put your jacket on, eh? It’s cold outside,” or “Let’s go have some lunch, eh?” Like most stereotypes, however, this one is exaggerated and may now be obsolete; recent research suggests that, at least among younger Canadians, actual use of eh is much less frequent than its popularity as a stereotype would suggest (see Eh).


One domain where Canadian English shows a more balanced mixture of American and British standards is spelling, reflecting a continued belief among many Canadian educators and others in positions of linguistic authority that British English is more correct than American. Thus, Canadians tend to use British “-our” spellings in words like color, labor and vigor and “-re” spellings in center, fiber and theater. Other British spellings preferred by Canadians are cheque over American check, grey over gray and travelled over traveled. There are many inconsistencies, however: Canadians prefer British catalogue to American catalog but not British programme to American program, while use of British defence and American defense is mixed. Even the use of “-our,” which is the most systematic and iconic pattern, has exceptions: most Canadians prefer odor and favorite over odour and favourite. Moreover, some British spellings rarely occur in Canada, like kerb for curb and tyre for tire, or some foreign-influenced spellings of fancy words like analyse, criticise, paediatrics and foetus. Technological developments have tended to increase American influence on Canadian spelling, with American spellings normalized by the use of American-made spell-checker applications in word-processing programs and intensive exposure to written American English on the Internet, especially among younger Canadians.

While some Canadians have strong opinions on these matters, often pointing to arbitrary and isolated examples of British spelling as symbols of Canadian cultural independence from the United States, most linguists agree that the main characteristic of Canadian spelling is the absence of any consistent pattern, with choices between American and British forms varying by word, context, publication, genre, region and social group, thereby reflecting Canada’s transitional position between the two main standards of World English. It might be said that tolerance of disagreement about spelling is in any case a truer reflection of the modern Canadian character than a rigid adherence to British standards. As a result, however, Canadian writers, editors and other language professionals face sometimes perplexing choices and uncertainties that do not burden their British or American colleagues, at least not to the same extent.

Dictionaries and Style Guides

Setting a standard to follow in spelling, pronunciation and other aspects of usage is the job of the linguists and lexicographers who produce dictionaries and style guides. While many Canadians continue to consult American and British authorities on these matters, in keeping with its status as a unique and independent dialect, Canadian English now has its own set of such publications. There were two general-purpose comprehensive dictionaries produced entirely in Canada: first the Gage Canadian Dictionary and later the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, now largely used as the standard. (The Gage Canadian is no longer being produced but there are several other paperback made-for-Canada dictionaries available, including the Nelson Winston Canadian Paperback Dictionary and the Collins Gem Canadian English Dictionary.) There are also style guides for Canada’s language-related professions; Canadian editors, for instance, can consult Editing Canadian English, while journalists can refer to The Canadian Press Stylebook and public servants to The Canadian Style, published by Public Works and Government Services Canada. Aimed at a more general audience is the Guide to Canadian English Usage by Oxford University Press. In 1981, the Strathy Language Unit was established in the Department of English of Queen's University with a mission to study standard English usage and produce a guide to Canadian English usage; its activities promoting research on Canadian English continue today.

Regional Variation

With the important exception of Newfoundland mentioned above, Canadian English is notable for its comparative lack of regional variation, with a very similar type of English spoken by most people across the vast territory between Victoria and Halifax. Compared to Britain and the eastern United States, regional differences are small and subtle and they decrease from east to west. In the Maritimes, distinctive enclaves of traditional speech remain on Cape Breton Island, in several parts of mainland Nova Scotia (like Pictou County) and on Prince Edward Island. Quebec English is highly distinctive because of its comparative lack of Loyalist influence and its close contact with French. The Ottawa Valley that divides Quebec and Ontario also has a distinctive traditional dialect reflecting Scottish and Irish settlement. Further west, from southern Ontario to British Columbia, only very subtle differences are found, with a few exceptions, like religious communities on the Prairies. In northern Canada, we find distinct types of English spoken by many Indigenous people, reflecting the influence of Indigenous languages, but most of the non-Indigenous population is too recent and diverse to have formed a regional dialect in the traditional sense. Even in eastern Canada, many traditional dialect enclaves are now recessive, as younger people shift their speech toward general Canadian models. The isolation that once sustained dialect enclaves has all but disappeared.

Regional Pronunciation

Despite this general homogeneity, important regional indicators can be identified, even within the domain of what we might label Standard Canadian English. Some of these involve pronunciation. For instance, the vowel of words like start (e.g., bar, far, market), is pronounced further forward in the mouth by Atlantic Canadians than by westerners, while Canadian Raising produces slightly different sounds in Ontario and the West. In words like doubt, house and mouth, the diphthong used by southern Ontarians begins with a sound something like the vowel of bet, whereas that used by people on the Prairies begins with a sound more like the vowel of but. In words like bag, flag and tag, westerners tend to use a higher vowel than central or eastern Canadians, like that of vague, so that bag sounds something like the first syllable of bagel. Montreal is the only place in mainland Canada where most people still distinguish between the trap and dress vowels when they occur before an intervocalic /r/, in words like arrow versus error, barrel versus berry, or marry versus merry. For most Canadians, the first syllables of these words sound the same, so arrow sounds like air, barrel like bare and marry like mare. In Montreal, as in the eastern US and Britain, they sound different, with the first word in each pair having a vowel sound more like that of trap than that of dress.

Regional Vocabulary

The most obvious regional differences concern vocabulary. One word that varies across the country is the term for a small house in the countryside, usually on a lake, where city people go for summer weekends. This is a cabin in the West and a cottage in most of the East. In northwestern Ontario, it’s a camp, as it is quite often in New Brunswick. In Quebec, it’s sometimes a chalet. (In Montreal, a cottage is a two-storey house in the city.) Another western word is parkade, for a multi-level parking structure, called a parking garage in Ontario. Westerners also call athletic shoes worn as casual attire runners, whereas Ontarians call them running shoes and Atlantic Canadians use the American term, sneakers. Students preparing to take notes in the Maritimes would pull their scribblers out of their book bags, whereas other Canadians would pull their notebooks out of their backpacks. Outside school, children in Newfoundland and Quebec might play on a see-saw, but elsewhere that would be a teeter-totter. As a generic term for non-alcoholic carbonated beverages, Canadians across the country use the Midwestern American term pop, except in Quebec and sometimes in Manitoba, where it’s soft drink. The standard set of pizza toppings is called deluxe in the West, deluxe or everything-on-it in Ontario, all-dressed in Quebec and Saskatchewan, and the works in Atlantic Canada; similar variation applies to the toppings on hamburgers and hotdogs.

There are whole dictionaries of local words and meanings for many places in eastern Canada, as already mentioned in connection with Newfoundland, though many of these are specialized terms that have no equivalents in other regions. Even in less generally distinctive regions of Canada, however, a few unique words can be found in most places. Ontario, for instance, offers concession, meaning a tract of surveyed farmland, with its related terms concession line and concession road, and Ontario children start their education in junior kindergarten, which has other names in other regions (e.g., preschool or pre-K). On the Prairies, a dugout is an excavated reservoir for rainwater or spring runoff on a farm and a bluff is a clump of trees, not a cliff. In Saskatchewan, a hooded sweatshirt is called a bunnyhug, whereas other Canadians call it a hoodie. In Calgary, enclosed pedestrian bridges linking the second floors of adjacent buildings over a street are called plus-15s, while in Edmonton they are known as pedways and in Winnipeg as skywalks; in Montreal, pedestrians escape the Canadian winter in the underground city.

Quebec English

Partly because of its close contact with French, Quebec English is the most distinctive type of Canadian English in terms of general vocabulary. Many of its unique words are borrowings from French that are not found in other regions. For instance, Quebec English speakers tend to refer to a convenience store as a dépanneur (or dep), an internship as a stage (rhymes with massage), a patio or sidewalk restaurant as a terrasse, and stomach flu as gastro. Other Quebec words exist in other varieties of English but have special meanings in Quebec that are influenced by French. The verb pass, for instance, is often used in French senses, so a Montrealer may ask, “When does your bus pass?” meaning, “When is it coming?” Montreal schoolchildren get “7 on 10” on a test, like “7 sur 10” in French, rather than “7 out of 10” elsewhere in Canada. Where Torontonians may look for a loft or one-bedroom apartment near a subway station, Montrealers search for a two- or three-and-a-half near a metro station, the former being a translation of the French nomenclature for apartments, in which the bathroom counts as half a room. Whereas Atlantic Canadian shoppers pay at the checkout and Ontarians and westerners go to the cashier, Quebecers line up at the cash, a direct equivalent of la caisse in French. (See also English-Speaking Quebecers.)

Social Variation

Another effect of minority status on Montreal English is a much higher degree of ethnic variation than is found in cities where English is the dominant language. In most cities, even those with large ethnic communities, ethno-linguistic differences usually disappear after one generation, as the children of immigrants assimilate to local speech patterns. In Montreal, by contrast, the local dominance of French insulates ethnic communities from the assimilatory power of Standard Canadian English, so that ethnic differences persist even among Canadian-born generations. These include distinct phonetic patterns associated with speakers of British, Italian and Jewish ancestry — three of the largest ethnic components of Montreal’s English-speaking community. In other Canadian cities, ethno-linguistic differences often distinguish Indigenous from non-Indigenous types of English.

Variation among ethnic groups is only one of many ways that Canadian English varies according to social categories. This sort of variation is studied by sociolinguists, who examine the relationship between language and society, particularly the correlations between linguistic variables and social attributes such as age, sex and social class, as well as speech style or context of speaking. Urban sociolinguistic surveys of Vancouver (by R.J. Gregg), Toronto (by J.K. Chambers and S. Tagliamonte), Ottawa (by H.B. Woods), Montreal (by C. Boberg), and St. John’s (by S. Clarke), based on previous research in American and British cities, have found similar patterns in Canada: younger people and women tend to lead language changes, while older people and men lag behind; middle-class people and women prefer a more standard variety of language; while working-class people and men display more non-standard language. All speakers display variation between contextual styles, with certain variants like talking or best friend or Toronto occurring more frequently in formal styles and others, like “talkin’” or “bessfrien’” or “Tronno,” in casual styles. These general sociolinguistic patterns apply as much to Canadian English as to other dialects and languages; they are one of the ways in which individuals and groups signal their social identities and relationships with one another.

Further Reading

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