Canadian English

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Canadian English (CanE, CE, en-CA[1]) is the "standard" variety of English spoken in Canada.[2] Canadian English is the sole first language, or "mother tongue", of approximately 18 million Canadians (57%), and one of two or more "mother tongues" for 450,000 Canadians (1%). The mother tongue of 7 million Canadians is French (22%), while another 6 million have a non-English, non-French mother tongue (21%). Approximately 20 million (65%) use English at home, while another 500,000 speakers are bilingual or trilingual in their homes.[3] 61% of Canadians outside Quebec speak standard Canadian English as their mother tongue.[4]

Standard Canadian English broadly encompasses the language variety as spoken by the majority of middle class Canadian anglophones. However, the complex colonial history, extreme regional isolation of many communities, and high level of non-English speaker immigration has left Canada with a diversity of regional variations and very distinct dialects, which are in some instances mutually unintelligible.[2] Based on lexis and phonology, standard Canadian English is divided into eight dialect regions: British Columbia, the Prairies (Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba,and northwestern Ontario), Southern Ontario, Greater Toronto, Eastern Ontario, Quebec (mostly Greater Montreal), the Maritimes (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island), and Newfoundland and Labrador.[2]

The term "Canadian English" first appears in a speech by the Reverend A. Constable Geikie in an address to the Canadian Institute in 1857. Geikie, a Scottish-born Canadian, reflected the Anglocentric attitude that would be prevalent in Canada for the next hundred years when he referred to the language as "a corrupt dialect", in comparison to what he considered the proper English spoken by immigrants from Britain.[5]

Development of Standard Canadian English[edit]

Modern standard Canadian English derives largely from variants of British English delivered over several centuries of colonisation in North America and through Canada's very close ties to British English as part of the British Empire and Commonwealth, to the present day. Recent studies have shown how it reflects an admixture of other languages, including those of the First Nations,[6] Canadian French,[5] Italian and Ukrainian[7] and the English dialects of the United States.[8] There had been some debate about the development of Canadian English,[9][10] but these have been largely superseded by recent linguistic studies and data collection. The historic development of Canadian English is only recently the focus of scholarly study,[11] while recent studies have shown the historically recent emergence of distinctly Canadian English features.[12]

Spelling and dictionaries[edit]

Canadian spelling of the English language combines British and American conventions.

Canadian spelling conventions 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.[citation needed] 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 (hence, "Canadian Tire") and American terminology for the parts of automobiles (for example, truck instead of lorry, gasoline instead of petrol, trunk instead of boot).[13]

Canada's political history has also had an influence on Canadian spelling. Canada's first prime minister, John A. Macdonald, once directed the Governor General of Canada to issue an order-in-council directing that government papers be written in the British style.[14]

A contemporary reference for formal Canadian spelling is the spelling used for Hansard transcripts of the Parliament of Canada (see The Canadian Style in Further reading below). Many Canadian editors, though, use the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, often along with the chapter on spelling in Editing Canadian English, and, where necessary (depending on context), one or more other references (see Further reading below.)

The first Canadian dictionaries of Canadian English were edited by Walter Spencer Avis and published by Gage Ltd. The Beginner's Dictionary (1962), the Intermediate Dictionary (1964) and, finally, the Senior Dictionary (1967) were milestones in Canadian English lexicography. Many secondary schools in Canada use these dictionaries. The dictionaries have regularly been updated since: the Senior Dictionary was renamed Gage Canadian Dictionary and exists in what may be called its 5th edition from 1997. Gage was acquired by Thomson Nelson around 2003. The latest editions were published in 2009 by HarperCollins.

In 1997, the ITP Nelson Dictionary of the Canadian English Language was another product but has not been updated since.

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. Just as in the older dictionaries, it includes uniquely Canadian words and words borrowed from other languages and surveyed spellings, such as whether colour or color was the more popular choice in common use. Paperback and concise versions (2005, 2006), with minor updates, are available.

The scholarly Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP)[15] was first published in 1967 by Gage Ltd. It was a partner project of the Senior Dictionary (and appeared only a few weeks apart from it). The DCHP can be considered the "Canadian OED" because it documents the historical development of Canadian English words that can be classified as "Canadianisms". It therefore includes words such as mukluk, Canuck, bluff, and grow op but does not list common core words such as desk, table, or car. It is a specialist, scholarly dictionary but is not without interest to the general public. After more than 40 years, a second edition has been commenced at UBC in Vancouver in 2006.[16]

Throughout part of the 20th century, some Canadian newspapers adopted American spellings[citation needed] (e.g., color as opposed to the British-based colour). The use of such spellings was the long-standing practice of the Canadian Press, perhaps since that news agency's inception, but visibly the norm prior to World War II.[17] The practice of dropping the letter u in such words was also considered a labour-saving technique during the early days of printing in which movable type was set manually.[17] Canadian newspapers also received much of their international content from American press agencies; therefore, it was much easier for editorial staff to leave the spellings from the wire services as provided.[18]

More recently, Canadian newspapers have adopted the British spelling variants such as -our endings, notably with The Globe and Mail changing its spelling policy in October 1990.[19] Other Canadian newspapers adopted similar changes later that decade, such as the Southam newspaper chain's conversion in September 1998.[20] The Toronto Star adopted this new spelling policy in September 1997 after that publication's ombudsman discounted the issue earlier in the year.[18][21] The Star had always avoided using recognized Canadian spelling, citing the Gage Canadian Dictionary in their defence. Controversy around this issue was frequent. When the Gage Dictionary finally adopted standard Canadian spelling, the Star followed suit.

With its unique blend of British and American orthographic styles, Canadian English has lead to particular words obtaining multiple accepted spelling denotations. As a result of the “Canadian compromise”, uniquely Canadian spellings arose that combine elements of both British and American styles as is apparent with "maneuvre" that employs a British final -re yet utilizes the American -eu in place of the British -oeu which further emphasizes Canadian English's malleability. Eventually, the use of "maneuver" became more common than "manoeuvre", an indication that may reflect the perceived "Americanization" of Canadian English but it is simplistic to reduce such change to this notion because it ignores how American English is itself changing for reasons beyond intrinsic factors that may entail American English becoming more British among other things.[22] While those of Nova Scotia, Ontario, and British Columbia tend to value the British style as being more "proper" than the American alternative as well as correspondingly preferring British style when uncertain of a particular spelling, those of Alberta, Manitoba, and Prince Edward Island are said to be inclined to follow the American form.[23] It is interesting to note how Canadian English has and continues to be affected by the rise of computer technology with such implications as spell checkers potentially making Canadian English become more American as a consequence of spell checking aids for Canadian dialects often being inadequately adapted from American counterparts.[24] Many editors of Canadian English insist upon the spelling of "programme" except where computer programs are concerned. This can be interpreted as perpetrating two divergent words with more specialized meanings than the parent word by virtue of segregating the original word's applicable use.[25]

Phonemic incidence[edit]

The pronunciation of certain words has both American and British influence; some pronunciations are more distinctively Canadian.

The intonation and pronunciation of some vowel sounds have similarities to the dialects of Scotland and to accents in Northern England such as Geordie, for example the raising to "about" to sound roughly like "aboot" or "aboat", is also heard in Scotland, the Tyneside, Chorley, and Bolton areas of England, Northern Ireland, and the Upper Midwest of the United States.[citation needed]


Almost since the onset of the study of Canadian English, the concept of linguistic homogeneity (i.e. contrary to regional variation, see below) has been an, at times even dominant, factor in the field (see [35] for a comprehensive overview). However, while many linguists have held and still hold the homogeneity issue (put simply: "CE sounds the same from coast to coast"), it is clear that recent work has revealed regional variation based on national samples (e.g.,[36][37]) that have been hitherto unavailable.

Regional variation[edit]

Canada has very little dialect diversity compared to the United States.[38] The provinces east of Ontario show the largest dialect diversity. Northern Canada is, according to William Labov, a dialect region in formation, and a homogeneous dialect has not yet formed.[39] A very homogeneous dialect exists in Western and Central Canada, a situation that is similar to that of the Western United States. Labov identifies an inland region that concentrates all of the defining features of the dialect centred on the Prairies, with periphery areas with more variable patterns including the metropolitan areas of Vancouver and Toronto.[38] This dialect forms a dialect continuum with the far Western United States; however, it is sharply differentiated from the Inland Northern United States. This is a result of the relatively recent phenomenon known as the Northern cities vowel shift; see below.

Western and Central Dialect[edit]

Based on Labov et al.; averaged F1/F2 means for speakers from Western and Central Canada. Note that /ɒ/ and /ɔ/ are indistinguishable; /æ/ and /ɛ/ are very open.

As a variety of North American English, this variety is similar to most other forms of North American speech in being a rhotic accent, which is historically a significant marker in identifying different English varieties. However, in places with recent British migration, especially British Columbia, rhoticity is often less pronounced.

Canadian raising[edit]

Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Canadian English is Canadian raising. The diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ are "raised" before voiceless consonants, namely /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /ʃ/ and /f/. In these environments, /aɪ/ becomes [ʌɪ~ɜɪ~ɐɪ]. One of the few phonetic variables that divides Canadians regionally is the articulation of the raised allophone of /aʊ/: in Ontario, it tends to have a mid-central or even mid-front articulation, sometimes approaching [ɛʊ], while in the West and Maritimes a more retracted sound is heard, closer to [ʌʊ].[40] Among some speakers in the Prairies and in Nova Scotia, the retraction is strong enough to cause some tokens of raised /aʊ/ to merge with /oʊ/, so that couch and coach sound the same, and about sounds like a boat. Canadian raising is found throughout western and central Canada, as well as in parts of the Atlantic Provinces.[38] It is the strongest in southern Ontario, and is some what less pronounced in younger speakers in Vancouver B.C, a pattern which continues to be observed by linguistics across North America.

In most eastern regions "about" /əˈbaʊt/ sounds like a-beh-oot [əˈbɛʊt], the prairies a-boat, and in southwestern BC nearest to (a non raised) a-bowt - especially among younger speakers. Speakers in Montreal whose first language was French often do not have the raising & enunciate it "a-bowt", even if there is no trace of a French accent anymore.[citation needed]

Many Canadians, especially in parts of the Atlantic provinces, do not possess Canadian raising. In the U.S., this feature can be found in areas near the border such as the Upper Midwest and parts of New England, although it is much less common than in Canada; raising of /aɪ/ alone, however, is increasing in the U.S., and unlike raising of /aʊ/, is generally not noticed by people who do not have the raising.

Because of Canadian raising (C.R), many speakers are able to distinguish between words such as writer and rider – a feat otherwise impossible, because North American dialects turn intervocalic /t/ into an alveolar flap. Thus writer and rider are distinguished solely by their vowels, as the distinction between their consonants has been lost. Speakers who do not have C.R. cannot distinguish between these two words based on vowel sound alone.

The cot–caught merger and the Canadian Shift[edit]

Almost all Canadians have the cot–caught merger, which also occurs in the Western US. Speakers do not distinguish /ɔ/ (as in caught) and /ɒ/ (as in cot), which merge as either [ɒ] (more common in Western Canada) or [ɑ] (more common in Southern Ontario and in Atlantic Canada, where it might even be fronted). Speakers with this merger produce these vowels identically, and often fail to hear the difference when speakers who preserve the distinction (for example, speakers of General American and Inland Northern American English) pronounce these vowels. This merger has existed in Canada for several generations.[41]

This merger creates a hole in the short vowel sub-system[42] and triggers a sound change known as the Canadian Shift, which involves the front lax vowels /æ, ɛ, ɪ/. The /æ/ of bat is lowered and retracted in the direction of [a] (except in some environments, see below). Indeed, /æ/ is further back in this variety than almost all other North American dialects;[43] the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver[44] and is more advanced for Ontarians and women than for people from the Prairies or Atlantic Canada and men.[45] Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ may be lowered (in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ]) and/or retracted; studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift.[46] For example, Labov and others (2006) noted a backward and downward movement of /ɛ/ in apparent time in all of Canada except the Atlantic Provinces, but no movement of /ɪ/ was detected.

Therefore, in Canadian English, the short a and the short o are shifted in opposite directions to that of the Northern Cities shift, found across the border in the Inland Northern US, which is causing these two dialects to diverge: the Canadian short a is very similar in quality to the Inland Northern short o; for example, the production [maːp] would be recognized as map in Canada, but mop in the Inland North.

The front vowel merger before /r/[edit]

The Mary-marry-merry merger of front vowels [eɪ], [æ], [ɛ], respectively, before the intervocalic /r/, epitomizes this trend in North American speakers.[47] In particular, scholars witness a trend in which Canadian English speakers merge front vowels TRAP (m[æ]rry) and FACE (M[eɪ]ry) towards the DRESS (m[ɛ]rry) front vowel, before intervocalic /r/.[37][47] Thus, not only do marry and Mary themselves share the same-sounding vowel, transformed from [æ] and [eɪ] to [ɛ], but the pronunciation of merry (historically and presently with the DR[ɛ]SS front vowel) is now matched by marry and Mary, all three of which have become exclusive homophones in Western-Central Canadian English speakers.[47]

The front vowel merger before /r/ is the conventional trend in Canadian English speakers, with exceptions in Quebec and Newfoundland.[37] Notably, while the merging of lexical sets DRESS to FACE, prevails in Canadian English, Boberg's MANCOVA study, conducted in 2008, demonstrates that the merging of TRAP to DRESS does not apply to English-speakers in Newfoundland, nor in urban Quebec (Montreal).

Quebec English speakers' pronunciation of [ær] is 166 Hz higher than that of the rest of Canadian English speakers (excluding Newfoundland English speakers). Moreover, Quebec English speakers' pronunciations of [ær] and [ɛr] measure at an average of 161 Hz in deviation.

To Montreal Anglophones, marry and merry sound the same, sharing the [ɛ] front vowel before intervocalic /r/. Meanwhile, Mary retains its historical FACE ([eɪ]) front vowel, with differences ranging from 112 to 138 Hz from DRESS-vowel dominant merry and "marry". Comparatively, native English-speakers in rural (i.e. not Montreal) Quebec exhibited a mean difference of only 35 Hz in their respective pronunciations of [ær] and [ɛr]—results that echo the rest of Canadian speakers.

Moreover, this phonemic feature can also be observed on the coastal region of the mid-Atlantic United States; studies suggest that this resistance of conditioning the TRAP [æ] vowel to the DRESS [ɛ] and FACE [eɪ] vowels could be a British English retention. The resistance of the TRAP vowel merger before /r/ by Anglophones in Montreal, in which Quebec Anglophones predominantly reside, supports the British-English retention hypothesis.[37]

It has been argued that the marry-merry merger has, in the past, been less general in Canada, with records of Ontario English speakers (1934, 1961) displaying m[ɛr]ried, West Canadian English speakers (1976) maintaining distinct vowels in marry and merry, and “some speakers” (1957) in Vancouver exhibiting the merger.[48] Avis’ findings (1938) demonstrate a retention of distinct vowels in his generation, and a tendency towards TRAP-DRESS merging in the following generation.

Other features[edit]

Most Canadians have two principal allophones of /aɪ/ (raised to lower-mid position before voiceless consonants and low-central or low-back elsewhere) and three of /aʊ/ (raised before voiceless consonants, fronted to [aʊ] or [æʊ] before nasals, and low-central elsewhere).

Unlike in many American English dialects, /æ/ remains a low-front vowel in most environments in Canadian English. Raising along the front periphery of the vowel space is restricted to two environments – before nasal and voiced velar consonants – and varies regionally even in these. Ontario and Maritime Canadian English commonly show some raising before nasals, though not as extreme as in many American varieties. Much less raising is heard on the Prairies, and some ethnic groups in Montreal show no pre-nasal raising at all. On the other hand, some Prairie speech exhibits raising of /æ/ before voiced velars (/ɡ/ and /ŋ/), with an up-glide rather than an in-glide, so that bag sounds close to vague.[49]

The first element of /ɑr/ (as in start) tends to be raised. As with Canadian raising, the relative advancement of the raised nucleus is a regional indicator. A striking feature of Atlantic Canadian speech (the Maritimes and Newfoundland) is a nucleus that approaches the front region of the vowel space, accompanied by strong rhoticity, ranging from [ɜɹ] to [ɐɹ]. Western Canadian speech has a much more retracted articulation with a longer non-rhotic portion, approaching a mid-back quality, [ɵɹ] (though there is no tendency toward a merger with /ɔr/). Articulation of /ɑr/ in Ontario is in a position midway between the Atlantic and Western values.[50]

Another change in progress in Canadian English, part of a continental trend affecting many North American varieties, is the fronting of /uː/, whereby the nucleus of /uː/ moves forward to high-central or even high-front position, directly behind /iː/. There is a wide range of allophonic dispersion in the set of words containing /uː/ (i.e., the GOOSE set), extending over most of the high region of the vowel space. Most advanced are tokens of /uː/ in free position after coronals (do, too); behind these are tokens in syllables closed with coronals (boots, food, soon), then tokens before non-coronals (goof, soup); remaining in back position are tokens of /uː/ before /l/ (cool, pool, tool). Unlike in some British speech, Canadian English does not show any fronting or unrounding of the glide of /uː/, and most Canadians show no parallel centralization of /oʊ/, which generally remains in back position, except in Cape Breton Island and Newfoundland.

Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as /oʊ/ (as in boat) and /eɪ/ (as in bait) have qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers especially in the Inland region.

Some older speakers still maintain a distinction between whale and wail, and do and dew.[41]

Rhythm and intonation[edit]

Another difference observed in General Canadian English (GenCan) in comparison to General American (GenAm) is a slight intonation difference. Canadians often possess a sing-songy cadence to their speech which isn't usually seen in most varieties of General American English which tends to be on average "flatter". The intonation difference may signify remnants of Scottish or Irish influence.

British Columbia[edit]

British Columbia English has several words still in current use borrowed from the Chinook Jargon although the use of such vocabulary is observably decreasing. The most famous and widely used of these terms are skookum and saltchuck. In the Yukon, cheechako is used for newcomers or greenhorns. A study shows that people from Vancouver exhibit more vowel retraction of /æ/ before nasals than people from Toronto, and this retraction may become a regional marker of West Coast English.[51]

Prairies (Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Alberta)[edit]

A strong Canadian raising exists in the prairie regions together with certain older usages such as chesterfield and front room also associated with the Maritimes. Aboriginal Canadians are a larger and more conspicuous population in prairie cities than elsewhere in the country and certain elements of aboriginal speech in English are sometimes to be heard. Similarly, the linguistic legacy, mostly intonation but also speech patterns and syntax, of the Scandinavian, Slavic and German settlers – who are far more numerous and historically important in the Prairies than in Ontario or the Maritimes – can be heard in the general milieu. Again, the large Métis population in Saskatchewan and Manitoba also carries with it certain linguistic traits inherited from French, Aboriginal and Celtic forebears. Some terms are derived from immigrant groups or are just local inventions:

In farming communities with substantial Ukrainian, German or Mennonite populations, accents, sentence structure and vocabulary influenced by these languages is common. These communities are most common in the Saskatchewan Valley region of Saskatchewan and Red River Valley region of Manitoba.


Ottawa Valley[edit]
Main article: Ottawa Valley Twang

The area to the north and west of Ottawa is heavily influenced by original Scottish, Irish, and German settlers, with many French loanwords. This is frequently referred to as the Valley Accent.


Although only 1.5% of Torontonians speak French, a relatively low proportion of them (56.2%) are native speakers of English, according to the 2006 Census.[54] As a result Toronto shows a more variable speech pattern.[55]

Northern Ontario[edit]

With a smaller, but more concentrated French population (notably in the cities of Timmins, North Bay and Sudbury) and sizable Aboriginal population, this area is somewhat unique as having elements from both the Western provinces and the rest of Ontario. Communities receive media from both directions, and residents travel frequently to both areas, prompting a blending of dialects. Sharp-eared locals can detect from word usage (soda versus pop, hoodie versus bunny hug) where one originated, "Down east" (east of Sault Ste. Marie and beyond the Great Lakes), or "Out West" (west of the Manitoba border).


Main article: Quebec English


Based on Labov et al.; averaged F1/F2 means for speakers from NS, NB, NL.

Many in the 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. Outside of major communities, dialects can vary markedly from community to community, as well as from province to province, reflecting ethnic origin as well as a past in which there were few roads and many communities, with some villages very isolated. Into the 1980s, residents of villages in northern Nova Scotia could identify themselves by dialects and accents distinctive to their village. The dialects of Prince Edward Island are often considered the most distinct grouping.

The phonology of Maritimer English has some unique features:


Main article: Newfoundland English

The varieties of English spoken in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador include several distinct English dialects.[57] Newfoundland English differs in vowel pronunciation, morphology, syntax, and preservation of archaic adverbal-intensifiers. The dialect can vary markedly from community to community, as well as from region to region, reflecting ethnic origin as well as a past in which there were few roads and many communities, and fishing villages in particular remained very isolated. A few speakers have a transitional pin–pen merger.[38]

Northern Canada[edit]

First Nations and Inuit people from Northern Canada speak a version of Canadian English influenced by the phonology of their first languages. European Canadians in these regions are relatively recent arrivals, and have not produced a dialect that is distinct from southern Canadian English.[47]



Where Canadian English shares vocabulary with other English dialects, it tends to share most with American English. Many terms are shared with Britain, but not with the majority of American speakers. In some cases British and the American terms coexist in Canadian English to various extents; a classic example is holiday, often used interchangeably with vacation, distinguishing the two between a trip elsewhere and general time off work respectively. In addition, the vocabulary of Canadian English also features words that are seldom (if ever) found elsewhere. A good resource for these and other words is the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (Avis and others. 1967), which is currently being revised at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

As a member of the Commonwealth of Nations, Canada shares many items of institutional terminology and professional designations with the countries of the former British Empire – for example, constable, for a police officer of the lowest rank, and chartered accountant.


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 pre-university college in Quebec. In Canada, 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 or context clarifies the specific level of post-secondary education that is meant.

Within the public school system the chief administrator of a school is generally "the principal", as in the United States, but the term is not used preceding his or her name, i.e. "Principal Smith". The assistant to the principal is not titled as "assistant principal", but rather as "vice-principal", although the former is not unknown. This usage is identical to that in Northern Ireland.

Canadian universities publish calendars or schedules, not catalogs as in the U.S. Canadian students write or take exams (in the U.S., students generally "take" exams while teachers "write" them); they rarely sit them (standard British usage). Those who supervise students during an exam are sometimes called invigilators as in Britain, or sometimes proctors as in the U.S., but most often the general term teaching assistant (TA) is used; usage may depend on the region or even the individual institution.[citation needed]

Successive years of school are usually referred to as grade one, grade two, and so on. In Quebec, the speaker (if Francophone) and referring to grade school, will often say first year (grade 1), second year (grade 2) (a direct translation from the French), and so on; while Anglophones will say grade one, grade two. (Compare American first grade, second grade (sporadically found in Canada), and English/Welsh Year 1, Year 2, Scottish/Nth. Irish Primary 1, Primary 2 or P1, P2, and Sth. Irish First Class, Second Class and so on.).[61] In Nova Scotia only, the first year of school is called "grade primary".

In the U.S., the four years of high school are termed the freshman, sophomore, junior, and senior years (terms also used for college years); in Canada, the specific levels are used instead (i.e., "grade nine"),[62] except in Quebec where the five years of high school are termed "secondary 1" (lowest/freshman) to "secondary 5" (highest/senior). Also in Quebec, high schools are often either "junior" (secondary 1 to secondary 3) institutions or "senior" (secondary 4 and 5), more similar to the U.S. As for higher education, only the term freshman (often reduced to frosh) has some currency in Canada.[62] The American usages "sophomore", "junior" and "senior" are not used in Canadian university terminology, or in speech. The specific high-school grades and university years are therefore stated and individualized; for example, the grade 12s failed to graduate; John is in his second year at McMaster. The "first year", "third year" designation also applies to Canadian law school students, as opposed to the common American usage of "1L", "2L" and "3L."

Canadian students use the term marks (more common in England) or grades (more common in the U.S.) to refer to their results; usage is very mixed.[62]

Units of measurement[edit]

Unlike in the United States, use of metric units within a majority of industries (but not all) is standard in Canada, as a result of the national adoption of the Metric System during the mid-to-late 1970s; this has spawned some colloquial usages such as klick for kilometre (as also heard in the U.S. military). See metrication in Canada. Nonetheless, Imperial units are still used in many situations. For example, most English Canadians state their weight and height in pounds and feet/inches, respectively. Distances while playing golf are always marked and discussed in yards, though official scorecards may also show metres. Temperatures for cooking are often given in Fahrenheit, while the weather is given in Celsius. Directions in the Prairie provinces are sometimes given using miles, because the country roads generally follow the mile-based grid of the Dominion Land Survey. It is also common practice in the Prairies to measure distance, particularly on the highway, in travel time rather than the actual distance. Canadians measure property, both residential and commercial, in square feet exclusively. Fuel efficiency is frequently discussed in miles per gallon, less often the metric L/100 km. The letter paper size of 8.5 inches × 11 inches is used instead of the international and metric A4 size of 210 mm × 297 mm.


However, expressway may also refer to a limited-access road that has control of access but has at-grade junctions, railway crossings (for example, the Harbour Expressway in Thunder Bay.) Sometimes the term parkway is also used (for example, the Hanlon Parkway in Guelph). The terms grid road (Saskatchewan) and mile road (Manitoba) are used to refer to minor highways or rural roads, usually gravel, referring to the Dominion Land Survey grid upon which they were originally designed. In Quebec, freeways and expressways are sometimes called by the French term autoroutes; however, native English speakers use the term highway.[63]

In Alberta, the generic trail is often used to describe a freeway, expressway or major urban street (for example, Deerfoot Trail, Macleod Trail or Crowchild Trail in Calgary, St. Albert Trail in Edmonton). The Yellowhead Trail in Edmonton is an exception, where it is simply referred to as "the Yellowhead".[64] The British term motorway is not used. The American terms turnpike and tollway for a toll road are not common. The term throughway or thruway was used for first tolled limited-access highways (for example, the Deas Island Throughway, now Highway 99, from Vancouver, to Blaine, Washington, or the Saint John Throughway (Highway 1) in Saint John, New Brunswick), but this term is not common anymore. In everyday speech, when a particular roadway is not being specified, the term highway is generally or exclusively used.



Lawyers in all parts of Canada, except Quebec, which has its own civil law system, are called "barristers and solicitors" because any lawyer licensed in any of the common law provinces and territories must pass bar exams for, and is permitted to engage in, both types of legal practice in contrast to other common-law jurisdictions such as England, Wales and Ireland where the two are traditionally separated (i.e., Canada has a fused legal profession). The words lawyer and counsel (not counsellor) predominate in everyday contexts; the word attorney refers to any personal representative. Canadian lawyers generally do not refer to themselves as "attorneys", a term which is common in the United States.

The equivalent of an American district attorney, meaning the barrister representing the state in criminal proceedings, is called a crown attorney (in Ontario), crown counsel (in British Columbia), crown prosecutor or the crown, on account of Canada's status as a constitutional monarchy in which the Crown is the locus of state power.

The words advocate and notary – two distinct professions in Quebec civil law – are used to refer to that province's equivalent of barrister and solicitor, respectively. In Canada's common law provinces and territories, the word notary means strictly a notary public.

Within the Canadian legal community itself, the word solicitor is often used to refer to any Canadian lawyer in general (much like the way the word attorney is used in the United States to refer to any American lawyer in general). Despite the conceptual distinction between barrister and solicitor, Canadian court documents would contain a phrase such as "John Smith, solicitor for the Plaintiff" even though "John Smith" may well himself be the barrister who argues the case in court. In a letter introducing him/herself to an opposing lawyer, a Canadian lawyer normally writes something like "I am the solicitor for Mr. Tom Jones."

The word litigator is also used by lawyers to refer to a fellow lawyer who specialises in lawsuits even though the more traditional word barrister is still employed to denote the same specialization.

Judges of Canada's superior courts (which exist at the provincial and territorial levels) are traditionally addressed as "My Lord" or "My Lady"; however, there are some variances across certain jurisdictions, with some superior court judges preferring the titles "Mister Justice" or "Madam Justice" to "Lordship".

Masters are addressed as "Mr. Master" or simply "Sir".

Judges of provincial or inferior courts are traditionally referred to in person as "Your Honour". Judges of the Supreme Court of Canada and of the federal-level courts prefer the use of "Mister/Madam (Chief) Justice". Justices of The Peace are addressed as "Your Worship". "Your Honour" is also the correct form of address for a Lieutenant Governor.

A serious crime is called an indictable offence, while a less-serious crime is called a summary offence. The older words felony and misdemeanour, which are still used in the United States, are not used in Canada's current Criminal Code (R.S.C. 1985, c. C-46) or by today's Canadian legal system. As noted throughout the Criminal Code, a person accused of a crime is called the accused and not the defendant, a term used instead in civil lawsuits.

In Canada, visible minority refers to a non-aboriginal person or group visibly not one of the majority race in a given population. The term comes from the Canadian Employment Equity Act, which defines such people as "persons, other than Aboriginal people, who are non-Caucasian in race or non-white in colour."[66] The term is used as a demographic category by Statistics Canada. The qualifier "visible" is used to distinguish such minorities from the "invisible" minorities determined by language (English vs. French) and certain distinctions in religion (Catholics vs. Protestants).[citation needed]

A county in British Columbia means only a regional jurisdiction of the courts and justice system and is not otherwise connected to governance as with counties in other provinces and in the United States. The rough equivalent to "county" as used elsewhere is a "Regional District".


Distinctive Canadianisms are:

Houses and other buildings[edit]

Racial and ethnic groups[edit]

Daily life[edit]

Terms common in Canada, Britain and Ireland but less frequent or nonexistent in the United States are:

The following are more or less distinctively Canadian:


The following are common in Canada, but not in the United States or the United Kingdom.

Food and beverage[edit]


Informal speech[edit]

A rubber in the U.S. and Canada is slang for a condom; however, in Canada it is sometimes (rarely except for Newfoundland and South Western Ontario) another term for an eraser (as it is in Australia, the United Kingdom and Ireland).

The word bum can refer either to the buttocks (as in Britain), or, derogatorily, to a homeless person (as in the U.S.). However, the "buttocks" sense does not have the indecent character it retains in British use, as it and "butt" are commonly used as a polite or childish euphemism for ruder words such as arse (commonly used in Atlantic Canada and among older people in Ontario and to the west) or ass, or mitiss (used in the Prairie Provinces, especially in northern and central Saskatchewan; probably originally a Cree loanword). Older Canadians may see "bum" as more polite than "butt", which before the 1980s was often considered rude.

Similarly the word pissed can refer either to being drunk (as in Britain), or being angry (as in the U.S.), though anger is more often said as pissed off, while piss drunk or pissed up is said to describe inebriation (though piss drunk is sometimes also used in the U.S., especially in the northern states).

Canadian colloquialisms[edit]

One of the most distinctive Canadian phrases is the spoken interrogation eh (pronunciation: //, ay), used widely in Central Canada but less frequently in the prairies and Atlantic Canada. The tag is commonly mocked by films such as South Park: Bigger, Longer, Uncut, and treated more warm-heartedly within Canada itself by television programmes such as The Red Green Show and The Royal Canadian Air Farce and TV performers Bob and Doug McKenzie. The only usage of eh exclusive to Canada, according to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, is for "ascertaining the comprehension, continued interest, agreement, etc., of the person or persons addressed" as in, "It's four kilometres away, eh, so I have to go by bike." In that case, eh? is used to confirm the attention of the listener and to invite a supportive noise such as mm or oh or okay. This usage is also common in Queensland, Australia and New Zealand. Other uses of eh – for instance, in place of huh? or what? meaning "please repeat or say again" – are also found in parts of the British Isles and Australia.

In recent years it has been found that younger Canadians in the larger cities have been replacing "eh" with other words such as "right" at the end of sentences.[94] It is not known if this trend will extend to rural areas, but such is normally the case.

The term Canuck simply means Canadian in its demonymic form, and, as a term used even by Canadians themselves, it is not considered derogatory. In the 19th century and early 20th century it tended to refer to French-Canadians, but Janey Canuck was used by Anglophone writer Emily Murphy in the 1920s and the Johnny Canuck comic book character of the 1940s. Throughout the 1970s, Canada's winning World Cup men's downhill ski team was called the "Crazy Canucks" for their fearlessness on the slopes.[95] In the mid-1970s, Captain Canuck was a comic book superhero. It is also the name of the Vancouver Canucks, the National Hockey League team of Vancouver.

The term hoser, popularized by Bob & Doug McKenzie, typically refers to an uncouth, beer-swilling male. Bob & Doug also popularized the use of Beauty, eh, another western slang term which may be used in variety of ways. This describes something as being of interest, of note, signals approval or simply draws attention to it.[citation needed]

A Newf or Newfie is someone from Newfoundland and Labrador; the term is sometimes considered derogatory. In Newfoundland, the term Mainlander refers to any Canadian (sometimes American, occasionally Labradorian) not from the island of Newfoundland. Mainlander is also occasionally used derogatorily.

In the Maritimes, a Caper or "Cape Bretoner" is someone from Cape Breton Island, a Bluenoser is someone with a thick, usually southern Nova Scotia accent or as a general term for a Nova Scotian (including Cape Bretoners, while an Islander is someone from Prince Edward Island (the same term is used in British Columbia for people from Vancouver Island, or the numerous islands along it). A Haligonian refers to someone from the city of Halifax.

Miscellaneous Canadianisms[edit]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ en-CA is the language code for Canadian English , as defined by ISO standards (see ISO 639-1 and ISO 3166-1 alpha-2) and Internet standards (see IETF language tag).
  2. ^ a b c Boberg, C., "The English Language in Canada: Status, History, and Comparative Analysis", Cambridge University Press, 2010
  3. ^ "Population by knowledge of official language, by province and territory (2006 Census)". 2007-12-11. Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  4. ^ "Population by mother tongue and age groups, percentage distribution (2006), for Canada, provinces and territories – 20% sample data". Statistics Canada. 2007. Retrieved 2007-12-04. 
  5. ^ a b Chambers, p. xi.
  6. ^ "Factors which shaped the varieties of English". Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  7. ^ Barber, C. "Neither Uncle Sam nor John Bull: Canadian English comes of age." (abstract) Canadian English in the Global Context, University of Toronto, 2005, accessed July 29, 2014
  8. ^ Boberg, C: "Geolinguistic Diffusion and the U.S.-Canada Border", "Language Variation and Change", 12(1):15
  9. ^ Brinton, Laurel J., and Fee, Marjery, ed. (2005). Ch. 12. in The Cambridge history of the English language. Volume VI: English in North America., Algeo, John, ed., pp. 422–440. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992; p. 422: "It is now generally agreed that Canadian English originated as a variant of northern American English (the speech of New England, New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania)."
  10. ^ "Canadian English." McArthur, T., ed. (2005). Concise Oxford companion to the English language, pp. 96–102. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-280637-8. On p. 97: "Because Canadian English and American English are so alike, some scholars have argued that in linguistic terms Canadian English is no more or less than a variety of (Northern) American English
  11. ^ ("New-Dialect Formation in Canada. (2008). Dollinger, Stefan. Amsterdam: Benjamins, 978 90 272 31068 6. On p. 279"
  12. ^ "Labov, Ash, Boberg. 2006. The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton, ch. 15.
  13. ^ a b Barber, Katherine (2001). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary. Toronto, ON: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-541731-3. 
  14. ^ Gwyn, Richard (2007). "John A: The Man Who Made Us". CA: Random House. pp. 3–4. 
  15. ^ "Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles". CA: Gage. 1967. 
  16. ^ "Dollinger 2006". Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  17. ^ a b MacPherson, William (31 March 1990). "Practical concerns spelled the end for -our". Ottawa Citizen. p. B3. 
  18. ^ a b Sellar, Don (8 March 1997). "Let's hear what the readers say". Toronto Star. p. C2. 
  19. ^ Allemang, John (1 September 1990). "Contemplating a U-turn". The Globe and Mail. p. D6. 
  20. ^ "Herald's move to Canadian spellings a labour of love". Calgary Herald. 2 September 1998. p. A2. 
  21. ^ Honderich, John (13 September 1997). "How your Star is changing". Toronto Star. p. A2. 
  22. ^ V. Fromkin, R. Rodman, N. Hyams, and K. M. Hummel. 2010. An Introduction to Language, 4th Canadian ed., pp. 619-621. Canada: Nelson Education Ltd. ISBN 978-0-17-650119-8
  23. ^ “Canadian spelling: How much British? How much American?” Robert Ireland, 1979–80, The English Quarterly, 12(4), 64–80.
  24. ^ V. Fromkin, R. Rodman, N. Hyams, and K. M. Hummel. 2010. An Introduction to Language, 4th Canadian ed., pp. 6621. Canada: Nelson Education Ltd. ISBN 978-0-17-650119-8
  25. ^ L. Burton et al., 1987, Editing Canadian English, Vancouver and Toronto: Douglas & McIntyre
  26. ^ Bill Casselman. "Zed and zee in Canada". Retrieved 2012-10-13. 
  27. ^ J.K. Chambers (2002). Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and Its Social Significance (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Retrieved 2012-10-13. 
  28. ^ The pronunciation with the stress on the second syllable is the most common pronunciation, but is considered incorrect by some people. - Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  29. ^ The pronunciation /ˈkɑrki/ was the one used by author and veteran Farley Mowat.
  30. ^ pecan ˈpiːkan, piːˈkan, pəˈkɒn - Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  31. ^ Vase. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  32. ^ Barber, p. 77.
  33. ^ predecessor ˈpredəˌsesɜr, ˈpriː-. Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  34. ^ mom mɒm, mʌm -
  35. ^ Dollinger, Stefan & Sandra Clarke. 2012. On the autonomy and homogeneity of Canadian English. World Englishes 31(4): 449-466.
  36. ^ Boberg, Charles. 2005. The North American Regional Vocabulary Survey. American Speech 80(1): 22-60.
  37. ^ a b c d Boberg, Charles. 2008. Regional phonetic differentiation in Standard Canadian English. Journal of English Linguistics 36(2): 129-154.
  38. ^ a b c d e Labov et al. (2006), p. 182.
  39. ^ Labov, p. 214
  40. ^ Boberg
  41. ^ a b Labov p. 218.
  42. ^ Martinet, Andre 1955. Economie des changements phonetiques. Berne: Francke.
  43. ^ Labov p. 219.
  44. ^ Esling, John H. and Henry J. Warkentyne (1993). "Retracting of /æ/ in Vancouver English."
  45. ^ Charles Boberg, "Sounding Canadian from Coast to Coast: Regional accents in Canadian English."
  46. ^ Labov et al. 2006; Charles Boberg, "The Canadian Shift in Montreal"; Robert Hagiwara. "Vowel production in Winnipeg"; Rebecca V. Roeder and Lidia Jarmasz. "The Canadian Shift in Toronto."
  47. ^ a b c d Labov, William; Ash, Sharon; and Boberg, Charles. The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology, and Sound Change. Walter de Gruyter, 2006, p. 216: "In general, the English spoken in the Canadian North can be viewed as a dialect in formation ... The region's European population is too sparsely settled, too diverse in origin, and too recently arrived to have produced an identifiable, homogeneous dialect distinct from southern Canadian English, while its large Aboriginal population speaks a range of varieties influenced by non-English substrates ..."
  48. ^ Charles Boberg (2010). The English language in Canada: Status, history, and comparative analysis. New York: Cambridge University Press. 
  49. ^ Labov, p. 221.
  50. ^ Labov, p. 219.
  51. ^ Erin Hall "Regional variation in Canadian English vowel backing"
  52. ^ "Wiktionary reference for gonch". Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  53. ^ "gonch". 2006-09-27. Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  54. ^
  55. ^ Labov pp. 214–215.
  56. ^ Boberg, p. 36.
  57. ^ Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador
  58. ^ Trudgill and Hannah, International English (4th edition), p. 76.
  59. ^ "" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  60. ^ "". 2005-06-17. Retrieved 2011-02-26. [dead link]
  61. ^ American Speech 80.1 (2005), p. 47.
  62. ^ a b c American Speech 80.1 (2005), p. 48.
  63. ^ [1][dead link]
  64. ^
  65. ^ "". Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  66. ^ Visible Minority Population and Population Group Reference Guide, 2006 Census from StatsCan
  67. ^ Webster's New World College Dictionary, Wiley, 2004.
  68. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, "bachelor".
  69. ^ "". 
  70. ^ a b Boberg 2005.
  71. ^ "Mini Homes page of Kent Homes, a regional lumber, home improvement and construction retailer". Retrieved 3 February 2013. 
  72. ^ based on searches in Google Images using the term "minihome" and various province and state names.
  73. ^ "Fire hall – Definition from the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary". 2010-08-13. 
  74. ^ Boberg 2005, p. 38.
  75. ^ Dollinger, Steven. "Canadian English". Oxford English Dictionary. 
  76. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, ABM; Boberg 2005.
  77. ^
  78. ^ Chesterfield. The American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language: Fourth Edition. 2000
  79. ^ J.K. Chambers, "The Canada-U.S. border as a vanishing isogloss: the evidence of chesterfield." Journal of English Linguistics 23 (1995): 156-66.
  80. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, eavestrough; Oxford English Dictionary; American Heritage Dictionary.
  81. ^ According to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (second edition), garburator is "Canadian" and garbage disposal is "North American."
  82. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, hydro.
  83. ^ Barber, Katherine, ed. (1998). The Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1st ed.). Toronto: Oxford University Press. p. .1075. ISBN 0-19-541120-X. 
  84. ^ "Pogey: What Does it Mean? Bonny, 2006" (PDF). Retrieved 2011-02-26. 
  85. ^ Oxford Advanced Learner's Dictionary, runner.
  86. ^ American Speech 80.1 (2005).
  87. ^ Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary.
  88. ^ Sometimes the gym doesn't fix it, The Irish Times, Tuesday, January 06, 2009
  89. ^ Machismo . . . or masochism?, The Irish Times – Saturday March 22, 2008
  90. ^ Stars in the running, The Irish Times, Tuesday October 7, 2008
  91. ^ American Speech 80.1 (2005), p. 36.
  92. ^ "Decisions: Chocolate and Cocoa Products". Canadien Food Inspection Agency. Retrieved 2012-06-04. 
  93. ^ "Arts – 'Double-double'? Now you can look it up". Retrieved 2014-03-02. 
  94. ^ "End of an era, right?". Vancouver Sun. December 18, 2013. Retrieved 2013-12-18. 
  95. ^ "The Crazy Canucks: Canada's Skiing Heroes". Retrieved 2012-09-25. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]