English is one of Canada’s two official languages. It is the native language of 57% of the Canadian population and is the most spoken language in eight of the ten provinces and three territories in Canada with the exception of Quebec (where the main language is French) and Nunavut (where the aboriginal language Inuktitut is spoken). Although Canada is multicultural, in most homes where the parents have different origins, English is the preferred language.
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Like other languages, English has different variations, accents and dialects. For people that are inexperienced speaking English, it can be a real challenge trying to distinguish one from another. Maybe you have heard or read about the differences between British and American English, or you’ve almost definitely heard how different the Sothern US accent is. But, have you ever heard of Canadian English?
The most common stereotype among English-speakers is that there is no difference between Americans and Canadians, with the exception of the “eh” sound at all times and that they pronounce “out and about” as “oot and aboot”. Canadians, however, consider their English to be more similar to British English, since they write many words in the same way, e.g. colour and centre.
In fact, Canadian English is a variety with a mixture of US English, British English, Quebec French and local Canadian variations. Canadian and US English are classified together as North American English, emphasizing the fact that for many foreigners it is almost impossible to distinguish each country’s accent just by their phonetics. Due to their geographical closeness, their social relations and their close economic relations, Canadian English follows many aspects of US pronunciation and vocabulary. However, in many aspects, the idiomatic guidelines, grammar and lexicon are of British origin.
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Canadian history helps to explain the different influences that converged forming a standard Canadian English. Firstly, there are the indigenous people, the native settlers of Canada with a much greater linguistic and cultural variety due to the distance between them, but with very little influence from US English. This is due to the great importance given to maintaining the aborigine language and culture. Then, with the arrival of the European colonists and their settlements, it was only to be expected that the new languages would be adopted. On one hand, the French in the Saint Lawrence River and on the other, the remaining territory dominated by the English. After the war with France, which ended with the Paris Treaty in 1763, with the French relinquishing their authority in New France, the few that remained were forced to become English. The wave of immigrants, first from Northern England and then from Ireland, contributed to creating a new variation of the English spoken in Canada.
As already mentioned, the majority of the most systematic aspects of Canadian pronunciation are similar to US English and the pronunciation of individual words sometimes follow British standards. For example:
The letter z is pronounced as zed, instead of the US version, zee.
The past of the word shine, “shone”, the participle of the verb to be, “been”, words ending in “ver” are pronounced as in England.
The complete vowel of the suffix “ile” in words like fertile, hostile, mobile and missile is pronounced clearly and emphatically.
Recognition of Canadian English
Canadian English is certified as a separate variation of English, so it has its own dictionaries and language evaluation commission derived from the Oxford Dictionary. The Canadian press has its own style editing and the Editors’ Association of Canada has just published the second edition of Editing Canadian English.
Words unique to Canadian English
These words are typical Canadian things:
Runners: are special shoes for running or going to the gym.
Double – double: name of a type of coffee with double cream and two sugar cubes
Pop: this is what they call soda.
Poutine: a typical Canadian food of French origin.
Lonnie: a Canadian dollar coin.
Knapsack: a backpack.