Canadian Pronunciation

(and a note on Alaskan English)

Generally, Standard Canadian pronunciation is very similar to Standard American pronunciation, especially in Ontario.  As time goes by, and Canadians watch more American TV and movies, Canadians everywhere are beginning to sound more like Americans (Chambers, 1998, Clarke, 1993, Cornerstone, 1999, Lilles, 2000, Woods, 1993).

There are some variants, however:

The most famous difference is what is known as 'Canadian raising', which raises the onsets of diphthongs before voiceless consonants, as in house, about, mouth, louse, lout andout.   (Penner & McConnell, 1980).  You can listen to how some of these words are pronounced here: http://www.yorku.ca/twainweb/troberts/raising.html.  However, this feature which distinguishes Canadian English from American English is undergoing a change which could erase this difference (Chambers, 1973).

Most Canadians rhyme roof and hoof with the words too and goof.  Americans may pronounce these words in the same way, or they may pronounce them with the 'oo' sound in foot or book.  

Some Canadians pronounce cot the same as caught and collar the same as caller (Cornerstone, 1999). 

The i often comes out differently in fife and five, knife and knives, life and lie, light and lied, in bite and in bide, in price and in prizes, rite and ride, and in rite and rye.  Most British and American speakers would use the second vowel sound only (Penner & McConnell, 1980).

Many Canadians also will turn t sounds into d sounds, so Iron Maiden will seem to be a "heavy-meddle" band and the capital appears to be "Oddawa" (Cornerstone, 1999).  

There are a few words for which Canadians have varying pronunciations.  For example: ate, bade, been, drought, economics, khaki, leisure, lieutenant, missile, program, quinine, schedule and sterile (Penner & McConnell, 1980).

There are also pronunciation differences in these Canadian regions:

In Quebec, the accent is an interesting combination of Jewish and French influences (Cornerstone, 1999). 

In Atlantic Canada, accents are more influenced by Scottish and Irish sounds, especially in Cape Breton and in Newfoundland.   In parts of Nova Scotia, there are sounds from New England (Penner & McConnell, 1980).

In the Ottawa Valley, the accent is heavily influenced by the Irish and Scottish who settled the area (Penner & McConnell, 1980). The accent here is even more close-mouthed than it is elsewhere in Canada.  

However, a Canadian from Toronto, for example, visiting Vancouver, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Halifax, would not find the English spoken in these places very different from his/her own (Penner & McConnell, 1980).  Woods (1979) states, "A uniform Canadian dialect covers a larger land mass than any other one dialect in the world", and this tendency towards homogeneity remains a sociolinguistic force.

This is just a brief outline of some of the characteristics of Canadian pronunciation, and it is open to debate.  For more detailed information on this subject, please click here.

A note on Alaskan English, by Argent Kv, 5th February, 2003:

"I was greatly amused because this is the way people in Alaska speak English!  No wonder people from outside say that Alaskans have a funny language.  I never knew that people said "collar" and "caller" differently.  To us it's all the same!

Perhaps the only variants Alaskan English has on Canadian is that we tend to not say "-oot" in place of "-out" words very often, and our spelling is mainstream American.

As an adamant advanced foreign language student, one tends to see the peculiarities about their own native language by living with more comparisons.  Here are some other interesting things I've noticed about Alaskan English:

Combinations of o and tt: Like for the word "hotter", we tend to say "hoddur"

The combination of u and r: like for the word "golfer" we tend to say "golfur", and Alaska Native speakers (almost 1/2 of Alaskans) tend to say "golfoor"

Alaska native-speakers almost always pronounce the letter 's' as "sh". This is a true statement my grandmother once told me!  "Let's smoke some salmon for the winter." is heard as "Let'sh shmoke shome shamin foor the wintoor."

There is also a great example of the way everybody in Alaska pronounces things that has resulted from the mixing of English, Russian (many people, although not a significant number in comparision, only speak Russian in Alaska), Inupiat (a west variation of Eskimo), Alutiiq (An Alaskan islander language) and Athabaskan (a central Alaskan/Yukon River variation of Eskimo). 

This example is the letter "k".  Instead of saying "k" as "kuh" as it is in other dialects, we almost always aspirate a tad at the end of the sound as if it were the diphthong "kh", like a very short coughing sound.  It is found more often when a "k" is preceded by an "o".
Examples: "bookh" (book) "hookh" (hook, you get the idea!) "tookh".  But it is also found in other words such as "rackh", "packh", "puckh".  This type of pronunciation is the reason for the northern native languages having the letter "q" so frequently, and without a "u", when it was first written.

This is even in some -eck words like "deckh".  Usually, words with an "i" sound before the "k" do not apply (like "lick" or "trick")."

References

Chambers, J (1973), Canadian Raising.  Canadian Journal of Linguistics 18, pp113-35 

Chambers, J (1998), Social Embedding of Changes in Progress. Journal of English Linguistics 26.1, Mar, pp5-36

Clarke, S (1993), The Americanization of Canadian Pronunciation: A Survey of Palatal Glide Usage. In Focus on Canada, Sandra Clarke (Ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp85-108

Cornerstone Creative Communications Inc. (1999), Canadian English (on-line): http://www.cornerstoneword.com/misc/cdneng/cdneng.htm

Lilles, J (2000), The Myth of Canadian English. English Today 16.2(62), Apr, pp3-10

Penner, P & R McConnell (1980), Learning English, Toronto: Gage Publishing

Woods, H (1979), A Socio-Dialectal Survey of the English Spoken in Ottawa: A Study of the Sociolinguistic and Stylistic Variation in Canadian English.  Unpublished PhD thesis, University of British Columbia

Woods, H (1993), A Synchronic Study of English Spoken in Ottawa: Is Canadian English Becoming More American? In Focus on Canada, Sandra Clarke (Ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins Publishing Company, pp151-178

©Karen Bond 2002. All rights reserved.