The West/Central Canadian English dialect
is one of the largest and most homogeneous dialect areas
in North America
, ranging from Ontario
, through the Prairie Provinces
to British Columbia
. It forms a dialect continuum with the accent in the Western United States
, and borders the Canadian North
, and U.S. North Central
and Inland North
dialect regions. While it is one of the most homogeneous in that the regional differences inside the dialect area are very small, it has few unique features. It is very similar to General American
A table containing the consonant phonemes
is given below
The phoneme /ʍ/ is present only in older speakers who have not undergone the wine-whine merger.
The vowel phonemes are shown in the table below:
The diphthongs are shown in the next table:
|| Closer component|
| Closer component|
| Opener component is unrounded
| Opener component is rounded
While the West/Central dialect is mutually intelligible with many dialects of English spoken in England, especially Received Pronunciation, in general it preserves more archaic features, that existed before the dialects split.
- Unlike RP, the West/Central dialect is rhotic. This means it maintains the pronunciation of r before consonants. Rhoticity has been largely influenced by Hiberno-English, Scottish English, and West Country English. The sound corresponding to the letter "R" is a retroflex or alveolar approximant rather than a trill or a tap. The 'er' sound of (stressed) fur or (unstressed) butter, which is represented in IPA as stressed [ɝ] or unstressed [ɚ] is realized in Canadian English as a monophthongal r-colored vowel.
- It has also not shifted [æ] to [ɑ] (the so-called "broad A") before [f], [s], [θ], [ð], [z], [v] alone or preceded by [n].
Both RP, and the West/Central dialect have gone through the following changes:
- The horse-hoarse merger of the vowels [ɔ] and [oʊ] before 'r', making pairs like horse/hoarse, corps/core, for/four, morning/mourning etc. homophones.
- The wine-whine merger making pairs like wine/whine, wet/whet, Wales/whales, wear/where etc. homophones, in most cases eliminating /ʍ/, the voiceless labiovelar fricative. This is preserved in some older speakers, as well as being an archaicism.
The following changes are innovations, and do not occur in RP. It shares these changes with General American.
- The merger of [ɑ] and [ɒ], making father and bother rhyme.
- The replacement of the lot vowel with the strut vowel in most utterances of the words was, of, from, what, everybody, nobody, somebody, anybody, and because.
- Vowel merger before intervocalic /r/.
- The merger of [ʊɹ] and [ɝ] after palatals in some words, so that cure, pure, mature and sure rhyme with fir in some speech registers for some speakers.
- Some speakers have Dropping of [j] after alveolar consonants so that new, duke, Tuesday, suit, resume, lute are pronounced /nuː/, /duːk/, /tuːzdeɪ/, /suːt/, /ɹɪzuːm/, /luːt/.
- Both intervocalic /nt/ and /n/ may be realized as [n] or [ɾ̃], making winter and winner homophones for some speakers. This does not occur when the second syllable is stressed, as in entail.
- Laxing of /e/, /i/ and /u/ to /ɛ/, /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ before /ɹ/, causing pronunciations like [pɛɹ], [pɪɹ] and [pjʊɹ] for pair, peer and pure for some speakers.
- The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] before reduced vowels. The words ladder and latter are mostly or entirely homophonous, possibly distinguished only by the length of preceding vowel. For some speakers, the merger is incomplete and 't' before a reduced vowel is sometimes not tapped following [eɪ] or [ɪ] when it represents underlying 't'; thus greater and grader, and unbitten and unbidden are distinguished.
- The vowels in words such as Mary, marry, merry are merged to the open-mid front unrounded vowel [ɛ], except in Quebec.
The following changes are shared with the Western dialect in the US:
- Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as [oʊ] as in boat and [eɪ], as in bait, have acquired qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers. However, the continuing presence of slight offglides (if less salient than those of, say, British Received Pronunciation) and convention in IPA transcription for English account for continuing use of [oʊ] and [eɪ].
- The cot-caught merger exists. A notable exception occurs with some speakers over the age of 60, especially in rural areas in the Prairies, although the merger is the most widespread overall.
- For most speakers, /ɛ/ is realized as [e] before g.
- The words origin, Florida, horrible, quarrel, warren, are all generally realized as [-ɔr-], rather than [-ɑr-].
- /u/ is slightly fronted after coronals.
- The /iŋ/ ending in words of more than two syllables is realized as [in], [ɪn], or [ɪŋ].
- Milk is realized as [mɛlk] by some speakers, [mɪlk] by others, although words such as pillow are pronounced with [-ɪl-].
The following changes are shared with the Western dialect in the U.S., but to a lesser extent:
The Canadian Shift: The vowels in the words cot and caught merge to [ɒ]. The /æ/ of bat is retracted to [a] (except before nasals): indeed, /æ/ is lower in this variety than almost all other North American dialects; the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver and is more advanced for Ontarians and women than for people from the Prairies or Atlantic Canada and men. Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ are lowered in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ] and/or retracted; studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift.
The following changes are shared with the Pacific Northwest English dialect, as well as other dialects:
- æ-tensing /æ/ is tense before velar stops. This can cause words such as "bag" and "beg" to sound very similar, and some speakers pronounce both as [beg]. Some speakers, especially in Ontario have tense æ-tensing before nasals as well.
- Tomorrow is generally pronounced as [-ɔr-], instead of [-ɑr-].
- The following feature is most prominent in the Prairies, Ontario, and the Maritimes: "Canadian raising": diphthongs are "raised" before voiceless consonants (e.g., [p], [t], [k], [s], [f]). For example, IPA /aɪ/ (the vowel of "eye") and /aʊ/ (the vowel of "loud") become [ʌɪ] and [ʌʊ], respectively, the /a/ component of the diphthong going from a low vowel to a mid vowel ([ʌ]). Note also that this phenomenon preserves the recoverability of the phoneme /t/ in "writer" despite the North American English process of flapping, which merges /t/ and /d/ into [ɾ] before unstressed vowels, so "writer" and "rider" can be distinguished from each other even though the t and d in those words are pronounced the same. The most noticeable feature is the raising of /aʊ/ to [ʌʊ] because [əʊ] is an allophone of /oʊ/ (as in "road") in many other dialects, so the (mainly Eastern) Canadian pronunciation of "about the house" may sound like *"a boat the hoas" to speakers of dialects without the raising, and in many cases is misheard or exaggerated to "aboot the hoose". Some stand-up and situation comedians, as well as television shows actually do exaggerate the pronunciation to *"aboot the hoos" for comic effect, for example in the American television series South Park. However, as it is untrue, this exaggeration can be considered offensive by some Canadians.
In contrast to General American:
- The /ɑ/ of foreign loan words in words such as drama or Iraq are usually pronounced like the a in bat: .
- Been is usually pronounced /bin/ rather than /bɪn/.
- Words such as borrow, sorry, and sorrow are generally pronounced with [-ɔr-], instead of with [-ɑr-].
- Americans sometimes claim to be able to recognize the Western/Central Canadian dialect instantly by their use of the word eh. However, only a certain usage of eh (detailed in the article) is peculiar to Canada. It is common in southern Ontario, the Maritimes and the Prairie provinces. eh is used quite frequently in the North Central dialect, so a Canadian accent is often detected in people from North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.
- Canadian raising
The dialect is very similar to the English spoken in the Prairies and Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. BC is home to a very diverse population. In parts of the Fraser Valley the intonation and cadence of Dutch and Mennonite German have influenced local English. British accents and a wide range of European and Asian second-language flavoured English have always been common, to the point of the British flavour being identifiably a hallmark of early 20th Century British Columbia, as has been English as spoken by First Nations peoples, which is distinct as an accent but also remains largely undocumented. Unlike in the prairies, Canadian raising (one of the most noticeable features of Canadian English), found in words such as "about" and "writer" is receding in BC, and many speakers do not raise /aɪ/ before voiceless consonants. Younger speakers in the Greater Vancouver area do not even raise /aʊ/, causing "about" to sound like "abowt". The "o" in such words as "holy," "goal," "load," "know," etc. is pronounced as a back and rounded [o], but not as rounded as in the Prairies where there is a strong Scandinavian, Slavic and German influence. The interrogative "eh" is not used as frequently as in the rest of Canada.
Listen to a sample of BC English
Pacific Northwest English and British Columbian English have several words still in current use which are loanwords from the Chinook Jargon, which was widely spoken throughout British Columbia by all ethnicities well into the middle of the 20th Century. Skookum, potlatch, muckamuck, saltchuck, and other Chinook Jargon words are widely used by people who do not speak Chinook Jargon. These words tend to be shared with, but are not as common in, the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and, to a lesser degree, Idaho and western Montana.
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 also carries with it certain linguistic traits inherited from French, aboriginal and Celtic forebears.
The noun bluff (and the adjective bluffy) in reference to an aspen and willow grove typically surrounding a slough, appears to be unknown outside the Canadian prairies, whereas the eastern Canadian and international use of the term in reference to a low cliff or abutment, is largely unknown in western Canada and causes some puzzlement to newly arrived westerners in Ontario.
The phrase whack of is often used in western Canada to refer to a large amount, e.g., We sure got a whole whack of snow in town last week!.
Prairie housewives formerly used the somewhat disparaging adjective boughten, also used in the Northern U.S., in reference to bread purchased commercially rather than home-baked. The word is now considered nonstandard, and rarely used.
In Saskatchewan, the term "bunny hug" refers to a hooded sweatshirt.
There is noticeable pronunciation differences by which each speaker calls the name of his or her respective city. People from Edmonton generally omit the "d" in their city's name, making it sound more like "Eh-mon-ten". Calgary is pronounced by people native to the city as with an [ɘ] or an [ʌ], or omit the second "a" altogether, making the name sound like "Cal-guh-ry" or simply "Cal-g-ry", instead of "Cal-gah-ry", used elsewhere in the country. Saskatoon is pronounced as "Sask-toon" by its native residents, omitting the "a". People from Regina (pronounced generally as [/rɨˈdʒaɪnə/]) are inclined to pronounce the first vowel as an [ɘ] instead of an [ɨ]. People from cities with longer names tend to shorten their city's name to a single syllable, as in the case of Lloydminster (Lloyd), Swift Current (Swift), Medicine Hat (Med), Lethbridge (Leth) etc. With regards to provincial names, Albertans tend to lessen the emphasis on the "al" in Alberta, making the province's name sound like "ul-ber-ta". Saskatchewan residents pronounce the "wan" as [/wɪn/] instead of [/wɑn/], which is used elsewhere in Canada.
Other prairie terms include:
Slough: a shallow pond that is located in a field that usually dries up in the summer.
Dugout: a small, artificial (or artificially-deepened) body of water, often dug to provide soil for road construction.
Mostly used in Alberta due to its climate, a Chinook refers to a warm winter wind that causes sudden increase in temperature (20-30 degrees in a matter of an hour or two)
Shinny: A form of ice hockey played without skates.
A semi or semi-truck is a large trailer used for the transportation of mostly industrial goods.
May Long is a regionalism to refer to the long weekend for Victoria Day every May.
Chauch: A slang term generally referring to young men who work out and attempt to dress well but are ultimately, not classy. (In 1970s Ontario, "chauch" meant attractive young women, normally heard in the expression "Nice chauch". The word was both singular and plural.)
header, gooder, giver (mostly Saskatchewan, although this is also used in parts of the United States): As in, to leave, it was great, give it all (or alternatively, to leave), respectively.
Listen to a sample of Prairies English
is often quite strong in Ontario
The subregion of Midwestern Ontario
consists of the Counties of Huron
, Bruce County
, and Perth
. The "Queen's Bush" as the area was called, did not experience communication with Southwestern and Central dialects until the early 20th century. Thus, a strong accent similar to Central Ontarian is heard, yet many different phrasings exist. It is typical in the area to drop phonetic sounds to make shorter contractions, such as: Prolly (Probably), Goin' (Going), and "Wuts goin' on tonight? D'ya wanna do sumthin'?" It is particularly strong in the County of Bruce, so much that it is commonly referred to as being the Bruce Cownian (Bruce Countian) accent. Also 'er' sounds are often pronounced 'air', with "were" sounding more like "wear".
The Ottawa Valley
has its own distinct accent, known as the Ottawa Valley Twang
is not as strong in Eastern Ontario
as it is in the rest of the province. In Prescott and Russell
, parts of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry
and Eastern Ottawa
accents are often mixed with English ones due to the high Franco-Ontarian
population there. In Renfrew County
a separate dialect known as Ottawa Valley Twang
has developed. In Lanark County
, Western Ottawa
and the rest of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry
, the accent spoken is nearly identical to that spoken in Central Ontario
and the Quinte
Words in which the Eastern Ontario accent is significant:
- Got it - often pronounced [gɔɾɪʔ]
- Okay - often pronounced [ɔɪke]
- Hello - often pronounced [helo]
Suburban residents are known to ignore the second T, pronouncing it as "To-RAW-no", "T'Ronno" or even "Tronna" or "Tron-o" and Bloor Street as "Bluer Street". Suburban residents describe east and west as the "East End" or the "West End". Natives from the city core describe east and west as the "East side" or "East end" and the "West Side" or "West end". Other streets in Toronto have distinct differences between their spelling and pronuciation: notably, "Eglinton" would be said "Eglington" by most Torontonians.
In Toronto and the areas surrounding Toronto (Central Ontario, Greater Toronto Area), the [ð] is often pronounced as [d]. Sometimes (particularly in North York, an area of Toronto), [ð] is elided altogether, resulting in "Do you want this one er'iss one?" The word southern is often pronounced with [aʊ]. In the regional area north of York and south of Parry Sound, notably among those who were born in these bedroom communities (Barrie, Vaughan, Orillia, Bradford, Newmarket) as opposed to those who moved there to commute, the cutting down of syllables is often heard, e.g. "probably" is reduced to "prolly", or "probly" when used as a response.
Slang terms used in Toronto are synonymous with those used in other major North American cities. There is also a heavy influx of slang terminology originating from Toronto's many immigrant communities, of which the vast majority speak English only as a second or minor language. These terms originate mainly from various European, Asian, and African words. Many suburban Torontonians use buddy (without a capital) as it is often used in Newfoundland English – as equivalent to that man ("I like buddy's car").
In Toronto's ethnic communities there are many words that are distinct; many of which come from the city's large Caribbean community.
- Deez or Dees (Toronto), also written as "Dece". Basically means "Decent" i.e. "That girl is Dees", or 'that party was Deez".
- Deez'd (Toronto): Built, Pumped, Jacked etc.
- Jokes (Greater Toronto Area): simply saying "jokes" implies just kidding, or joking. Saying, "that TV show was jokes", means that that show was really good and humorous.
- Arms (Toronto): weak, poor, bad; More prominent amongst inner-city youth.
- Mans (Toronto): Slang for 'men' or when referencing friends, eg. "the boys" becomes "the mans", popular with the youth of Toronto
- Jam (Toronto): a big party.
- Next (Toronto): weird, different, not usual. i.e. "Some next girl showed up"
- Waste (Toronto) : something is "waste," something is pointless or irrelevant.
- Live (Toronto): cool, good, lively.
- Snuff (Toronto) : punch.
- mangia-cake, cake, caker (Toronto) : used mostly by people of Italian origin (originally but nowadays any ethnic group), referring to people of Anglo-Saxon descent or more generally to "Canadianized" ie. Anglisized people of other European descent (Italian, Irish, Polish, etc.)
- Peace (Greater Toronto Area) : used mostly as a verb meaning to leave, Let's peace, also sometimes means something was done quickly, I peaced that meal, or to end a relationship, Peace that.
Other Toronto slang:
- T-Dot and T-Oh (from the shortening of Toronto to T.O.): often used to refer to Toronto itself
- CBC: Canadian Born Chinese, as distinguished from those born across the Pacific.
- Gino: a guy into eurodance music, often used to imply a pretty-boy. An older connotation was of a stereotypical Italian male, see Guido.
- Custy: (from customer) means often on drugs, generally unkempt or promiscuous about a person and disgusting about anything else.
- Scarbz and E-Tobes/The Cokes: Scarborough and Etobicoke areas respectively
- Scarberia: Pejorative central Toronto slang for Scarborough, alluding to its location peripheral to the central city
- TTC: subway, buses or streetcars. Stands for Toronto Transit Commission, but used in the sense of "I took the TTC to Eglinton Station."
- Frosted Flakes: referring to something that's great.
- Salted It Up: messed up what you were doing
- 905ers/416ers: refers to those in the 416 telephone area code (Toronto proper) and the 905 (GTA) area code
- The Ex: the Canadian National Exhibition
- Cottage country: Muskoka and central Kawartha areas, primarily
- Chop: Refers to selling drugs, "I'm gotta go to the park and make a chop"
- Half Quarter: 1/8 ounce of marijuana
- Two Pape/L Pape: A marijuana joint made by sticking two papers together in the shape of an L
- Sesh Pape: A paper used to bust up marijuana, short for session paper.
- Geeve: Having no particular interest or concern, to not care.
- Sayin: What are you doing/What are you up to "Hey what are you sayin tonight"
- China Bud: Commercial grade marijuana mostly grown in Asian grow-ops, known as "beasters" in the US.
- Proj: (As in Housing Project), Marijuana.
- The Mount. Short for Mount Pleasant a street in Toronto or for Mountain Equipment Coop. An outdoor store.
- Yonge and Eg ("Young and Egg") or Y&E: referes to Yonge and Eglinton, usually meaning the mall located there
- The Island: nearly always Toronto Island
- Brap! (often Brap! Brap!): imitation gunshot noise, an exclamation of excitement or appreciation
- Grilled: interrogated or watched intensely
- The Rocket: Public Transit. "Ride the Rocket" would refer to taking the TTC (see above).
- Noise: As in "F*** that noise!", equivalent of a dismissive "Whatever!"
- B-town: slang for Brampton. Also Brown town, referring to Brampton's large Indian/Pakistani population. Brown town also can refer to any location in Peel Region with Indian/Pakistani people.
Southwestern Ontario English mainly consists of a mix of Toronto English, and Midwestern Ontario English. It has an accent very similar of a mix between Toronto English, and Midwestern Ontario English, although recently, some words have been taken from Southern English English, especially around London, Ontario
Listen to a sample of Ontario English
English is a minority language in Quebec, but has many speakers in Montréal, the Eastern Townships
and in the Gatineau
region. Among Montréal-native anglophones, there is a distinction between /æ/ and /a/, unique in Canada, so that Mary
are not homophones. Among Eastern Townships-native anglophones, syrup
is often pronounced as sir-rup
. Quebec also has French influence. A person with English mother tongue and still speaking English as the first language is called an Anglophone
. The corresponding term for a French speaker is Francophone
and the corresponding term for a person who is neither Anglophone nor Francophone is Allophone
. Quebec Anglophones generally pronounce French street names in Montreal as French words. Pie IX
Boulevard is pronounced as in French, not as "pie nine", but as "pee-nuff". On the other hand, Anglophones do pronounce final d's as in Bernard
; the word Montreal
is pronounced as an English word and Rue Lambert-Closse
is known as Clossy Street
Listen to a sample of Quebec English
- Barber, Katherine, editor (2004). Canadian Oxford Dictionary, second edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-541816-6.
- Chambers, J.K. (1998). "Canadian English: 250 Years in the Making," in The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed., p. xi.
- Clarke, Sandra, Ford Elms, and Amani Youssef (1995). "The third dialect of English: Some Canadian evidence", in Language Variation and Change, 7:209–228.
- Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. ISBN 3-11-016746-8.
- Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
- Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, editors (2006). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4051-2108-8.