Бойко О.Г. Canadian English: history and prospects

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Бойко Ольга Григорівна – студентка Педагогічного інституту Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка, напрям підготовки «Початкова освіта», кафедра іноземних мов і методик їх навчання Київського університету імені Бориса Грінченка

Стаття розглядає історію виникнення англійської мови на території Канади, її лінгвістичні та лексичні особливості, розвиток граматики та специфіку вимови на сьогоднішній день. Також висвітлена сленгова система в її розвитку та перспективі майбутнього англійської мови в Канаді.

Ключові слова: канадський варіант англійської мови, лексикологія, виникнення мови, історія мови в Канаді, сленг.

Статья рассматривает историю возникновения английского языка на территории Канады, ее лингвистические и лексические особенности, развитие грамматики и специфику произношения на сегодняшний день. Также представлена сленговая система в ее развитии и перспективе будущего английского языка в Канаде.

Ключевые слова: канадский вариант английского языка, лексикология, возникновения языка, история языка в Канаде, сленг.

The article provides a history of the English language in Canada, its linguistic and lexical features, the development of grammar and pronunciation specifics today. Also it is considered a slang system in its development and te future perspective of English in Canada.

Key words: Canadian English, lexicology, the genesis of language, language history in Canada, slang.


Relevance of the topic

Realities of today, global interrelation of the nations and cultural varieties of our planet of the 21-st century, growing needs in communication and work among countries and people of different languages and cultural traditions demand learning foreign languages. Today the one of most important foreign languages is English, it is the second most widely spoken language in the world. English is the official language of The United Kingdom, Ireland, The United States, Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and it is widely spoken in India. As so many people speak English in so many countries, there are many different "Englishes".

It is very important to know peculiarities of all kinds of English language to be able to communicate with English-speaking nations. That is why we decided to explore the Canadian English in it’s history and prospects.

The analysis of research

The problem of studying variety of national languages is one of the most important in modern linguistics. In recent decades it has attracted the attention of many local and foreign linguists. The study of language situations in different countries, the relationship with not other standard forms of existence of language, standard and substandard linguistic characteristics of the different levels dedicated by A. Shveytser, N. Filicheva, G. Stepanov, О. Referovska, Y. Zhluktenko, М. Orkin, J. Chambers , R. Gregg , R. McConnell and others.

The purpose formulation of research

The purpose of this article is to study the historical and lexical trends of English language in Canada within the context of the historical and modern language development.

The main material

Canadian English is the variety of English spoken in Canada. English is the first language, or "mother tongue", of approximately 24 million Canadians and more than 28 million are fluent in the language.

Canadian English contains elements of British English and American English in its vocabulary, as well as many distinctive Canadianisms. In many areas, speech is influenced by French. There are notable local variations. The phonetics, phonology, morphology, syntax and lexicon for most of Canada are similar to that of the Western and Midland regions of the United States [3].

Canadian English is by and large the outcome of the two earliest settlement waves. The first wave was a direct result of the American Revolution in 1776, with about ten thousand so-called United Empire Loyalists fleeing the territory of the newly-founded United States. The Loyalists were New World dwellers who preferred to remain British subjects in what was to become Canada. They came from the Mid-Atlantic States, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, upstate New York, on the one hand and New England on the other hand. This wave, peaking in the mid 1780s, settled the province of Upper Canada, now Ontario and their speech patterns are responsible for the general make-up of Canadian English today (that is, the notion of the ‘founder principle’), including its more ‘American’ than British twang [1].

The second wave started in 1815 at the end of the Napoleonic wars and, until 1867 when Canada gained considerable independence from Britain (Confederation), was responsible for over a million immigrants from England, Scotland, Wales, and importantly, Ireland. There is some dispute as to the degree of influence of this wave, which was much larger than the first one. However, existing studies strongly suggest that the first (American) wave was most influential in everything but one area of language: that is, language attitudes—the evaluation of linguistic items as more or less ‘desirable’ and interference with consciously accessible language features [1; 7].

From the start of the British and Irish migrations in the second wave to the mid-to-late twentieth century, all things British were considered superior by many Canadians. Irving Layton’s poem Anglo-Canadian, published in 1956, characterizes the phenomenon that linguists call ‘Canadian Dainty’ at its tail end. Layton’s poem refers to Kingston, Ontario, in the historical Canadian heartland and depicts—well, mocks—an extreme case of acceptance of the British prestige norm: A native of Kingston, Ont, –two grandparents Canadian and still living His complexion florid as a maple leaf in late autumn for three years he attended Oxford Now his accent makes even Englishmen wince, and feel unspeakably colonial [7].

Today, Canadian Dainty is a thing of the past and only a vanishingly small minority still adheres to, in Layton’s words, an accent that makes even the English feel ‘unspeakably colonial’ [7].

But the British connection did leave a trace on Canadian English in some isolated tokens. One of these is the use of tap for what Americans generally call faucet (the knob that turns on water). This term came in use in the mid-nineteenth century, when the first houses were equipped with running water. As a colony, Canada’s close economic ties to Britain ensured that not only British plumbers, but also their terms were imported. To this day, it is the majority term (about 80 percent and more) from coast to coast to coast and a Canadianism. Very rarely, British traces are witnessed in the most formal speaking styles today: newsreaders at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation will pronounce the first sound in schedule like the ‘sh’ in shoe, which is not done by 90 percent of Canadians, including other media outlets, who use the first sound in school for schedule [2; 9].

Starting in the late-nineteenth century, Canada encouraged immigration from a much broader range of countries, while maintaining barriers against non-Europeans at first. After the Second World War, these remaining barriers were lifted and, today, Canadians come from all possible backgrounds. Census data show that in major cities up to 40 percent and more do not speak English natively. In Quebec, the province’s largest city Montreal – where French is the sole official language—is unrivalled in its international composition; here again about 40 percent do not speak French natively, though French is dominant elsewhere in the province [4].

However, recent studies have shown that second generation Canadians (i.e. children born to immigrant parents in Canada) are adopting a language system that is natively Canadian, regardless of ethnic background. There is evidence to say that second generation Canadians of Anglo-Irish, Chinese, and Italian descent essentially share the same linguistic system. This homogeneity points towards the unifying force of shared open social networks and shared communities of practice. Exceptions to this trend are those extremely close-knit neighbourhoods, such as Montreal’s Italian and Jewish quarters. Traditionally, local speakers have not gone much beyond these groups, which has lead to the development of distinct linguistic features over the nineteenth and twentieth centuries [6].

One of the most interesting questions about Canadian English is why it is at all different from US English dialects. Given Canada’s proximity to the US and its close ties in terms of trade and business or its exposure to American media outlets, TV, radio and magazines, it is striking that US-Canadian differences persist [2].

Generally speaking, the linguistic features in the west (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia) are less diversified than in the east (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec), which has been settled for a century or more longer. The island of Newfoundland, which joined Canada only in 1949 after hundreds of years as a separate British colony, is the most distinctive linguistic community as compared to Standard Canadian English.

Relative similarity, or homogeneity, of dialects is a common denominator of regions that have been settled for relatively short periods of time. As time progresses, regional, and social dialects are being formed, examples of which include the distinctive neighbourhoods of Montreal. For Ontario westwards, relative linguistic homogeneity has been proposed since at least 1951. Incidentally, the concept is paired with the question of Canadian linguistic autonomy [3].

Canadian linguistic features are maintained by the country’s communication lines that run along the east-west axis, across mountain ranges, vast stretches of prairie land, and other physical barriers. The existence and persistence of Canada, successful in staving off American expansion in the nineteenth century, has given rise to national, pan-Canadian networks: it is not uncommon for Canadians to grow up in the Golden Horseshoe (the area surrounding Toronto and home to one sixth of the population), study in Edmonton on the Prairies, go to graduate school in Vancouver, BC and find work in Halifax, NS These east-west connections and travel streams weave Canadian English together since the completion of the trans-Canada railway in 1886 and have, so far, put a check on larger linguistic diversification [8].

We can find the linguistic expression of the Canadian east-west connection at all linguistic levels. Vowels, for instance, love to change but when they change in Canada they have been shown to rarely – for some changes never—to cross the Canada-US border. For example, the ‘Canadian shift’, first detected in the mid 1990s, affects the ‘short front vowels’, i.e. the three vowels exemplified in black, pen or tin. In Canada these vowels move in the opposite direction to the well-established ‘Northern Cities Shift’ in parts of the United States. So in Canada, the vowel in black, for instance, is pronounced farther back in the mouth. Canadian dialects are actually diverging from the American dialects that have experienced the shift, and this despite the high levels of interaction between the two countries [7].

Other features include ‘Canadian raising’, the most-widely known Canadian pronunciation feature. Canadian raising affects the diphthongs in words such as wife, price or life and house, about or shout. Canadian pronunciations, though far from universal, are often perceived as weef instead of wife and a boot instead of about by outsiders. There are also other, less well-known Canadian differences, such as the Canadian integration pattern of foreign sounds represented by <a>. In words like pasta, lava, plaza, and drama the foreign <a> sound acquires the vowel in father in American English and British English, but the vowel of cat in Canadian English [6].

Words are most accessible to speakers, and comments abound. Terms like washroom ‘public bathroom’, all-dressed pizza ‘pizza with all the available toppings on it’, garburator ‘in-sink garbage grinder’, parkade ‘car parking structure’ or the ubiquitous toque ‘woolen hat’ are easy to find and are sometimes used as ad-hoc identity markers in Canadian regions [1].

Historically speaking, about 70 percent of Canadianisms, which are defined as terms ‘native or of characteristic usage in Canada’, are comprised by noun compounds that are especially difficult to spot: for instance, butter and tart are ‘ordinary’ words, but butter tart ‘pastry shell with a filling of butter, eggs, sugar and raisins’ is a ‘type 1’ Canadianism. In the historical Canadian dictionary project, four basic types of Canadianisms are recognized: type 1: form origins in Canada; type 2: preserved in Canada; type 3: having undergone semantic change in Canada; and type 4: culturally significant terms. The Dictionary of Canadiansims on Historical Principles, first edition, lists about 10,000 Canadianisms from 1498 to 1965/6. The revision project, DCHP-2, includes terms until the present day, such as grow-op ‘grow operation of marijuana plants’, small packet ‘special rate mail item’, or the prototypical tag marker eh, with its many functions—for example, ‘eliciting opinion’ or ‘emphatic stress’ [1].

Variation in grammar – morphology and syntax – can also be found in Canadian English. Reported since the early 1980s, but never thoroughly studied, Standard Canadian English allows (to give just one example) the placing of as well sentence-initially. Thus, in a sentence such as The Canucks had good forwards that day. As well, their blue liners were better than last time, other standard dialects would usually accept as well only after ‘last time’, i.e. sentence-finally [3].

Canadian slang as a variation of substandard speech is obvious nowadays. The lexical constituent of Anglo-Canadian slang is very dissimilar. There can be singled out the following units:

•Units that are common for the American and Canadian Languages, North-Americanisms;

•Units, that have appeared and are still used in the USA, but that gradually get into Canadian language;

•Units that appeared and are used in Canada, but can be met in American language;

•Units that appeared and are used exceptionally in Canada.

They are: North-Americanisms:

These units appeared in the slang in XIX-XX centuries. They are different in their origin but are gut assimilated by Canadian and American languages.

Units that were registered first in USA and then in Canada: - Nouns denoting living beings: buff (enthusiast) AE - 1930; CdnE - 1940; floozie (prostitute) AE - 1935, CdnE - 1940; ripstaker (a conceited person) AE, CdnE -1833.

- Nouns denoting inanimate objects: jitney (a cheap taxi) AE-1915, CdnE - 1924; beanie (a freshman's cloth cap) AE-1945, CdnE - 1946; dump (a pub, a bar) AE - 1903, CdnE -1904.

- Nouns denoting process: bend (outdoor party, feast) AE -1903, CdnE - 1904; shellacking (defeat) AE -1919, CdnE - 1938.

- Nouns of material: lightning (cheap whisky) AE - 1858, CdnE - 1959; weeno (wine).

- Collective Nouns: bull (idle talk) AE- 1915, CndE - 1916; guff (nonsense, lies) AE - 1888, CdnE - 1890.

Units that were first registered in Canada and then in USA: - Nouns denoting living beings: boomer (seasonal worker) CndE - 1910, AE -1926; flannel-mouth (smb who is fond of backbiting) CdnE - 1910, AE - 1912.

- Nouns denoting inanimate objects: bug (a small automobile) CdnE - 1919, AE - 1920; jolt (a mouthful of alcohol drink) CdnE - 1900, AE - 1920.

- Nouns denoting process: hush-hush (confidential talk) CdnE - 1940, AE - 1950; fakery(insincere behavior) CdnE - 1912, AE - 1925.

- Collective Nouns: bushwa(h) (nonsense, rubbish) CdnE - 1916, AE - 1924.

It should be mentioned that the nouns with expressive meaning are easier borrowed from American into Canadian and vice versa: gunsel (murderer) CdnE - 1950, AE -1951; split (sharing of the profit) AE - 1917, CdnE -1919.

Units that appeared and are used in USA, but that gradually get into Canadian language: - Nouns denoting living beings: eager-beaver (boarder) AE, the beginning of the XX cent; CdnE 1950; fink (unpleasant person) AE -1925; CdnE -1965.

- Nouns denoting inanimate objects: Doodad (a thing for reminding about smth) AE - 1900; CdnE - 1931.

Units that appeared and are used in Canada, but can be met in American language: These units were not well spread, because: a) there were American equivalents for the Canadian words: noodle, CdnE: nut, AE (head);

b) this word appeared in the language later, than its equivalent: fink (strike-breaker, blackleg) AE, CdnE 1925.

In this part of lexis a great influence of American on Canadian language, but not vice versa, is evident. Canadian units are often of the regional nature, so they are twice called in question before getting into the American variant.

Units that appeared and are used exceptionally in Canada. The common Canadian slang can be subdivided into two groups: the common slang that is described in the previous points and the professional slang of the following professions: - railway men’s slang: pig (locomotive), plug(a small train); - musicians' slang: canary (a female singer), to blow(to play); - military slang: Joe boy (a recruit) , moldy(torpedo); - sport slang: rink-rat (a boy, cleaning the rink),arena rat(fan, supporter); - criminal argot: pod (cigarette with narcotic), skokum house (prison).

So, we can say that Canadian slang is a very complicated system that unites chronologically different layers of the American and Canadian slang. And in the whole it is a new and quite original system that doesn't copy either American or British system. This system appeared due to the co-operation of all these systems and the national tendencies [8].


The history of Canadian English has come a long way since the first serious attempts in the mid-1950s. It is now in the position to tell the story of Canadian English and its varieties, but it is also develops nowadays creating new words, grammar and slang.


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  2. Попова Л. Г. Лексика английского языка в Канаде. Учеб. пособие для вузов / Л. Г. Попова. – М.: Высш. школа, 1978. – 116 с.
  1. Adams Rob Colter. Grammar to go: the portable A-Zed guide to Canadian usage / Rob Colter Adams. – House of Anansi Press, 2005. – 247 р.
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  3. Chambers J. K. ed. Canadian English: Origin and Structures / J. K. Chambers. -Toronto: Methuen Publications, 1975. – 252p.
  4. Chambers J.K. Canadian English: 250 Years in the Making / J.K. Chambers. –The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed. – 1998. – 304 p.
  5. Edwards John R. Language in Canada / John R Edwards. – Cambridge University Press, 1998. – 158 p.
  6. Dollinger Stefan. New-Dialect Formation in Canada: Evidence from the English Modal Auxilaries / Stefan Dollinger. – Amsterdam & Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Co, 2008. – P. 22 – 25.
  7. Wolfram Walt and Ward Ben, editors. American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast / Walt Wolfram, Ben Ward. – Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2006. – P. 140 – 236.

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