An American explains Canadian English

No doubt about/aboot/aboat it, Canadian English can be a bit different than American English. If you ever want to travel to Canada (and you should - it's pretty awesome!), you might need to brush up on the differences between the mother tongue above and below the border.

FIRST, LET'S ADDRESS ENGLISH vs FRENCH: "Do you have to learn to speak French?" We've had this question several times since we announced our move to Alberta. The short answer is "No." The long answer is that French and English are both the official languages of Canada due to the people of Quebec (a province located directly above parts of NY, NH and VT) who speak French rather than English. Approximately 82% of Canadians fluently speak English only, while 10% speak only French fluently (and they tend to be concentrated in that one province). 

SECOND, WHAT'S TRUE OF THE U.S. IS TRUE OF CANADA: The US is a big place, and although we speak English in all 50 states, how we speak English will depend on which part of the US we live in. Hear someone say "Bah-sten" and you'll know they're from the north east. Hear someone say "y'all" and you know they are from the south. These same differences in dialect hold true in Canada; someone from the eastern part of Canada will have a different accent than someone from the west.

THIRD, NORTHERN AMERICANS TEND TO SPEAK IN THE SAME WAYS AS CANADIANS. Studies have been done which demonstrate that people who live near Canada cannot tell whether the person speaking to them is from Canada or the northern U.S. by accent alone. The Michigan "yooper" and "Minnesota nice" accents are virtually indistinguishable from their counterparts across the border. It's only those of us who live the in the southern and western US that have difficulty with the accents.

FINALLY, CANADIAN ENGLISH TENDS TO BE A BLEND OF BRITISH AND AMERICAN ENGLISH. (And there often seems to be no rhyme or reason as to why they choose to say or spell things this way over that.)

Let's talk specifics:

BRITISH SPELLINGS: Canadians tend to favor the British spellings of words. So, you get colour instead of color, centre instead of center, recognise instead of recognize, and travelled instead of traveled. (For the record, my spell check program just put a red squiggly line under each of the Canadian/British spellings, indicating they are "wrong"!)

AMERICAN FALLING, CANADIAN RAISING: The most unique feature of Canadian English is called "Canadian rising." When two vowels are present in the same syllable (called a dipthong) Canadians tend to stress the second vowel, while Americans tend to stress the first. The classic examples are "about" which in Canadian pronunciation becomes "aboot" (emphasizing the u sound.) This is also heard in the word "sorry," which Canadians tend to pronounce "soory."

SAME STUFF, DIFFERENT WORDS: Canadians tend to use different words than Americans for certain items. For example, in Canada you "attend university," while in the US you "go to college." In the US you might use the "bathroom," but in most of Canada it's the "washroom." In the US you might park your vehicle in a "parking garage," but in Canada it's known as a "parkade."

THE LETTER "ZEE" DOES NOT EXIST IN CANADIAN ENGLISH. They pronounce it "ZED," and it's my favorite Canadianism.

CANADIANS ARE AMERICANS TOO: "America" describes the continent, not the country (hence United States OF America). Therefore, Canadians and citizens of the US are both "Americans." Some Canadians take umbrage when we claim the term "Americans" only for ourselves. Also, in Canada they refer to the U.S. as "the states." 

THE EASIEST WAY TO MAKE ENEMIES IN CANADA: If there is one thing we have heard more than any other over the last few months, it's jokes regarding the word "eh." If Americans (yes I realize I just said Canadians are Americans too...) know anything about Canadian speech, it's that every sentence ends with the word "eh," right?

Ask a Canadian, and they will vigorously deny the word is used often, if ever at all. And if they hear the "eh" jokes as often as we've heard them, I can understand why it drives them so crazy! But I'll let you in on a little secret: THEY DO SAY "EH!" I hear it quite a bit, though nowhere near as often as people in the US joke about it.

I stopped making the joke many months ago, but if you are looking to tick off some Canadians, ending your sentences in "eh" is a good way to make it happen!


Well there you go, a quick primer for southern Americans on speaking Canadian English. Their dialect is not right or wrong, better or worse, just different from ours.