Still Canadian, eh?

April 24, 2001

A team of researchers has found that Canadian speech patterns are not being Americanized to the extent once thought.

A team led by Jack Chambers, a professor of linguistics and director of the Dialect Topography project at U of T, has surveyed English language usage in regions where 45 per cent of the Canadian population lives, particularly in areas along the Canada-U.S. border. Their aim is to find out how words and pronunciations are used in different parts of the country. They have discovered that Canada and the United States are converging in their use of several features and the two countries are jointly giving rise to a continental standard of language that includes influences from both sides of the border.

"There are some obvious Americanizations happening to Canadian English such as the loss of the traditional word chesterfield to the American word couch," says Chambers. "But we also see some American states adapting our pronunciation of the word 'caught' so that it sounds like 'cot' for example. What we are seeing is widespread merging rather than widespread Americanization which is what many Canadians have feared."

In spite of the converging features, Chambers and his team maintain that the Canada-U.S. border remains "a sharp and distinct linguistic border as well as a political one." Even though the two populations are less than a kilometre apart at Niagara Falls, Americans continue to use, for example, long "i" sounds in anti- and semi- when pronouncing such words as anti-pollution and semifinal while Canadians use a long "e" sound.

"Our work at the Canada-U.S. border shows us great contrasts," says Chambers, "and at the same time it shows us what we share as North Americans." The Dialect Topography project is funded by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council.
-end-
CONTACT: Professor Jack Chambers, Department of Linguistics, 416-978-1764, chambers@chass.utoronto.ca or Michah Rynor, U of T Public Affairs, 416-978-2104, michah.rynor@utoronto.ca.

University of Toronto

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