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Canadian English

Canadianisms and Canadian English

Far more than any other country, Canadians are known for turning their statements into rhetorical questions by adding eh? to the end, or even the middle, of a sentence. It’s a useful way to involve the listener in what is being said, whether by inviting agreement or just by checking to see whether the person is following the story so far. (For many, this habit is more remarked upon than used, but, for good or for ill, it has come to serve, in popular culture at least, as the standard-bearer when singling out Canadian English as a unique dialect.) So why not read on for more examples of Canadianisms, eh?

In our “home and native land,” a true Canuck might take the recycling out in the blue box, clean the maple leaves (but not the Toronto Maple Leafs!) out of the eavestroughs, turn out the lights to save hydro, and cook in an open-concept kitchen.

Outside, residents of “the true north strong and free” might pull on a tuque and a Cowichan sweater, order a double-double or a two-four, and drink one (or both) over the May two-four weekend. (Afterward, they might say “I need to go to the washroom” to mean “I need to use the toilet”—but let’s hope they don’t get caught “flying low,” meaning “seen with one’s zipper left down,” lest they be branded a hoser.) They might go vote in their riding. Or they might fly off to Florida for the winter instead with some of the other snowbirds. And if someone bumps into them on the way, they might acknowledge it by saying “sorry”—even if it wasn’t their own fault!

From coast to coast (to coast!)

With St. John’s, Newfoundland closer in distance to Paris, France than it is to Victoria, British Columbia, Canada is a pretty big place. Let’s “rhyme off” (meaning “recount a number of items quickly”) a few regionalisms.

On the East Coast (the Maritimes or the Atlantic Provinces), you might hear someone say they had a “large day” if a great deal happened in it. In Newfoundland, also known as “the Rock,” you might say of an outsider that he or she has “come from away.” If you wanted to make that person an honorary Newfie, you could give them some screech (extra-strong rum) and make them kiss a cod, a process known as “screeching-in.”

In the Prairie Provinces, in the middle of the country, you might refer to a farmer as a stubble jumper, or call a hooded sweater a bunny hug instead of a hoodie.

On the West Coast (also called the Wet Coast and the Left Coast for its mild climate and liberal politics respectively), listen for remnants of Chinook jargon such as skookum. Watch out too for grow-ops (home growing operations) of BC Bud (marijuana), which the Mounties would no doubt like to know about.

And if you want to go wandering north of 60 (or above the 60th parallel), keep an eye out for an inukshuk, or traditional stone marker, to keep you from getting lost!

It depends on how “u” are raised

One last feature of Canadian English to mention is something called “Canadian Raising.” While not exclusive to Canada, nor shared by all Canadians, Canadian Raising refers to a particular manner of pronouncing some types of joined vowel sound (called dipthongs). Americans often hear Canadians say words like about and, due to a higher-than-expected pronunciation of the second vowel sound (in this case, the u), think that we are actually saying something closer to “aboot.”

In truth, the sound doesn’t rise quite that high, but there is certainly a slight distinction to be made between pronunciations in the northern and southern halves of North America.

And that, in the end, is just about as Canadian as can be—under the circumstances!


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