B. A. Major Thesis Supervisor: Mgr. Jan Chovanec, Ph

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Masaryk University

Faculty of Arts
Department of English
and American Studies

English Language and Literature

Hana Kratochvílová

The English Language in Canada:

A Questionable Dialect

or a Distinct Variety of English?
B.A. Major Thesis
Supervisor: Mgr. Jan Chovanec, Ph.D.

I declare that I have worked on this thesis independently, using only the sources listed in the bibliography.

Brno, 28 April 2006 ....…………………………….....


would like to express many thanks to my supervisor, Mgr. Jan Chovanec, Ph.D., for his kind and valuable advice and help.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction 5

2. The Evolution of the Views of Canadian English and of the Attitudes towards It 7

3. Vocabulary 10

3.1 Canadian English - A Unique Mosaic 10

3.2 Regional Varieties of Canadian English 10

3.3 Canadian Vocabulary in Relation to British and American Varieties of English 11

3.3.1 British English: Political and Legal Terminology 13

3.3.2 American English: Motoring and Transport 13

3.4 Different Lexical Preferences within Canada: Toronto (Ontario) and Montreal 14

3.5 Contemporary Comparison of Canadian and American Lexicons 16

3.6 Canadianisms 17

4. Grammar 19

4.1 Prepositional Variations 19

4.2 Verbs 20

4.3 Adverbials 20

4.4 ‘Canadian’ Eh 22

5. Spelling 24

5.1 Historical Development of Canadian Spelling 25

5.2 -our/ -or 26

5.3 -ce / -se 28

5.4 -er/ -re 28

5.5 -ise/ -ize 29

5.6 ae and oe Digraphs versus e 30

5.7 Doubling of l and p Consonants before Suffixes 31

5.8 em- /en- and im- /in- Prefixes 31

5.9 Other Spelling Features 32

6. French Influence on Canadian English 34

6.1 Vocabulary 34

6.1.1 Vocabulary of Quebec English 35

6.2 Grammar 37

6.2.1 Post Adjectival Position of Canada 37

6.2.2 Prepositions and Idiomatic Expressions 37

7. Conclusion 39

Bibliography 41

Appendix 45

1. Introduction

There exist many varieties of English, some of which are generally unquestioned and recognized worldwide whereas others are doubted and treated as parts of those better established ones, i.e. those considered as more clearly defined. Canadian variety of English represents the latter case: While it has been identified with either British or American English (BrE, AmE), its distinct features have been mostly ignored and its existence has still not been acknowledged by everyone.

The aim of the present thesis is to demonstrate that Canadian English (CanE) is a distinct variety which should be treated accordingly, even though some linguists argue that no such variety exists. The distinct nature of the English language in Canada is clearly indicated by differences between CanE and the varieties which most influence it (i.e. British and American), by features found uniquely in CanE as well as by its actual usage.

The thesis starts by discussing how the very notion of CanE evolved, how Canadians approached the existence of the variety they spoke and what factors influenced Canadians’ views of AmE and BrE which were perceptible in their speech. There will also be presented several linguists’ theories suggesting the non-existence of the distinct Canadian variety of English. The following four chapters will attempt to refute those ideas by pointing out the distinctive nature of Canadian vocabulary, grammar and spelling, and by focusing on the features from Canadian French which have become fully naturalized in CanE and are not characteristic of any other variety of English.

The chapter on vocabulary includes the information on the components of Canadian vocabulary and on the regional division of the country. It deals with the development of originally British and American expressions in the Canadian background and also mentions the domains in which either British or American lexicon prevails. Subsequently, the preferred expressions in selected regions are discussed and the chapter is finished by a section on Canadianisms.

The following chapter – ‘Grammar’ – presents in three sub-chapters Canadian tendencies concerning prepositional phrases, verbs and adverbials, and it ends with the section entitled ‘Canadian Eh’ referring to the interjection which is widely used by Canadians.

The subsequent chapter on Canadian spelling starts with the historical development of the spelling system in Canada, and it continues by going through the individual spelling phenomena, commenting on each of them. It equally reflects on the consistency of usage in the three discussed varieties of English: CanE, BrE and AmE.

Finally, the ‘French Influence on Canadian English’ offers an insight into the features of CanE resulting from the co-existence of the two languages. The chapter focuses primarily on the lexical and grammatical characteristics of CanE with relation to Canadian French. Given its minority status in the French speaking province, Quebec English is dealt with in more detail.

2. The Evolution of the Views of Canadian English and of the Attitudes towards It

To understand why relatively few studies on the English language in Canada have been done and why Canadians did not feel for so long the need to struggle for the recognition of CanE as a distinct variety (Orkin 1970: 3-5), one has to consider the development of the country in the context of Great Britain and the United States.

Canadians, revering their mother country, traditionally identified themselves with Britons, the consequence of which was the identification of CanE with BrE. Gradually, the view of CanE developed into the opposite extreme: it started to be regarded as nothing else but American English. Additionally, in an effort of the French Canadians to assert their cultural and linguistic rights, they depicted the Anglophone majority as confident and linguistically powerful, which naturally did not encourage the Anglo-Canadians to seriously explore the variety they spoke.

They still tried to maintain the same language as was spoken in Great Britain and believed that BrE is what they should speak. However, this conviction did not prevent them from gradually incorporating into their speech Americanisms which subsequently became part of their ‘language’. Thus, the early British travellers to Canada recognized such Americanisms as ‘unwanted’ non-British elements; their comments on “the mis-adoption of would and should by the Canadians in the American manner” and on the use of such expressions as wagon or lot reach back into 1830s (Orkin 1970: 8).

Other observers, resentful at the naturalizing of American expressions, vilified Canadian English by declaring it, for instance, “a corrupt dialect growing up amongst our population, and gradually finding access to our periodical literature, until it threatens to produce a language as unlike our noble mother tongue as the negro patua [sic], or the Chinese pidgeon [sic] English” (Reverend A. Constable Geike 1857, qtd. in Orkin 1970: 9). Geike criticized the intrusion of such Americanisms as “guess for think [or] betterments for improvements to new land” (qtd. in Orkin 1970: 9). He equally objected to words which he obviously considered as Canadianisms, although they were actually American borrowings: first class meaning ‘able, great, capable’, loaned instead of ‘lent’ or ‘I conclude to go’ for ‘I resolved to go’ (1857, qtd. in Hultin 1967: 251)1.

Similarly, an Englishman visiting Canada in the 1830s expressed his concern about the children being “instructed by some anti-British adventurer, instilling into the young and tender minds sentiments hostile to the parent state . . . and American spelling books, dictionaries and grammar, teaching them an anti-British dialect and idiom” (Hodgins 1895, qtd. in Orkin 1970: 9).

In the nineteenth century, British disparaging views of AmE were still peculiar to most Canadians. AmE was regarded as “illiterate, coarse, and rude and the people who used it as little better” (Hultin 1967: 244). The British promoted such a portrayal of Americans in periodicals and literature and Canadians, inspired by them, started themselves to caricaturize the Yankees2 and glossed over the AmE influence on their variety, convinced that they speak similarly pure English as the British (Hultin 1967: 245).

However much the authors fought against the use of Americanisms in literature, considering it “a further erosion of their British identity” (Hultin 1967: 253, emphasis by italics added), they could not avoid it; and the ever-rising manifestation of the American influence on the level of speech led some Canadians to describe themselves as being “exceedingly British with mouth and exceedingly ‘American’ with the voice” (Hultin 1967: 255).

The example of such a ‘speech characteristic’ reaches back to the turn of the twentieth century, when a Toronto school teacher lamented that there was no point in teaching children to pronounce such words as palm or calm with the Italian A, because “their parents tell them it is affected to pronounce those words correctly, and say they are imitating the English!” and she added, “What language are we alleged to speak?” (1906, qtd. in Hultin 1967: 255).

Even if the authorities insisted on sounding purely British, the public was less reluctant to accept the reality of sounding ‘American’. And one could hear a number of opinions such as “the language and the fashions of the two people are the same” or “among the populace American habits, customs and manners prevail. Canadian slang is American slang. Popular nomenclature and phraseology are American” (1903, qtd. in Hultin 1967: 256). Thus, the view of CanE underwent a gradual change from ‘more British’ to ‘more American’.

However, not much changed about the Canadians’ concern over the investigation of the language they spoke. In the late 1950s, a Canadian linguist M. H. Scargill asserted that “a definitive history of the English language in Canada is yet to be written” and that “the vast amount of preliminary work necessary for such a history has not been done” (1957, qtd. in Orkin 1970: 5). At about the same time, an American linguist Morton W. Bloomfield presented the view that Canadian English is “to all intents and purposes General American with a few modified sounds usually paralleled in American sub-dialects and with some vocabulary variations” (1948, qtd. in Jurcic 2003b: 1). Some twenty years later, Mark M. Orkin anxiously remarked that “the homogenizing of North American English is far advanced” (1970: ix). And the theories of the non-existence of CanE have found an ardent supporter in the young Canadian linguist Jaan Lilles.

His article entitled ‘The myth of Canadian English’ commences with John Algeo’s view that “all linguistic varieties are fictions” since “a language system, such as English, is a great abstraction, a fiction, analyzable into large areal varieties” which he in turn sees as fictions (1991, qtd. in Lilles 2000: 3). Elaborating on Algeo’s ideas, Lilles (2000: 3) suggests that studying a linguistic community within national boundaries is useful only on the condition that a group studied shares “a unique or binding set of linguistic features”. As for CanE, however, he argues that “the ‘usefulness’ of the fiction is so limited, that not only is it almost purposeless but it can and does result in negative social and political effects” and he openly proclaims: “In England they speak English, in France French and so on. But in Canada we do not speak ‘Canadian English’, for it is my argument that there is hardly such a thing” (2000: 3-4).
Referring to certain features of Canadian vocabulary, grammar and spelling, as well as to the French traits peculiar to CanE, and emphasising the characteristics in which the distinctiveness of CanE is perceived, the following chapters aim to demonstrate that there is such a thing as Canadian English.

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