What about Canadian, eh?

I felt a bit bad about not mentioning Canadian English in my BBC article on American English. And then someone who didn’t know I was Canadian sent me an email smugsplaining Canadian to me, so I responded. But I decided I really needed to do an article on Canadian English. So I pitched it to the BBC, and they said “Sure!” So. Here it is:

Why is Canadian English unique?


10 responses to “What about Canadian, eh?

  1. I am a Canadian and an English language teacher, teacher trainer and researcher who frequently works in the UK. A British colleague sent me the link to your BBC article, ‘Why is Canadian English unique’. While the language/linguistic information was accurate though understandably a little broad in places due to length limitations, based on the overall tone, we both assumed it had been written by a Brit because it contained such simplistic and, in places, old fashioned descriptions of how Canadians define themselves. I was truly shocked to discover that the writer was Canadian.

    Let’s start with the title of the article. ‘Why is Canadian English unique’. That alone sounds like a foreigner investigating an unexpected discovery. There’s a Canadian English? Why shouldn’t Canadian English be unique? As you know, all Englishes are unique to their countries or even regions because of the various influences other languages, peoples and cultures have had and will continue to have on their development. After a few centuries, why should Canadian English be any different? British English – vocabulary, spelling and pronunciation – is strongly influenced by French, as well as by other early invaders, yet I would be amazed to see an article by a British writer titled, ‘Why is British English unique’. It’s a given. No need to justify it. So why frame it that way for us? Even making the title a statement, ‘Why Canadian English is unique’ gives the impression that you are coming from a position of confidence, not apology. A more appropriate and catchier title might even be, ‘What makes Canadian English Canadian’. Tag on an ‘Eh’ for a laugh if you like.

    Secondly, I’m not saying they don’t exist but I don’t know any English-speaking Canadian today (let’s be generous and say under the age of 50 – I’m 53) who would say they “remain loyal to the Queen,” even if not “truly interested in being British”. Yes, as a country, Canada still has a political connection to Britain but as citizens we are quite blasé about it. To bring it down to a personal level and interpret it as loyalty to the Queen by all English-speakers is either highly misinformed or an overt act of pandering to a BBC audience. To imply this still influences our choices so as to stay independent of the US, is a stretch. This feels like the writing of a past generation.
    No doubt, historically we did feel the need to push and pull between the two powers to find our identity in many areas and that is relevant to point out when discussing our development, but Canadians have grown up. The ambivalence you mention is more part of our past. Today we will create or borrow or adopt from any English or other language if we like it because we are more confident in who we are.
    We are leaving behind the days of needing to define or explain ourselves through comparison and by who and what we are not; not British and not American. Much of the vocabulary section came across as, ‘see, we’re not American’. That’s getting old. We confidently and happily say we are Canadian and discuss what that is in our culture, arts, sports and language in and of itself from our own point of view.

    Our situation in the past may have been ambivalent, but moving forward it’s confidence. That would be a far more beneficial tone and message to reinforce.


    • First, a thing many people don’t know: The writer doesn’t get to make the title. The writer writes the article and sends it in, and the publication gives it a title that they think will catch attention. The article is not written on the basis of the title, and indeed whenever you read an article online, you should disregard the title once you start reading. Above all, do not blame the writer for the title, and do not waste any time arguing about the title with the writer. I have sometimes been very disappointed in titles that have been given to my articles. This one, in my view, is middling; it could be grabbier, but it’s not wrong. But I do think you are being captious about it: you are clearly approaching it with a disputatious disposition, and are presenting as inherent qualities things that are impositions of your own interpretation.

      Second, the head of state of Canada is the queen. Thus the country remains loyal to the queen by definition, and its citizens likewise by being loyal citizens are loyal to the queen. We may or may not have strong individual feelings of hand-over-heart loyalty, but we have not declared independence from her and the Commonwealth of Nations. For that matter, I don’t even hear significant rumblings of desire to break away from the British monarchy. The interpretation “loyalty to the Queen by all English speakers” on the “personal level” is your interpretation, not mine. It is not a careful reading; it is a captious one.

      Canadian English remains ambivalent, as do its users; we do vacillate between American and British usages, and have tugs from French as well. I have linguistic research and editorial experience to back that up. I’m a professional editor of Canadian English and have been for the best part of two decades. I have also gotten very positive responses to the article from other experienced professional Canadian editors. I am not going to pander to a Canadian audience. You may feel that we should all be rah-rah-rah and not say anything that would make Canadians seem anything other than confident and so on. But everything I say in that article is true, well founded, and based on current research and experience. I don’t expect everyone to agree with it, but I stand by it.

      I should also say that the BBC.com/culture site is aimed primarily at an American audience (yes, it actually is!), and this article was written as a follow-on to the article on American English that I previously presented on BBC.com, so if it seems to be addressed primarily to Americans and secondarily to Brits, that’s because it is.

      Incidentally, I’m a half decade younger than you. If you happen to look at other articles on my site, you will see that I’m anything but old-fashioned.

  2. “Blimey!” I thought to myself as I read T.Fay’s comment. Now maybe I should have thought “Crikey!”, seeing as I’m really an Australian, but I live in England so I’ll say what I like. All I can add is that T.Fay is very easily shocked, has no sense of humour (unlike you James) and is very boring (also unlike you James). Eh?

  3. Loved your article. One thing I might add is that the “oot” sound isn’t quite right. it’s more like “uyt and abuyt.” Similar to Northern English or Sotts.

  4. Thank you for the link. I love that you mention Northern New York State. Even though I live 20 minutes away from it, their accent drives me crazy. I’m such a hypocrite, eh!!!

  5. Reblogged this on freemorio.

  6. Has the article been removed from the BBC website? I’d love to read it but it doesn’t seem to be working. I’m a teacher (grades 2/3) and it annoys me to no end that the kids say “zee” instead of “zed” and that most of our kids’ books use American spelling instead of Canadian spelling. It’s something I work hard to get the kids on board with! 😉

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