Canadian English refers to the dialects of the English language spoken in Canada. A popular sense of the term is that it means only the 'standard', typically written form of English in the country. Linguists, however, would use it to mean any dialect, standard or not, that is used in Canada. Often the accents of Canada are included in the definition too, as is the non-native English of French-speaking Canadians. A further complication is the similarity of Canadian English to American English.
Canadian English draws its spelling conventions from both American and British English (or Commonwealth English). Historically, Canada was closer to the old British Empire than to the independent USA, so British spellings continued rather than being ousted by reformers such as the American Noah Webster. British spellings such as realise rather than realize are often preferred because of Canada's Anglo-French heritage; the s reflects the French spelling of words with -ise. More modern terminology, however, is frequently American: Canadians usually say trunk and hood rather than boot and bonnet, for example.
Varieties of Canadian English
Canadian English is not a single dialect, similar for all speakers throughout the provinces. It differs from region to region and often within the same towns, cities and local communities. However, controversy has occasionally erupted over the similarities to American English: the argument that Canadian English is largely a "fiction" created to support a sense of national identity has been much-debated. However, the idea that there is only one 'North American English' is disconfirmed by studies showing, for example, that the pronunciation of Canadian English is in many ways distinct from that of American English, despite prolonged contact. Often this is age-related, with younger speakers far more likely to pronounce the /t/ in city as a 'flap' (brief contact) that would be natural in American English: [sɪɾɪ] not [sɪtɪ]. Canadian vowels are often quite different from those in the USA.
Is 'Canadian English' also 'Standard English'?
'Standard Canadian English' - meaning the formal variety of Canadian English which is the subject of dictionaries and grammar books, and is taught in schools and to learners of English in Canada or in various places overseas - is just one form of Canadian English today. Linguists would consider its study highly valuable, but other dialects would be equally worthy of consideration. Confining the definition of 'Canadian English' to the standard variety also creates a problem: all forms of a living language change all the time, as new generations develop new vocabulary or reanalyse one aspect of their native language's grammar in a slightly different way from how their parents used it. This also applies to the 'standard' language, though this process is typically slowed by its being codified in a set of written conventions and prescriptivist grammar rules. If linguists were to agree with the popular definition of Canadian English as standard English, new innovations would go uncatalogued and linguistic diversity could not be used as data to further understanding of language itself.
- Lilles (2000: 9); Wardhaugh (2006: 42).
- Woods (1993). See also 'Canadian English' at the University of Arizona.