The results of a linguistic regional survey of Canada can remind us there is no one Canadian way of using English – see: https://imgur.com/a/OOF6p. It’s all too easy to spoil a conversation’s authenticity by, say, putting the word “cottage” (when used for a weekend home) in the mouth of someone who is supposed to reside in Northern Ontario (where they have a “camp”). Those who have spent time living or working across Canada will know that a BC “gutter” (the British term) is an “eavestrough” in Ontario and much of elsewhere, but may not recall that Manitobans and Anglo-Quebeckers also tend to say “gutter”.
Indeed the proper pronunciation by various native speakers of a common shared word can matter if dialogue is to be read aloud in an audio-book or podcast – “decal” and “caramel’ are pronounced two distinct ways depending on the province.
Some of our terminological variations are shared by regions beyond Canada. New Englanders and Maritimers both pronounce “buoy” as boo-ey and “quay” as it looks, and use “rotary” for a traffic circle/roundabout.
We can assume that there is a reasonable correlation of pronunciation in Canada with the geographic origin of the first settlers. That our Canadian accent out West is not so very different from that in the older St Lawrence Valley colonies is said to derive from Ontario residents being the predominant new settlers once the vast Prince Rupert’s Land became our Northwest Territories. The accent in Upper Canada/Ontario, rather than having an obvious British bent as in the other Dominions and former Imperial colonies, is said to be explainable by the dominance in Upper Canadian public life of the United Empire Loyalists who left the former Thirteen Colonies.
At the period when our ways of speaking and spelling evolved, the colonial then national governing authorities were usually from the British Isles, so, while there was a tendency for some UEL spellings to persist through the C19th (e.g. see ‘Toronto Harbor Commission” incised on its grand old former HQ in Downtown Toronto), official Canadian spelling has remained largely in tune with the rest of the Commonwealth.
For credible local differentiation among our featured characters it’s worth noting that even here in in the relatively small geography of Southern Ontario there are some nice speech variants, ranging from the Yankee-sounding Essex County folk in the west to the Irish-sounding Ottawa Valley folk in the east. As a Scot among my personal favourites are the ‘filums’, ‘polis’ and ‘posties’ in the province’s south-centre region of Grey-Bruce.
by Ian Keith Anderson