Standard Canadian English is the largely homogeneous variety of Canadian English that is spoken particularly across Ontario and Western Canada, as well as throughout Canada among urban middle-class speakers from English-speaking families, excluding the regional dialects of Atlantic Canadian English. Canadian English has a mostly uniform phonology and much less dialectal diversity than neighbouring American English. In particular, Standard Canadian English is defined by the cot–caught merger to [ɒ] (listen) and an accompanying chain shift of vowel sounds, which is called the Canadian Shift. A subset of the dialect geographically at its central core, excluding British Columbia to the west and everything east of Montréal, has been called Inland Canadian English. It is further defined by both of the phenomena that are known as Canadian raising (which is found also in British Columbia and Ontario): the production of /oʊ/[a] and /aʊ/ with back starting points in the mouth and the production of /eɪ/ with a front starting point and very little glide that is almost [e] in the Prairie Provinces.
|Diphthongs||aɪ ɔɪ aʊ|
The phonemes /oʊ/ (as in boat) and /eɪ/ (as in bait) have qualities that are almost monophthongal for some speakers, especially in the Prairie Provinces.
Almost all Canadians have the cot–caught merger, which also occurs primarily in the Western United States but also often elsewhere in the country, especially recently. Few Canadians distinguish the vowels in cot and caught, which merge as [ɒ] (more common in Western and Maritime Canada) or [ɑ] (more common in central and eastern mainland Canada in which it can even be fronted). Speakers with the merger produce the vowels identically and often fail to hear the difference when speakers without the merger, such as General American and Inland Northern American English, pronounce the vowels. The merger has existed in Canada for several generations.
The standard pronunciation of /ɒr/ (as in start) is [ɑɹ], as in General American, or perhaps somewhat fronted as [ɑ̈ɹ]. As with Canadian raising, the advancement of the raised nucleus can be a regional indicator. A striking feature of Atlantic Canadian speech (in the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland) is a nucleus that approaches the front region of the vowel space; it is accompanied by a strong rhoticity ranging from [ɜɹ] to [ɐɹ].
Words such as origin, Florida, horrible, quarrel, warren, as well as tomorrow, sorry, sorrow, generally use the sound sequence of FORCE, rather than START. The latter set of words often distinguishes Canadian from American pronunciation. In Standard Canadian English, there is no distinction between horse and hoarse.
The merger creates a gap in the short vowel subsystem and triggers a sound change known as the Canadian Shift, which involves the front lax vowels /æ, ɛ, ɪ/. The /æ/ of bat is lowered and retracted in the direction of [a] except in some environments, as is noted below. Indeed, /æ/ is farther back than in almost all other North American dialects, and the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver and is more advanced for Ontarians and for women than for people from the Prairies and Atlantic Canada and men.
Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ may be lowered (in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ]) and/or retracted, but studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift. For example, Labov and others (2006) noted a backward and downward movement of /ɛ/ in apparent time in all of Canada except the Atlantic Provinces, but no movement of /ɪ/ was detected.
Therefore, in Canadian English, the short a of trap or bath and the broad ah quality of spa or lot are shifted in the opposite way from those of the Northern Cities shift, which is found across the border in Inland Northern American English, and is causing both dialects to diverge. In fact, the Canadian short-a is very similar in quality to Inland Northern spa or lot. For example, the production [map] would be recognized as map in Canada but mop in Inland Northern United States.
A notable exception to the merger occurs, and some speakers over the age of 60, especially in rural areas in the Prairies, may not exhibit the merger.
Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Canadian English is "Canadian raising," which is found most prominently throughout central and west-central Canada and in parts of the Atlantic Provinces. For the beginning points of the diphthongs (gliding vowels) /aɪ/ (as in the words height and mice) and /aʊ/ (as in shout and house), the tongue is often more "raised" than in other varieties of English in the mouth when the diphthongs are before voiceless consonants: /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /ʃ/, and /f/.
Before voiceless consonants, /aɪ/ becomes [ʌɪ~ɜɪ~ɐɪ]. One of the few phonetic variables that divides Canadians regionally is the articulation of the raised allophone of that and /aʊ/. In Ontario, it tends to have a mid-central or even mid-front articulation sometimes approaching [ɛʊ], but in the West and the Maritimes, a more retracted sound is heard, which is closer to [ʌʊ]. For some speakers in the Prairies and in Nova Scotia, the retraction is strong enough to cause some tokens of raised /aʊ/ to merge with /oʊ/; couch then merges with coach, and both words sound the same (/koʊtʃ/). Also, about then sounds like a boat, which is often inaccurately represented as sounding like "a boot" for comic effect in American popular culture.
In General American, out is typically [äʊt] (listen), but with slight Canadian raising, it may sound more like [ɐʊt] (listen), and with the strong Canadian raising of the Prairies and Nova Scotia, it may sound more like IPA: [ʌʊt]. Canadian raising makes words like height and hide have two different vowel qualities. Also, for example, house as a noun (I saw a house) and house as a verb (Where will you house them tonight?) can then have two different vowel qualities: [hɐʊs] and [haʊz].
Especially in parts of the Atlantic Provinces, some Canadians do not have Canadian raising. On the other hand, certain non-Canadian accents use Canadian raising. In the United States, it can be found in areas near the border in dialects in the Upper Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Northeastern New England (like Boston) dialects, but Canadian raising is much less common than in Canada. The raising of /aɪ/ alone is actually increasing throughout the United States and, unlike the raising of /aʊ/, is generally not perceived as unusual by people who do not exhibit the raising.
Because of Canadian raising, many speakers are able to distinguish between words such as writer and rider, which can otherwise be pronounced the same in North American dialects, which typically turn both intervocalic /t/ and /d/ into an alveolar flap. Thus, writer and rider are distinguished solely by their vowel characteristics as determined by Canadian raising, which causes a split between rider as [ˈɹäɪɾɚ] and writer as [ˈɹʌɪɾɚ] (listen).
When not in a raised position and before voiceless consonants, /aʊ/ is fronted to [aʊ~æʊ] before nasals and low-central [äʊ] elsewhere.
Unlike many American English dialects, /æ/ remains a low-front vowel in most environments in Canadian English. Raising along the front periphery of the vowel space is restricted to two environments, before nasal and voiced velar consonants, and even then varies regionally. Ontario and Maritime Canadian English often show some raising before nasals, but it is less extreme than in many American varieties. Much less raising is heard on the Prairies, and some ethnic groups in Montreal show no pre-nasal raising at all. On the other hand, some speakers in the Prairies have raising of /æ/ before voiced velars (/ɡ/ and /ŋ/), with an up-glide rather than an in-glide, and so bag can almost rhyme with vague. For most Canadian speakers, /ɛ/ is also realized higher as [e] before /ɡ/.
|New York City,
|Great Lakes |
|fan, lamb, stand||[ɛə][A][B]||[ɛə]||[ɛə]||[ɛə~ɛjə]||[ɛə]||[ɛə]|
|Prevocalic /ɡ/||dragon, magazine||[æ]|
/b, d, ʃ/
|grab, flash, sad||[ɛə][A]||[æ]||[ɛə]|
/f, θ, s/
|ask, bath, half,
|Otherwise||as, back, happy,
Although Canadian English phonology is part of the greater North American sound system and so is therefore similar to American English phonology, the pronunciation of particular words may have British influence, and other pronunciations are uniquely Canadian. The Cambridge History of the English Language states, "What perhaps most characterizes Canadian speakers, however, is their use of several possible variant pronunciations for the same word, sometimes even in the same sentence."
Another pronunciation even more widely heard among older teens and adults in California and throughout the West is 'een' for -ing, as in 'I'm think-een of go-een camp-een.'
Regional Accents ... A distinguishing characteristic of the Upper Midwestern accent is the tendency to turn the 'ing' sound into 'een,' with a cheerful 'Good morneen!'