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,[1] excluding the regional dialects of Atlantic Canadian English. Canadian English has a mostly uniform phonology and much less dialectal diversity than neighbouring American English.[2] In particular, Standard Canadian English is defined by the cot–caught merger to [ɒ] 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 Montreal, 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):[3] 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[4] that is almost [e] in the Canadian Prairies.[5]

Phonetics and phonology

Based on Labov et al.; averaged F1/F2 means for speakers from Western and Central Canada. Note that /ɒ/ and /ɔ/ are indistinguishable and that /æ/ and /ɛ/ are very open.
Standard Canadian vowels
Front Central Back
lax tense lax tense lax tense
Close ɪ i u ʊ
Mid ɛ ə (ʌ)
Open æ ɒ
Diphthongs   ɔɪ     (ʌɪ)   (ʌʊ)

Back vowel fronting

The onset of unraised /aʊ/ is usually low central [äʊ],[6] though it may be fronted before nasals. /oʊ/ usually remains backed [oʊ~o], unlike the fronted values found in the South, the Midland or California. That said, fronted pronunciations of /oʊ/ may exist for some younger speakers. In addition, some younger speakers front and lower /ʊ/.[7]

Unlike most Northern American English, /u/ is generally fronted in Canadian English. In Victoria, where the historical distinction between post-coronal /ju/ and /u/ is often maintained, the latter may be so front as to gain a [j]-like onglide.[8]

Low-back merger

Main article: Cot-caught merger

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 central Canada) or [ɑ] (more common in the Maritimes and eastern mainland Canada in which it can even be fronted). Speakers with the merger often fail to hear the difference when speakers without the merger, such as General American (GenAm) and Inland Northern American English, pronounce the vowels. The merger has existed in Canada for several generations.[9]

Some speakers may not exhibit the merger, especially older speakers and those living in rural areas or in the Prairies.

The standard pronunciation of /ɑr/ (as in start) is [ɑɹ], as in GenAm, 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.[10] The latter set of words often distinguishes Canadian from American pronunciation. In Standard Canadian English, there is no distinction between horse and hoarse.[citation needed]

Loanwords that have a low central vowel in their language of origin, such as llama, pasta, and pyjamas, as well as place names like Gaza and Vietnam, tend to have /æ/, rather than /ɒ/ (which includes the historical /ɑ/, /ɒ/ and /ɔ/ because of the father–bother and cot–caught mergers). That also applies to older loans like drama or Apache. The word khaki is sometimes pronounced /ˈkɒki/ (or even /ˈkɒrki/). The pronunciation of drama with /æ/ is in decline, and studies found that 83% of Canadians used /æ/ in 1956, 47% in 1999, and 10% in 2012.[11] More generally, younger speakers tend to use /ɒ/ more than they did before, though there's still quite a bit of variation.[12][page needed] Some words, including plaza, façade, and lava will take a low central phone [ä], possibly distinct from both /æ/ and /ɒ/.[13]

Canadian Shift

Main article: Canadian Shift

The cot-caught merger creates a gap in the short vowel subsystem[14] 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,[15] and the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver[16] and is more advanced for Ontarians and for women than for people from the Prairies and Atlantic Canada and men.[17]

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.[18][19][20][21] 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 oppositely 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.


See also: /æ/ raising

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 and British Columbia have raising of /æ/ before voiced velars (/ɡ/ and /ŋ/, with an up-glide rather than an in-glide, such that bag may almost rhyme with vague.[22] For most Canadian speakers, /ɛ/ is also realized higher as [e] before /ɡ/.

/æ/ raising in North American English[23]
New York City,
New Orleans[25]
Midland US,
New England,
Western US
Canada, Northern
Mountain US
Great Lakes
/m, n/
fan, lamb, stand [ɛə][27][A][B] [ɛə][27] [ɛə~ɛjə][30] [ɛə][31] [ɛə][32]
/m, n/
animal, planet,
/ŋ/[33] frank, language [ɛː~eɪ~æ][34] [æ~æɛə][30] [ɛː~ɛj][31] [~ej][35]
bag, drag [ɛə][A] [æ][C] [æ][27][D]
Prevocalic /ɡ/ dragon, magazine [æ]
/b, d, ʃ/
grab, flash, sad [ɛə][A] [æ][D][37] [ɛə][37]
/f, θ, s/
ask, bath, half,
Otherwise as, back, happy,
  1. ^ a b c d In New York City and Philadelphia, most function words (am, can, had, etc.) and some learned or less common words (alas, carafe, lad, etc.) have [æ].[28]
  2. ^ In Philadelphia, the irregular verbs began, ran, and swam have [æ].[29]
  3. ^ In Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone in this context have [ɛə].[28]
  4. ^ a b The untensed /æ/ may be lowered and retracted as much as [ä] in varieties affected by the Low Back Merger Shift, mainly predominant in Canada and the American West.[36]
  5. ^ In New York City, certain lexical exceptions exist (like avenue being tense) and variability is common before /dʒ/ and /z/ as in imagine, magic, and jazz.[38]
    In New Orleans, [ɛə] additionally occurs before /v/ and /z/.[39]

Canadian raising

Main article: Canadian raising

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.[2] 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].[40][6] 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 GenAm, out is typically [äʊt] , but with slight Canadian raising, it may sound more like [ɐʊt] , 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 can 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).

Phonemic incidence

This section needs additional citations for verification. Please help improve this article by adding citations to reliable sources in this section. Unsourced material may be challenged and removed. (October 2022) (Learn how and when to remove this message)

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."[41]

Features shared with General American

Like most other North American English dialects, Canadian English is almost always spoken with a rhotic accent, meaning that the r sound is preserved in any environment and not "dropped" after vowels, as commonly done by, for example, speakers in central and southern England where it is only pronounced when preceding a vowel.

Like GenAm, Canadian English possesses a wide range of phonological mergers, many of which are not found in other major varieties of English: the Mary–marry–merry merger which makes word pairs like Barry/berry, Carrie/Kerry, hairy/Harry, perish/parish, etc. as well as trios like airable/errable/arable and Mary/merry/marry have identical pronunciations (however, a distinction between the marry and merry sets remains in Montreal);[2] the father–bother merger that makes lager/logger, con/Kahn, etc. sound identical; the very common horse–hoarse merger making pairs like for/four, horse/hoarse, morning/mourning, war/wore etc. perfect homophones (as in California English, the vowel is phonemicized as /oʊ/ due to the cot–caught merger: /foʊr/ etc.);[citation needed] the hurry-furry merger; and the prevalent wine–whine merger which produces homophone pairs like Wales/whales, wear/where, wine/whine etc. by, in most cases, eliminating /hw/ (ʍ), except in some older speakers.[9]

In addition to that, flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] before reduced vowels is ubiquitous, so the words ladder and latter, for example, are mostly or entirely pronounced the same. Therefore, the pronunciation of the word "British" /ˈbrɪtəʃ/ in Canada and the U.S. is most often [ˈbɹɪɾɪʃ], while in England it is commonly [ˈbɹɪtɪʃ] or [ˈbɹɪʔɪʃ]. For some speakers, the merger is incomplete and 't' before a reduced vowel is sometimes not tapped following /eɪ/ or /ɪ/ when it represents underlying 't'; thus greater and grader, and unbitten and unbidden are distinguished.

Many Canadian speakers have the typical American dropping of /j/ after alveolar consonants, so that new, duke, Tuesday, suit, resume, lute, for instance, are pronounced /nu/ (rather than /nju/), /duk/, /ˈtuzdeɪ/, /sut/, /rəˈzum/, /lut/. Traditionally, glide retention in these contexts has occasionally been held to be a shibboleth distinguishing Canadians from Americans. However, in a survey conducted in the Golden Horseshoe area of Southern Ontario in 1994, over 80% of respondents under the age of 40 pronounced student and news, for instance, without /j/.[48] This glide-deletion is less common in Victoria, though younger speakers front /u/ to such a degree after coronals that some words can take a [j]-like onglide.[8] Canadians do include /j/ in revenue and avenue.

Especially in Vancouver and Toronto, an increasing number of Canadians realize /ɪŋ/ as [in] when the raising of /ɪ/ to [i] before the underlying /ŋ/[49] is applied even after the "g" is dropped, leading to a variant pronunciation of taking, [ˈteɪkin]. Otherwise it primarily is found in speakers from not just California but also from other Western states and Midwestern areas including the Upper Midwest.[50][51] Speakers who use the [in] variant use it only for the underlying /ɪŋ/, which makes taking with a dropped "g" no longer homophonous with taken. This pronunciation is otherwise perceived as incorrect and has been described as a "corruption of the language" by some listeners.[52]


  1. ^ The GOAT phoneme is here transcribed as a diphthong /oʊ/, in accordance with leading phonologists on Canadian English like William Labov,[53] Charles Boberg,[54] and others,[55][56] though monophthongal phonetic variants are also common in actual speech.
  2. ^ The pronunciation with the stress on the second syllable is the most common pronunciation but is considered incorrect by some people.[45]


  1. ^ Dollinger, Stefan (2012). "Varieties of English: Canadian English in real-time perspective." In English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook (HSK 34.2), Alexander Bergs and Laurel J. Brinton (ed.), 1858-1880. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 1859-1860.
  2. ^ a b c Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 222.
  3. ^ Boberg (2008).
  4. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 223–224.
  5. ^ Boberg (2008), p. 150.
  6. ^ a b Boberg, Charles. "Boberg (2008) JENGL paper on Regional Phonetic Differentiation in Canadian English". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  7. ^ Boberg, Charles (2011) "Reshaping the Vowel System: An Index of Phonetic Innovation in Canadian English," University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics: Vol. 17: Iss. 2, Article 4.
  8. ^ a b Roeder, Rebecca; Onosson, Sky; D’Arcy, Alexandra (2018). "Joining the Western Region: Sociophonetic Shift in Victoria". Journal of English Linguistics. 46 (2): 87–112. doi:10.1177/0075424217753987. ISSN 0075-4242.
  9. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 218.
  10. ^ Kretzchmar, William A. (2004), Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar W. (eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 359, ISBN 9783110175325
  11. ^ Boberg (2020), p. 62.
  12. ^ Boberg (2020).
  13. ^ Boberg, Charles. "Boberg (2009) LVC paper on foreign (a) and emergence of a new phoneme in Canadian English". ((cite journal)): Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ Martinet, Andre 1955. Economie des changements phonetiques. Berne: Francke.
  15. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 219.
  16. ^ Esling, John H. and Henry J. Warkentyne (1993). "Retracting of /æ/ in Vancouver English."
  17. ^ Charles Boberg, "Sounding Canadian from Coast to Coast: Regional accents in Canadian English."
  18. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006).
  19. ^ Charles Boberg, "The Canadian Shift in Montreal".
  20. ^ Robert Hagiwara. "Vowel production in Winnipeg".
  21. ^ Rebecca V. Roeder and Lidia Jarmasz. "The Canadian Shift in Toronto."
  22. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 221.
  23. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 182.
  24. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174.
  25. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174, 260–261.
  26. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174, 238–239.
  27. ^ a b c Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2.
  28. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 173.
  29. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 238.
  30. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 178, 180.
  31. ^ a b Boberg (2008), p. 145.
  32. ^ Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2; Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 175–177.
  33. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 183.
  34. ^ Baker, Mielke & Archangeli (2008).
  35. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 181–182.
  36. ^ Boberg (2008), pp. 130, 136–137.
  37. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 82, 123, 177, 179.
  38. ^ Labov (2007), p. 359.
  39. ^ Labov (2007), p. 373.
  40. ^ Boberg.[full citation needed]
  41. ^ The Cambridge History of the English Language, edited by John Algeo, Volume 6, p. 431
  42. ^ Bill Casselman. "Zed and zee in Canada". Archived from the original on 2012-06-26. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  43. ^ J.K. Chambers (2002). Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and Its Social Significance (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  44. ^ a b Ballingall, Alex (6 July 2014). "How do you pronounce Lieutenant Governor?". Toronto Star. Archived from the original on 11 December 2023. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  45. ^ Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  46. ^ "pecan /ˈpikæn, /piˈkæn/, /pəˈkɒn/" Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  47. ^ Vase. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  48. ^ Changes in Progress in Canadian English: Yod-dropping, Excerpts from J.K. Chambers, "Social embedding of changes in progress." Journal of English Linguistics 26 (1998), accessed March 30, 2010.
  49. ^ Walker, James A. (2019). "Sociophonetics at the intersection of variable processes: Variable in English (ING)" (PDF). In Sasha Calhoun; Paola Escudero; Marija Tabain; Paul Warren (eds.). Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019. Canberra: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc. pp. 34–37.
  50. ^ Metcalf, Allan (2000). "The Far West and beyond". How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 143. ISBN 0618043624. 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.'
  51. ^ Hunter, Marsha; Johnson, Brian K. (2009). "Articulators and Articulation". The Articulate Advocate: New Techniques of Persuasion for Trial Attorneys. Crown King Books. p. 92. ISBN 9780979689505. 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!'
  52. ^ "NOT EVEN NETWORK STARS PRONOUNCE WORDS CORRECTLY". Orlando Sentinel. November 7, 1990.
  53. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. [page needed].
  54. ^ Boberg (2008), p. 130.
  55. ^ Bories-Sawala, Helga (2012). Qui parle canadien? diversité, identités et politiques linguistiques. Germany, Brockmeyer, pp. 10-11.
  56. ^ Trudgill, Peter; Hannah, Jean (2013). "The pronunciation of Canadian English: General Canadian". International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, p. 53.