Pronunciation model: Canadian English

View the key for Canadian English here.

The general homogeneity of Canadian English is well documented, but is somewhat unexpected given the linguistic diversity of its geographically equivalent-sized neighbour to the west and south.

Although beyond the present scope to explore (but see our expanded discussion here and specific pronunciation-focused histories such as in Boberg 2008), the settlement history of Canada goes some way to explaining this, but the outcome is a variety bearing much similarity to those forms of American English widely termed General American. The commonplace ‘flapping’ of /t/, dropping of /j/ in news, stew in a similar way to U.S. English, and particular vowel mergers are all given as evidence that Canadian English is distinctly North American; the OED also assigns similar degrees of stress patterning to the two varieties.

There are several key differences between Canadian and American Englishes, however. Firstly, the vowel mergers have not resulted in exactly the same vowel qualities as the American, as can be noted in the table below for vowels such as LOT, CLOTH, THOUGHT (more rounded than their U.S. counterparts). Secondly, Canadian English has a feature known as Canadian Raising which applies to the MOUTH and PRICE vowels (i.e. when occurring before voiceless consonants). The starting point for these vowels is with the highest point of the tongue slightly higher in the mouth than for the same vowel in other positions. Thirdly, the OED model permits slightly less restricted use of nasalized vowels in Canadian English (in contrast with British or American English) in French-Canadian loanwords. Finally, it would be remiss not to mention that Newfoundland has a distinct phonology (Clarke 2008). Pronunciations of specifically Newfoundland terms use the same symbol set but where necessary are rendered to approximate Story, Kirwin & Widdowson’s Dictionary of Newfoundland English.

Unlike some of the other varieties, the OED model for Canadian English vowels is predominantly derived from an existing Oxford publication, Katherine Barber’s Canadian Oxford Dictionary (CANOD), with a few other sources used for clarification over particular features.

 KEYWORD  Symbol  KEYWORD  Symbol  KEYWORD  Symbol  KEYWORD  Symbol
 KIT   ɪ  FLEECE  iː  NEAR  ir  HAPPY  i
 DRESS  e  GOOSE  uː  SQUARE  er  LETTER  ə
 TRAP  æ  PALM  ɒ  CURE  ʊr (occ. ɜr)  RABBIT  ə (ᵻ rare)
 BATH  æ  START  ɑr  FACE  ei  ADDED  ə (ᵻ rare)
 LOT  ɒ  NURSE  ɜr  PRIDE/PRY/PRICE  ai
əi
 BEAUTIFUL  ə
 CLOTH  ɒ  NORTH  ɔr  VOICE  ɔi  PIANO  i
 STRUT  ʌ  FORCE  ɔr  TOWN/NOW/MOUTH  au  AGO  ə
 FOOT  ʊ  THOUGHT  ɒ (ɒː if final)  GOAT  oː  BECAUSE  ə + i

Four particular features are of note here. Firstly, the vowel symbols used in CANOD are more broadly phonemic than the phonetic descriptions of Boberg and Wells, which means that these symbols are less reflective of their common phonetic realisations than is the case for some of the other models. This particularly affects DRESS (which Boberg and Wells indicate is a more ‘open’ vowel akin to the British and U.S.) and GOAT (to which Wells assigns a shorter ‘o’ and Boberg a slight diphthong). Secondly, as Boberg indicates, Canadian English renders words such as borrow, sorry and tomorrow with the FORCE vowel. Thirdly, as in American English, there may be little distinction if any between the STRUT and AGO vowels. Finally, also as in American English, where /ær/ would be expected it is usually merged at the level of the dress vowel, rendering Mary/merry/marry near-homophones. As mentioned above, this would appear to be more phonetically open than the compromise in the present model, which represents all of these as /er/ (Boberg suggests this would apply to /eir/ also).

 Sources

Barber, K. 2004. Canadian Oxford Dictionary. 2nd ed. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Boberg, C. 2008. English in Canada: phonology. In: E.W. Schneider, ed. Varieties of English 2: the Americas and the Caribbean. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.144-160.

Clarke, S. 2008. Newfoundland English: phonology. In: E.W. Schneider, ed. Varieties of English 2: the Americas and the Caribbean. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter, pp.161-180.

Story, G.M., Kirwin, W.J. and Widdowson, J.D.A., eds. 1982. Dictionary of Newfoundland English. 2nd ed. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.