The way Canadian English is pronounced is close to the US accent – but it’s still utterly unique and the product of singular forces, writes Thomas Rogers in his story for BBC.
Canada has always faced several obstacles in defining itself to the outside world. For one, it’s a thinly populated country of 35 million all too easily overshadowed by its neighbour, a hugely powerful country of 319 million with economic clout, an enormous film industry and high-quality TV. Then there’s its history, which lacks the grand mythical arc of most other countries. And, more esoterically, there is the conundrum of the Canadian accent: to most people outside of North America, it is almost impossible to distinguish from the typical US accent – to the point that so many foreigners confuse the two when they’re travelling abroad and Canadians feel the need to attach a flag to their backpacks.
But despite some people’s skepticism there is, in fact, a unique Canadian way of speaking and, despite its subtlety, it remains remarkably resilient. Over the last several decades, the increasing interconnectivity of the world has threatened a number of local dialects across the world, but according to Charles Boberg, an associate professor of linguistics at McGill University and the author of The English Language in Canada , the Canadian accent is stubbornly persistent: “Canadian linguistic identity is here to stay on the long term.”
The primary reason for Canadians’ hard-to-identify accent is, of course, historical. Canadian English was partly shaped by early immigrants from the UK and Ireland, but it was affected much more by the arrival of about 45,000 loyalists to the British crown during the American Revolutionary War. By the outbreak of the War of 1812 a few decades later, a significant part of the population of Ontario – which had about 100,000 inhabitants – were of US extraction. The result, especially west of Quebec, was an accent lightly shaped by British English, but much more so by 18th Century colonial American English. Since Ontarians were largely responsible for settling Western Canada in the following decades, their Americanised accent spread across the country and eventually became the de facto accent for the majority of Canadians.
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