For many, the distinctions between American Accents and Canadian accents is marginal at best... a fact which many casting managers rely on, when filming north of the 49th Parallel for shows ostensibly set in the States. However, when it becomes relevant — or when someone is not quite there, acting wise — certain things can be determined, eh?
Generally, what everyone recognizes as generic "Canadian" is the accent found in Western and Central Canada. This is very similar to General American, or "Newscaster" English. The two major features that distinguish it are "Canadian raising" and the "Canadian shift". Also, we tend to refer to the letter 'z' as 'zed', and may add 'eh?' to the end of our sentences (per the cliché).
Two cases where a Canadian accent was lampooned are with Bob & Doug McKenzie from SCTV, and in South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, where the entire United Nations laughs at the accent of the Canadian ambassador.
- British Columbia: Virtually indistinguishable from Pacific Northwest states like Washington, Oregon, or Idaho. However, there may be some measure of Chinook jargon in an undisguised B.C. accent, such as potlatch, skookum, saltchuck, or muckamuck.
The British Columbian accent is subtle enough not to be strongly associated with a particular usage. However, given B.C.'s strong primary industries, its stance on environmentalism, and its extremely relaxed stance on cannabis usage, hippies old and new tend to have it. Thanks to the active entertainment industry, the "slick businessman" type also tends to be a B.C.er; the "traditional" or "banker-style" businessman being from Toronto or Ottawa.
- Alberta/Prairies: Generally, a close analogue for Midwestern accents, particularly Wisconsin. Tends to be used for rednecks or oilmen. The further west you go, the faster the people speak. Calgarians can sound like their city is a training school for hockey play-by-play announcers. They can get out 100 words before you can say "hello". Alberta accents tend to sound stronger than other Prairie accents even to other Canadians, possibly because despite Alberta's business connections with the US, Albertans live physically further from the US border than other Canadians, and they generally don't cross-border shop in person - after all, who's going to drive sixteen hours roundtrip to Great Falls to buy lightbulbs? On the other hand, certain areas of Winnipeg are heavily bilingual, to the point that it's not unheard of for someone from St. Boniface or St. Norbert (or even north St. Vital) to refer to the "depanneur" instead of the convenience store.
A lot of seniors living in the Prairie Provinces speak English with a slight European accent. Most are first-generation Canadians who grew up in an ethnic enclave, often in a small town, and who as a child only spoke English in school. It's more common in the Parklands, an area of the northern Prairies running in a line roughly from Edmonton to Winnipeg and containing both cities. The most common accent heard among these seniors is Ukrainian due to the large number of Ukrainians who settled the Prairies in the early 20th century. The Ukrainian accent is so common that most people living in the Prairie Provinces will assume that any Eastern European accent is "Ukrainian" unless they're informed otherwise.
A strong Canadian raising exists in the prairie regions together with certain older usages such as chesterfield and front room also associated with the Maritimes. Aboriginal Canadians are a larger and more conspicuous population in prairie cities than elsewhere in the country and certain elements of aboriginal speech in English are sometimes to be heard. Similarly, the linguistic legacy, mostly intonation but also speech patterns and syntax, of the Scandinavian, Slavic and German settlers who are far more numerous and historically important in the Prairies than in Ontario or the Maritimes can be heard in the general milieu. Again, the large Métis population in Saskatchewan also carries with it certain linguistic traits inherited from French, aboriginal and Celtic forebears.
The noun bluff (and the adjective bluffy) in reference to an aspen and willow grove typically surrounding a slough, appears to be unknown outside the Canadian prairies, whereas the eastern Canadian and international use of the term in reference to a low cliff or abutment, is largely unknown in western Canada and causes some puzzlement to newly arrived westerners in Ontario. The phrase whack of is often used in western Canada to refer to a large amount, e.g., We sure got a whole whack of snow in town last week, eh?. Prairie housewives formerly used the somewhat disparaging adjective boughten, also used in the Northern U.S., in reference to bread and other products purchased commercially rather than home-baked. The word is now considered nonstandard, and rarely used. In Saskatchewan, the term "bunny hug" refers to a hooded sweatshirt.
There is noticeable pronunciation differences by which each speaker calls the name of his or her respective city. People from Edmonton generally omit the "d" in their city's name, making it sound more like "Eh-mon-ten". Calgary is pronounced by people native to the city with an /ə/, or omit the second "a" altogether, making the name sound like "Cal-guh-ry" or simply "Cal-g-ry", instead of "Cal-gah-ry", used elsewhere in the country. People from Regina (generally pronounced /rɨˈdʒaɪnə/) are inclined to pronounce the first vowel as an [ə]. People from cities with longer names tend to shorten their city's name to a single syllable, as in the case of Lloydminster (Lloyd), Swift Current (Swift), Medicine Hat (Hat), Lethbridge (Leth), Prince Albert (P.A.) etc. With regards to provincial names, Albertans tend to lessen the emphasis on the "al" in Alberta, making the province's name sound like "ul-ber-ta". Saskatchewan residents pronounce the "wan" as /wɨn/ instead of /wɑːn/, which is used in central and eastern Canada.
Other prairie terms include:
- Slough: A shallow pond that is located in a field that usually dries up in the summer.
- Just to add to the confusion, in British Columbia a 'slough' is closer to a dugout, being a large manmade waterway usually used for flood control.
- Coulee: A valley in the Prairie that was carved out by receding glacial waters from the last Ice Age, usually having a small stream or tributary of a river flowing through them. The term is mostly used in Southern Alberta, mainly Lethbridge and the surrounding area, although it is used in Calgary as well (for example, 12 Mile Coulee Road). The term was coined by French explorers, and means "to flow".
- Most city-born Calgarians, however, will give you a weird look if you call a valley a coulee, as the term is mainly used by rural folk.
- Dugout: A small, artificial (or artificially-deepened) body of water, often dug to provide soil for road construction.
- Chinook: A absurdly strong and warm winter wind that comes over the Rocky Mountains and causes a sudden increase in temperature (2030 degrees in a matter of an hour or two). These winds occur in an area from just north of Calgary to about the US border centered on Lethbridge and fade out before reaching Saskatchewan. It also announces itself.
- Shinny: A form of casual or "pick-up" ice hockey.
- A semi or semi-truck is a large trailer used for the transportation of mostly industrial goods.
- May Long is a regionalism to refer to the long weekend for Victoria Day every May.
- Chauch: A slang term generally referring to young men who work out and attempt to dress well but are ultimately, not classy. (In 1970s Ontario, "chauch" meant attractive young women, normally heard in the expression "Nice chauch". The word was both singular and plural.)
- "Header, gooder, giver" (mostly Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba, although this is also used in parts of the United States): As in, "I'm leaving, it was great, give it all you got".
- Slang terms used for men's briefs Gotch or Gotchies in Saskatchewan, Gonch elsewhere. Gitch in Manitoba.
- Drive truck (as in "I drive truck for Syncrude.") Common in Fort McMurray and similar oil-based towns, to drive truck refers to having a job either as a long distance truck driver or driving a heavy haul truck on an oil sands mining operation, depending on the context or the region in which it is used. The phrasing is similar to that used in Newfoundland accents and likely results from the high number of Newfoundlanders and Maritimers who travel to these cities for work.
- Canadian Dainty is a virtually extinct accent, except in historical artifacts such as archival CBC Radio recordings and Christopher Plummer. Coming from United Empire Loyalist stock but largely extinct by the mid-20th century, it's essentially a Mid-Atlantic accent which grafts some features of British Received Pronunciation onto a precisely hyperenunciated upper class Canadian English; best described as what you get when a native speaker of Canadian English tries to sound as British as possible lest anyone think he's actually from the Dreaded Colonies. Almost never actually heard today, although it still leaves a few isolated traces lingering in the Canadian linguistic pool; it is, for instance, where that old shibboleth about how Canadians are supposed to say "shedule" instead of "skedule" — even though almost nobody actually does anymore — comes from.
- Ottawa Vallley: Ottawa Valley Twang is the accent, sometimes referred to as a dialect of English, that is spoken in the Ottawa Valley, in Ontario, Canada. The Ottawa Valley is considered to be a linguistic enclave within Ontario, in the same manner that Lunenburg, Nova Scotia is within the Maritime Provinces. Ottawa Valley Twang originated with the Irish settlers of the valley the 1840s.
- Toronto: Suburban residents are known to merge the second /t/ with the /n/ in Toronto, pronouncing the name variously as [toˈɹɒɾ̃o], [təˈɹɒɾ̃o] or even [ˈtɹɒɾ̃o] or [ˈtɹɒɾ̃ə]. This, however, is not unique to Toronto as Atlanta is often pronounced "Atlannna" by residents. In Toronto and the areas surrounding Toronto (Central Ontario, Greater Toronto Area), the th sound /ð/ is often pronounced [d]. Sometimes /ð/ is elided altogether, resulting in "Do you want this one er'iss one?" The word southern is often pronounced with [aʊ]. In the regional area north of York and south of Parry Sound, notably among those who were born in these bedroom communities (Barrie, Vaughan, Orillia, Bradford, Newmarket, Keswick, etc.), the cutting down of syllables and consonants often heard, e.g. "probably" is reduced to "prolly", or "probly" when used as a response. In Toronto's ethnic communities there are many words that are distinct; many of which come from the city's large Caribbean community.
- Scarborough: Working-class Toronto suburb. See: Mike Myers, the Barenaked Ladies. The rest of Toronto is very multi-racial, but even so the long time Canadians lack a conspicuous accent. In fact, the accent could be viewed as "generic."
- Southwestern Ontario: In Southwestern Ontario (roughly in the line south from Sarnia to St. Catharines), despite the existence of the many characteristics of West/Central Canadian English, many speakers, especially those under 30 speak a dialect which is influenced by the Inland Northern American English dialect found on much of the American regions adjacent to the Great Lakes, though there are minor differences such as Canadian raising (listen to "ice" vs "my"). Additionally there is a tendency to round the mouth after pronouncing the vowel "o" which is distinct from the General American Accent. Also, the vowel of "bag" sounds closer to "vague" or "egg", "right" sounds like "rate", the "ah" vowel in "can't" is drawn out, sounding like "kee-ant".
- Midwestern Ontario: The subregion of Midwestern Ontario consists of the Counties of Huron, Bruce, Grey, and Perth. The "Queen's Bush" as the area was called, did not experience communication with Southwestern and Central dialects until the early 20th century. Thus, a strong accent similar to Central Ontarian is heard, yet many different phrasings exist. It is typical in the area to drop phonetic sounds to make shorter contractions, such as: Prolly (Probably), Goin' (Going), and "Wuts goin' on tonight? D'ya wanna do sumthin'?" It is particularly strong in the County of Bruce, so much that it is commonly referred to as being the Bruce Cownian (Bruce Countian) accent. Also 'er' sounds are often pronounced 'air', with "were" sounding more like "wear".
- Northern Ontario: Northern Ontario English has several distinct qualities from West/Central Canadian English. With a francophone population of nearly 100,000, there are several French and English words that are used interchangeably. For example, Northern Ontario Francophones often use the English 'truck' instead of the French 'camion', e.g. "J'ai achete' un nouveau truck." Southern Ontarians often refer to a cottage as such, while Northern Ontarians would refer to it as a 'camp'. Similarly, Northern Ontarians often refer to backpacks as pack sacks. Northerns often say "I seen", where the standard English is "I saw" or "I have seen", e.g. "I seen him go to the shop."
- Northwestern Ontario: With a smaller French population, and sizable Aboriginal population, this area is somewhat unique as having elements from both the Western provinces and the rest of Ontario. Communities receive media from both directions, and residents travel frequently to both areas, prompting a blending of dialects. Sharp eared locals can detect from word usage (soda versus pop, hoodie versus bunny hug) where one originated, "Down east," (east of Sault Ste. Marie and beyond the Great Lakes) or "Out West" (west of the Manitoba border).
- Eastern Ontario: Canadian raising is not as strong in Eastern Ontario as it is in the rest of the province. In Prescott and Russell, parts of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and Eastern Ottawa, French accents are often mixed with English ones due to the high Franco-Ontarian population there. In Renfrew County a separate dialect known as Ottawa Valley Twang has developed. In Lanark County, Western Ottawa and Leeds-Grenville and the rest of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, the accent spoken is nearly identical to that spoken in Central Ontario and the Quinte area.
- Quebec English: Influences from the French-speaking community will be strong. Even an Anglophone with limited French might find himself ending sentences on an upturned tone that would otherwise indicate a question, or reading a partially French sign like "Pie IX Boulevard" as "pi neuf", not "pie nine". English Quebeckers also tend to pronounce all the long "A" sounds, so they will pronounce "Larry married Mary in Paris" as "Lahree mahreed Merry in Pahris," whereas English-speakers from west of the Quebec line tend to say "Lerry merried Merry in Perris." English is a minority language in Quebec, but has many speakers in Montreal, the Eastern Townships and in the Gatineau-Ottawa region. Uniquely, Montreal-native anglophones do not fully merge Mary and merry, to most speakers of Canadian English these words are homophones. Among Eastern Townships-native anglophones, syrup is often pronounced as sir-rup.
Quebec also has French influence. A person with English mother tongue and still speaking English as the first language is called an Anglophone. The corresponding term for a French speaker is Francophone and the corresponding term for a person who is neither Anglophone nor Francophone is Allophone. Quebec Anglophones generally pronounce French street names in Montreal as French words, although this is a more recent phenomenon (largely since the introduction of Quebec's notorious language laws that took away bilingual signage. Anglophones over a certain age will still say "St. Lawrence Boulevard", not "Saint-Laurent", pronounce Jeanne-Mance as "Gene Mantz", etc.) Pie IX Boulevard is pronounced as in French, not as "pie nine", but as "pee-nuff". On the other hand, Anglophones do pronounce final d's as in Bernard and Bouchard; the word Montreal is pronounced as an English word and Rue Lambert-Closse is known as Clossy Street.
- English spoken by Francophones: Francophones speaking English also tend to make small mistakes with tenses, such as using saw for see or seen, and mixing up present singular and present plural verbs, such as is instead of are.
Much ado is made of the Quebecois nationalism, so the French accent tends to crop up when filling roles matching the "rude to foreigners" shtick. If this is not the case, they are filling one of two roles: domestic terrorist (less common in these less tense days) or substitute Frenchman stereotype, with drinking, carousing, and cigarette-smoking in quantity. Keep in mind the Quebec journalist who criticized the late French president Charles de Gaulle for calling the Quebecois the "French of America." What De Gaulle didn't understand, the journalist said, is that "Quebecois are actually Americans who speak French."
A quick, easy trick to distinguish a Quebec French accent from the cliche Paris accent: In English the word "the" should be pronounced like "de" and not like "ze". This is dead giveaway. Also, cue in colorful religious-objects-themed curse words.
- Quebec French: If you understand that a taxi driver from the Bronx doesn't speak the same English as a Cambridge law professor, then you should understand that a Quebecois accountant and a Paris computer programmer wouldn't sound the same either. Quebec French at all social levels is very distinct from European French, probably more distinct than Bronx English vs. upper class British English. Quebec French is mostly derived from the Norman-French spoke by the pioneers, which ressembles French for the most part, but has its own share of unique words, which are used interchangably with their French equivalent ("y'a"/"il a", "a'a"/"elle a", ""chu"/"je suis", etc.) and puts less emphasis on voyel quality. Since Parisian French has mostly replaced other dialects in France, these distinctions often come as a surprise to French speakers from European countries. Has some degree of Verbal Tics, as some people say "là"("there") at the end of each sentence. Contrarily to France, Quebec french speakers tend to naturalize foreign words (especially English), either with a direct translation or with a slight tweaking of the word to make the ending sound french (common with -or words: they get changed to -eur). This varies if one is considering "French", Franglish, or...
- Joual: Street French. Rougher in ways, a little more archaic, a little more mixed with other languages. Avoid discussing religious topics, as most of the strongest profanities are based on religious, particularly Catholic, iconology, rather than bodily functions as is true for English (see Bon Cop, Bad Cop for a primer).
- Radio-Canada French Upper class French. When radio and other mediums of audio communication became more prevalent, a lot of people became aware of the gap between Quebec French and European French. This led to a form of Cultural Cringe for some, who adopted the classier French of the old world. This is the French you're going to hear on radio or in movies, where most of the expressions and vocabulary are derived from European french, but with a somewhat distinct pronounciation.
- West Coast French: As the name implies, this tongue-in-cheek 'pseudo-dialect' is particular to the West Coast of Canada, and consists of English phrases directly transliterated into French (often at the expense of grammar). Any attempt to use West Coast French in an actual French-speaking country is not recommended, as it does not, by any stretch of the imagination, translate intelligibly.
- Maritimes: Reasonably close to Northeastern coastal accents, with a slight influence from Acadian French and a slightly stronger one from the Scottish community of the area. Tends to be slightly slower than the central Canadian (Torontonian) accent, especially in the rural areas. To a Maritimer the Torontonian pronunciation of their city's name sounds something like 'Tarana' or 'Trana'. The accent shows a distinct spectrum from west to east, with New Brunswick not that different from Central Canadian, proceeding to more distinctive in mainland Nova Scotia and with the greatest distinction on Cape Breton Island. The Caper accent is the closest to the Newfoundland accent out of Newfoundland one can find. In all provinces the accent along the coasts (outside the cities) is stronger than in the interiors, leading to the general perception that someone with a pronounced accent likely works in the fishing industry. For those outside of the Maritimes, the most distinctive aspect of this accent it a hard or elongated 'r', which isn't uncommon in places like Halifax and Truro, despite the stereotypes which suggest otherwise.
- Actually, people from PEI speak pretty fast, if the comments of my uncle from Calgary and teacher from New Brunswick are to be believed.
- And the Cape Breton accent (and Nova Scotia accent in general), even at their thickest are easily differentiated from the (many, many) Newfoundland. The quick and dirt rule is that a thick NS accent is some sort of vaguely-Scottish (hence "New Scotland") accent, whereas Newfoundland is more like a Irish-English-Canadian English hybrid dialect.
- It should be noted that New Brunswickers have accents varying by region too. You just need to know the local slang to determine where someone's from. Most New Brunswickers and even people outside the province can tell when someone comes from Miramichi. In general, if you ask them "Hows she goin?" and they reply with "very best!" they're a Miramichier.
- Acadian French: while Acadian French proper tends to be equivalent to joual, a more recent evolution, call chiac has been recognized as a distinct dialect, using not only English words but entire English phrases on a French grammatical base with French pronunciation and even verb forms. J'va parker mon char. (I'm going to park my car) is a good example. It's stereotypically spoken by someone who can't speak either English or French "properly" but in the last few years there's been a growing use of it in literature and television. This form of French is spoken primarily in Eastern Canada, and especially in New Brunswick and the Gaspé (The bit of Québec on the South side of the St. Laurence River.) where the joke is "Move to New Brunswick and lose your French and your English both." As a bit of historical trivia, the word "Cajun" is a corruption of "Acadian," as a lot of settlers in that area were exiles from Acadia.
- It should be pointed out that chiac is a fairly recent concept, with most of its active speakers being 40 or younger. Before then, people from New Brunswick spoke either French or English. Chiac is a result of the loosening of these cultural divisions and both languages merging into a common dialect. It should by no means be used as an indicator that the individual cannot speak "proper" French or English - speaking chiac is commonly a concious decision on the part of a speaker who is also fluent in either "proper" French or Canadian English - and often both.
- Newfoundland English: Not just an accent, but an actual dialect in its full form. If an accent is recognized by a non-Canadian, it'll be this one; even Quebecois French may be mistaken for Continental French, but "Newfunese" or "Newfie" is a class all its own. Pronounciation, words and even grammar are different from anywhere else, even the Maritime provinces. Think a stereotypical pirate/sailor accent, with fewer "arr"s, the addition of rounding the long-"i" (so "Mike" sounds like "Moike") and unusual constructions like "That was some boring" instead of "That was very boring." "Whaddya at?" is the archetypal greeting. In conversation, every sententce will end in "b'y" (boy) or "dear" depending the gender of the person being spoken too. See Rick Mercer for a "townie" St. John's accent, or the movie The Shipping News for reasonable rendered "bay" accents. Linguistically, English in North America is divided between Newfoundland...and everywhere else.
Newfs are funny, if one goes by the sheer number of them doing comedy on Canadian television; stereotypically, they fill many of the roles that the Irish do for British TV, or anything in the "uneducated but canny" range of roles. In recent years, thanks in part to This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the accent is also associated with a sharp-tongued jab about to hit. Indeed, Newfoundlanders, and Maritimers in general, seem somewhat overrepresented in Canadian comedy in no small part due to This Hour Has 22 Minutes and other Canadian comedy shows produced in the region. Here's an example.
It should be noted that a 'Newfoundland accent' is nearly impossible for a non-Newfoundlander to manage; the result of such efforts is usually that the speaker ends up sounding more 'Ireland' than 'Newfoundland'.
In the past twenty years some Newfoundland phrases and pronunciations have leaked into standard Canadian English, especially in previously sparsely populated areas such as northeastern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories where so many Newfoundlanders have moved for work. This can disconcert the traveller who expects Yellowknife to be just like Edmonton until someone tells them that the fishing is right good this week but he's some worried about the blackflies.
- First Nations: The accent itself is similar to that used by Native Americans especially those from the northern states there are some specific differences. For one Canadian Aboriginals have a much stronger rhythmic element to their accent. First Nations tend to stretch the first part of words and clip the second syllable so that Ever Sick becomes Eevvv-R Ssiii-k. Also Native tends to pitch their speech so that their voice go very high on the long syllables. This is actually something of an emotional cue with high notes indicating joy and joking with low notes indicating seriousness. Aboriginals don't tend to use volume as an emotional cue so for instance just because the Aboriginal person is yelling doesn't always mean they're angry although it can.
The two most noticeable regional differences are how mach an accent drawls and is muddied generally the further east you go the more drawling the accent and the further North you go the muddier the accent(although mileage varies naturally). Aboriginal accents are very geographically specific and most reserves with have their unique features to the point that person can be identified as coming from a specific place just by their accent (at least by other Aboriginals). Urban Natives often have their own specific accent which is usually a mix of the various local aboriginal accents. Also Aboriginals will have their own idioms such as "ever sick" which best translates to "majorly nasty" or phrasing like "close the light". Most reserves will have their own unique set of these.
Many media examples, such as Lorne Cardinal on Corner Gas feature even less-accented speakers talking as if their teeth are clenched with each word. This is actually a usually the result of actors trying to minimize their accents to fit a specific example of an aboriginal accent popular in period pieces. It's disappearing though as more native actors (you'll notice Corner Gas's other Native actors had more natural native accents) are finding work in a broader range of roles. Also Canadian Aboriginals do incorporate aspects of their regional accents into their speech for instance an aboriginal person from Nova Scotia will pronounce their Rs in the typical Nova Scotia manner.
Usage of First Nations accents is notable for a lack of a common association found elsewhere. Generally, Canadian programming has more roles open to aboriginal people that do not rely on them being "the Indian guy", as is typically seen when an American Indian appears in a U.S. show.
As with First Nations characters, Canada's emphasis on multiculturalism, particularly in recent years, has led to a larger numbers of strong Indo-Canadian and Chinese accents appearing "without qualification" on-screen. This may seem strange to those used to American tendencies to hyper-emphasis on cultural background.