Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Canada Day: Celebrating Canadian English

Yesterday was Canada Day, when Canadians the world over celebrate their motherland. Canada Day officially marks the date when the British North America Act of 1867 united three colonies into the Dominion of Canada.

Nowadays, the British North America Act of 1867 is known as the Constitution Act in Canada, though it retains its original name in the UK. It's known as the Constitution Act is due to the fact that a decent portion of Canada's constitution was formed by the act.

While the celebrations certainly looked like a lot of fun, the thing we're really interested in is the main language spoken in Canada. Last year we looked at the languages of Canada, while this year we will examine only one, the English language.

The variety of English spoken in Canada, Canadian English, is often overlooked and ignored. For years this variation of the English language was considered to be nothing more than either a variety or dialect of American English.

Much like American English, Canadian English has been shaped by immigration patterns. Canadian English was initially shaped by immigration from the United States following the War of Independence. Those who had supported the British Empire fled to the areas in the north that were still under British control.

A huge number of people moved to Canada from the British Isles after the Napoleonic Wars right up until the Constitution Act of 1867. While over a million people made their way to Canada from England, Scotland, Wales, and Ireland, scholars still believe those who entered Canada from the US left a more lasting impression on Canadian English, at least in terms of accents, explaining why Canadians sound more like those from the US than those from the UK, Australia, or New Zealand.

Canadian English is particularly interesting in the way it spells words. While American English was quick to remove the letter "u" from any word that barely pronounced it, Canadian English stayed true to the same rules as British English and still technically spells "colour" and "favour" the same way as the Brits. That said, the influence of American media has muddied the waters of Canadian English and some Canadians almost seem uncertain of whether or not they should use the letter "u" in the same way as the Brits.

Even though the Canadians share the British opinion concerning the letter "u", Canadian English, just like American English, prefers the -ize suffix over the -ise suffix which is popular in British spelling. Though -ize is the popular choice in Canada, they technically don't spell it the same, at least not if you ask them, as Canadians refer to the last letter of the alphabet as zed, and not as zee, like Americans do.

All that said, our favourite thing about Canadian English has to be the audible question mark, which is pronounced by some as "eh". Even if you didn't celebrate Canada Day, you can still celebrate Canadian English, which is definitely different to all the other varieties of English.