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Homogeneity and autonomy in Canadian English

One of the most interesting questions about Canadian English is why it is at all different from US English dialects. Given Canada’s proximity to the US and its close ties in terms of trade and business or its exposure to American media outlets, TV, radio and magazines, it is striking that US-Canadian differences persist.

Generally speaking, the linguistic features in the west (Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia) are less diversified than in the east (Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Quebec), which has been settled for a century or more longer. The island of Newfoundland, which joined Canada only in 1949 after hundreds of years as a separate British colony, is the most distinctive linguistic community as compared to Standard Canadian English.

Relative similarity, or homogeneity, of dialects is a common denominator of regions that have been settled for relatively short periods of time. As time progresses, regional, and social dialects are being formed, examples of which include the distinctive neighbourhoods of Montreal. For Ontario westwards, relative linguistic homogeneity has been proposed since at least 1951. Incidentally, the concept is paired with the question of Canadian linguistic autonomy. Canadian linguistic features are maintained by the country’s communication lines that run along the east-west axis, across mountain ranges, vast stretches of prairie land, and other physical barriers. The existence and persistence of Canada, successful in staving off American expansion in the nineteenth century, has given rise to national, pan-Canadian networks: it is not uncommon for Canadians to grow up in the Golden Horseshoe (the area surrounding Toronto and home to one sixth of the population), study in Edmonton on the Prairies, go to graduate school in Vancouver, BC and find work in Halifax, NS These east-west connections and travel streams weave Canadian English together since the completion of the trans-Canada railway in 1886 and have, so far, put a check on larger linguistic diversification.

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