Canadian toothpicks

The pronunciation of Canadian English

We can find the linguistic expression of the Canadian east-west connection at all linguistic levels.  Vowels, for instance, love to change but when they change in Canada they have been shown to rarely – for some changes never—cross the Canada-US border. For example, the ‘Canadian shift’, first detected in the mid 1990s, affects the ‘short front vowels’, i.e. the three vowels exemplified in black, pen, and tin.  In Canada these vowels move in the opposite direction to the well-established ‘Northern Cities Shift’ in parts of the United States. So in Canada, the vowel in black, for instance, is pronounced farther back in the mouth. Canadian dialects are actually diverging from the American dialects that have experienced the shift, and this despite the high levels of interaction between the two countries.

Other features include ‘Canadian raising’, the most-widely known Canadian pronunciation feature.  Canadian raising affects the diphthongs in words such as wife, price, or life and house, about, or shout. Canadian pronunciations, though far from universal, are often perceived as weef instead of wife and a boot instead of about by outsiders. There are also other, less well-known Canadian differences, such as the Canadian integration pattern of foreign sounds represented by ‘a’. In words like lava, plaza, and drama the foreign ‘a’ sound of the first vowel acquires the vowel in father in American English, is variable in British English, but has traditionally been the vowel of cat in Canadian English.

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