Atlantic Canadian English

Atlantic Canadian English is a class of Canadian English dialects spoken in the Atlantic provinces of Canada and notably distinct from Standard Canadian English.[1] It is composed of Maritime English (or Maritimer English) and Newfoundland English. It was mostly influenced by British and Irish English, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and some Acadian French. Atlantic Canada is the easternmost region of Canada, comprising four provinces located on the Atlantic coast: Newfoundland and Labrador, plus the three Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.[2] Regions such as Miramichi and Cape Breton have a wide variety of phrases and words not spoken outside of their respective regions.

Atlantic Provinces


Canadian English owes its very existence to important historical events, especially the Treaty of Paris of 1763. English was first spoken in Canada in the 17th century, in seasonal fishing communities along the Atlantic coast, including the island of Newfoundland, and at fur trade posts around Hudson Bay.[2] Treated as a marker of upper-class prestige in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, Canadian dainty was marked by the use of some features of British English pronunciation, resulting in an accent similar to the Trans-Atlantic accent known in the United States. Students in school were not permitted to use Gaelic, upon threat of punishment for not using the King's English, and thus Gaelic fell into disuse. The Canadian dainty accent faded in prominence following World War II, when it became stigmatized as pretentious, and is now almost never heard in contemporary Canadian life outside of archival recordings used in film, television or radio documentaries.[3]


The Atlas of North American English (2006) revealed many of the sound changes active within Atlantic Canadian English, including the fronting of PALM in the START sequence (/ɑːr/) and mild Canadian raising, but notably a lack of the Canadian Shift of the short front vowels that exists in the rest of English-speaking Canada. Canadian raising means that the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ are raised to, respectively, [ʌɪ] and [ʌʊ] before voiceless consonants like /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /f/. In all Atlantic Canadian English, /æ/ (the "short a sound") is raised before nasal consonants. This is strongly true in Nova Scotia's Sydney English specifically, which also features a merger of /æɡ/ and /ɡ/ (e.g. making haggle sound like Hagel).[4] This merger, typical of Standard Canadian English as well, is not typical however of the rest of Atlantic Canadian English. Nova Scotia's Halifax English and New Brunswick's Saint John English show /æ/ raising before a few consonants, somewhat reminiscent of a New York accent, though nowhere near as defined (thus, bad has a different vowel sound than bat and back),[5] though Charles Boberg suspects this is an older, recessive feature.[6] Nova Scotia's Lunenburg English may show non-rhotic behaviour,[2] and Nova Scotia English generally has a conservatively back // compared with other Canadian English dialects.[7]

Certain Atlantic Canadian English dialects have been recognized by both popular and scholarly publications for distinctly sounding like Irish English dialects.[8][9] Due to Irish immigration patterns, a strong influence of Irish English features is documented in Newfoundland English, Cape Breton English, and some Halifax English, including a fronting of /ɑː/~/ɒ/,[10][11] a slit fricative realization of /t/, and a rounded realization of /ʌ/.[11] Newfoundland English further shows the cheer–chair merger, the line–loin merger, and a distinct lack of the marry–merry merger.[12]

The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to an alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels, as well as pronouncing it as a glottal stop [ʔ], is less common in the Maritimes than elsewhere in Canada, so that "battery" is pronounced [ˈbætɹi] instead of with a glottal stop. The varied, but similar, Maritimer accents are influenced by an overwhelming majority of early Scottish and Irish immigration namely in the regions of Saint John, Miramichi, Cape Breton and parts of Halifax.


In addition to the above, the English of the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) additionally has some unique phonological features:

  • Like most Canadian English, Maritimer English usually contains Canadian raising, though to a less extreme degree than the rest of the nation. Also, both variants of /aɪ/ can have notably rounded realizations.[11]
  • A merger of coach and couch is possible, due to the raised variant of /aʊ/ being rounded.[11]
  • The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels, as well as pronouncing it as a glottal stop [ʔ], is less common in the Maritimes than in the rest of North America. Therefore, battery is pronounced [ˈbætɹi] instead of [ˈbæɾ(ɨ)ɹi].
  • Especially among the older generation, /w/ and /hw/ are not merged; that is, the beginning sound of why, white, and which is different from that of witch, with, wear.
  • A devoiced and retracted /z/ is traditionally common.[11]


The interrogative "right?" is raised to [ˈɹʌɪt] and is also used as an adverb, as in "It was right foggy today!" That sense may be influenced by Yorkshire dialect "reight" [ˈreit],[2] which means "very, rather, or considerably."

Ingressive speech exists; i.e., "Yeah" or "No", spoken while inhaling (colloquial pronunciation). This is often referred to as a "Gaelic Gasp".[2][pages needed]

Prince Edward Islanders often use more British terms than any other Maritimers, due to the overwhelming homogeneity of the province's Scottish and Irish ethnicity.[2]

Some Maritimers add an /s/ to the end of "somewhere" and "anywhere", producing "somewheres" and "anywheres".[2]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ Labov, William; Sharon Ash; Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 141, 148.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chambers, Jack K. (2010). "English in Canada" (PDF). p. 14. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  3. ^ "Some Canadians used to speak with a quasi-British accent called Canadian Dainty" Archived 5 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine. CBC News, 1 July 2017.
  4. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:182)
  5. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:182, 223)
  6. ^ Boberg, Charles (2011). "Regional variation in the allophones of CANADIAN ENGLISH". Canadian Acoustics, [S.l.], v. 39, n. 3, p. 170-171, sep. 2011. ISSN 2291-1391. Available at: <>.
  7. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:103)
  8. ^ Hickey, Raymond (2007). Irish English: History and Present-Day Forms. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 407–408. ISBN 978-0-521-85299-9.
  9. ^ Hertz, Kayla (2020). "This Canadian woman’s Irish accent sounds straight out of Ireland". IrishCentral. Irish Studio LLC.
  10. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:89)
  11. ^ a b c d e Mari Jones (March 4, 2010). The Lesser-Known Varieties of English: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. p. 65-69. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511676529.004. ISBN 978-1-139-48741-2.
  12. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:219)