Standard Canadian English

Standard Canadian English is the largely homogeneous variety of Canadian English that is spoken particularly across Ontario and Western Canada, as well as throughout Canada among urban middle-class speakers from English-speaking families,[1] excluding the regional dialects of Atlantic Canadian English. Canadian English has a mostly uniform phonology and much less dialectal diversity than neighbouring American English.[2] In particular, Standard Canadian English is defined by the cot–caught merger to [ɒ] (listen) and an accompanying chain shift of vowel sounds, which is called the Canadian Shift. A subset of the dialect geographically at its central core, excluding British Columbia to the west and everything east of Montréal, has been called Inland Canadian English. It is further defined by both of the phenomena that are known as Canadian raising (which is found also in British Columbia and Ontario):[3] the production of /oʊ/[a] and /aʊ/ with back starting points in the mouth and the production of /eɪ/ with a front starting point and very little glide[4] that is almost [e] in the Prairie Provinces.[5]

Phonetics and phonologyEdit

Based on Labov et al.; averaged F1/F2 means for speakers from Western and Central Canada. Note that /ɒ/ and /ɔ/ are indistinguishable and that /a/ and /ɛ/ are very open.
Standard Canadian vowels
Front Central Back
lax tense lax tense
Close ɪ i ʊ u
Mid ɛ ə ʌ
Open æ ɒ
Diphthongs   ɔɪ  

The phonemes /oʊ/ (as in boat) and /eɪ/ (as in bait) have qualities that are almost monophthongal for some speakers, especially in the Prairie Provinces.

Almost all Canadians have the cot–caught merger, which also occurs primarily in the Western United States but also often elsewhere in the country, especially recently. Few Canadians distinguish the vowels in cot and caught, which merge as [ɒ] (more common in Western and Maritime Canada) or [ɑ] (more common in central and eastern mainland Canada in which it can even be fronted). Speakers with the merger produce the vowels identically and often fail to hear the difference when speakers without the merger, such as General American and Inland Northern American English, pronounce the vowels. The merger has existed in Canada for several generations.[6]

The standard pronunciation of /ɒr/ (as in start) is [ɑɹ], as in General American, or perhaps somewhat fronted as [ɑ̈ɹ]. As with Canadian raising, the advancement of the raised nucleus can be a regional indicator. A striking feature of Atlantic Canadian speech (in the Maritime Provinces and Newfoundland) is a nucleus that approaches the front region of the vowel space; it is accompanied by a strong rhoticity ranging from [ɜɹ] to [ɐɹ].

Words such as origin, Florida, horrible, quarrel, warren, as well as tomorrow, sorry, sorrow, generally use the sound sequence of FORCE, rather than START. The latter set of words often distinguishes Canadian from American pronunciation. In Standard Canadian English, there is no distinction between horse and hoarse.

The merger creates a gap in the short vowel subsystem[7] and triggers a sound change known as the Canadian Shift, which involves the front lax vowels /æ, ɛ, ɪ/. The /æ/ of bat is lowered and retracted in the direction of [a] except in some environments, as is noted below. Indeed, /æ/ is farther back than in almost all other North American dialects,[8] and the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver[9] and is more advanced for Ontarians and for women than for people from the Prairies and Atlantic Canada and men.[10]

Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ may be lowered (in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ]) and/or retracted, but studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift.[11][12][13][14] For example, Labov and others (2006) noted a backward and downward movement of /ɛ/ in apparent time in all of Canada except the Atlantic Provinces, but no movement of /ɪ/ was detected.

Therefore, in Canadian English, the short a of trap or bath and the broad ah quality of spa or lot are shifted in the opposite way from those of the Northern Cities shift, which is found across the border in Inland Northern American English, and is causing both dialects to diverge. In fact, the Canadian short-a is very similar in quality to Inland Northern spa or lot. For example, the production [map] would be recognized as map in Canada but mop in Inland Northern United States.

A notable exception to the merger occurs, and some speakers over the age of 60, especially in rural areas in the Prairies, may not exhibit the merger.

Perhaps the most recognizable feature of Canadian English is "Canadian raising," which is found most prominently throughout central and west-central Canada and in parts of the Atlantic Provinces.[2] For the beginning points of the diphthongs (gliding vowels) /aɪ/ (as in the words height and mice) and /aʊ/ (as in shout and house), the tongue is often more "raised" than in other varieties of English in the mouth when the diphthongs are before voiceless consonants: /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /ʃ/, and /f/.

Before voiceless consonants, /aɪ/ becomes [ʌɪ~ɜɪ~ɐɪ]. One of the few phonetic variables that divides Canadians regionally is the articulation of the raised allophone of that and /aʊ/. In Ontario, it tends to have a mid-central or even mid-front articulation sometimes approaching [ɛʊ], but in the West and the Maritimes, a more retracted sound is heard, which is closer to [ʌʊ].[15][16] For some speakers in the Prairies and in Nova Scotia, the retraction is strong enough to cause some tokens of raised /aʊ/ to merge with /oʊ/; couch then merges with coach, and both words sound the same (/koʊtʃ/). Also, about then sounds like a boat, which is often inaccurately represented as sounding like "a boot" for comic effect in American popular culture.

In General American, out is typically [äʊt] ( listen), but with slight Canadian raising, it may sound more like [ɐʊt] ( listen), and with the strong Canadian raising of the Prairies and Nova Scotia, it may sound more like IPA: [ʌʊt]. Canadian raising makes words like height and hide have two different vowel qualities. Also, for example, house as a noun (I saw a house) and house as a verb (Where will you house them tonight?) can then have two different vowel qualities: [hɐʊs] and [haʊz].

Especially in parts of the Atlantic Provinces, some Canadians do not have Canadian raising. On the other hand, certain non-Canadian accents use Canadian raising. In the United States, it can be found in areas near the border in dialects in the Upper Midwest, Pacific Northwest, and Northeastern New England (like Boston) dialects, but Canadian raising is much less common than in Canada. The raising of /aɪ/ alone is actually increasing throughout the United States and, unlike the raising of /aʊ/, is generally not perceived as unusual by people who do not exhibit the raising.

Because of Canadian raising, many speakers are able to distinguish between words such as writer and rider, which can otherwise be pronounced the same in North American dialects, which typically turn both intervocalic /t/ and /d/ into an alveolar flap. Thus, writer and rider are distinguished solely by their vowel characteristics as determined by Canadian raising, which causes a split between rider as [ˈɹäɪɾɚ] and writer as [ˈɹʌɪɾɚ] ( listen).

When not in a raised position and before voiceless consonants, /aʊ/ is fronted to [aʊ~æʊ] before nasals and low-central [äʊ] elsewhere.[16][citation needed]

Unlike many American English dialects, /æ/ remains a low-front vowel in most environments in Canadian English. Raising along the front periphery of the vowel space is restricted to two environments, before nasal and voiced velar consonants, and even then varies regionally. Ontario and Maritime Canadian English often show some raising before nasals, but it is less extreme than in many American varieties. Much less raising is heard on the Prairies, and some ethnic groups in Montreal show no pre-nasal raising at all. On the other hand, some speakers in the Prairies have raising of /æ/ before voiced velars (/ɡ/ and /ŋ/), with an up-glide rather than an in-glide, and so bag can almost rhyme with vague.[17] For most Canadian speakers, /ɛ/ is also realized higher as [e] before /ɡ/.

/æ/ raising in North American English[18]
New York City,
New Orleans[20]
Midland US,
New England,
Western US
Mountain US
Great Lakes
/m, n/
fan, lamb, stand [ɛə][22][A][B] [ɛə][22] [ɛə~ɛjə][25] [ɛə][26] [ɛə][27]
/m, n/
animal, planet,
/ŋ/[28] frank, language [ɛː~eɪ~æ][29] [æ~æɛə][25] [ɛː~ɛj][26] [eː~ej][30]
bag, drag [ɛə][A] [æ][C] [æ][22]
Prevocalic /ɡ/ dragon, magazine [æ]
/b, d, ʃ/
grab, flash, sad [ɛə][A] [æ][31] [ɛə][31]
/f, θ, s/
ask, bath, half,
Otherwise as, back, happy,
  1. ^ a b c d In New York City and Philadelphia, most function words (am, can, had, etc.) and some learned or less common words (alas, carafe, lad, etc.) have [æ].[23]
  2. ^ In Philadelphia, the irregular verbs began, ran, and swam have [æ].[24]
  3. ^ In Philadelphia, bad, mad, and glad alone in this context have [ɛə].[23]
  4. ^ In New York City, certain lexical exceptions exist (like avenue being tense) and variability is common before /dʒ/ and /z/ as in imagine, magic, and jazz.[32]
    In New Orleans, [ɛə] additionally occurs before /v/ and /z/.[33]

Phonemic incidenceEdit

Although Canadian English phonology is part of the greater North American sound system and so is therefore similar to American English phonology, the pronunciation of particular words may have British influence, and other pronunciations are uniquely Canadian. The Cambridge History of the English Language states, "What perhaps most characterizes Canadian speakers, however, is their use of several possible variant pronunciations for the same word, sometimes even in the same sentence."[34]

  • The name of the letter Z is normally the Anglo-European (and French) zed, and the American zee is less common in Canada and often stigmatized but remains common, especially for younger speakers.[35][36]
  • Lieutenant was historically pronounced as the British /lɛfˈtɛnənt/, rather than the American /luˈtɛnənt/,[37] and older speakers and official usage in military and government contexts typically still follow the older practice, but most younger speakers and many middle-aged speakers have shifted to the American pronunciation. Some middle-aged speakers cannot even remember the existence of the older pronunciation, even when they are specifically asked whether they can think of another pronunciation. Only 14-19% of 14-year-olds used the traditional pronunciation in a survey in 1972, and in early 2017, they were at least 57 years old.[37]
  • In the words adult and composite, the stress is usually on the first syllable (/ˈædʌlt/ ~ /ˈædəlt/, /ˈkɒmpəzət/), as in Britain.
  • Canadians often side with the British on the pronunciation of lever /ˈlivər/, and several other words; been is pronounced by many speakers as /bin/, rather than /bɪn/;[citation needed] and either and neither are more commonly /ˈaɪðər/ and /ˈnaɪðər/, respectively.[citation needed]
  • Furthermore, in accordance with British traditions, schedule is sometimes /ˈʃɛdʒul/; process, progress, and project are occasionally pronounced /ˈproʊsɛs/, /ˈproʊɡrɛs/, and /ˈproʊdʒɛkt/, respectively; harass and harassment are sometimes pronounced /ˈhærəs/ and /ˈhærəsmənt/ respectively,[b] and leisure is rarely /ˈlɛʒər/.
  • Shone is pronounced /ʃɒn/, rather than /ʃoʊn/.
  • Again and against are often pronounced /əˈɡeɪn, əˈɡeɪnst/, rather than /əˈɡɛn, əˈɡɛnst/.[citation needed]
  • The stressed vowel of words such as borrow, sorry, and tomorrow is [ɔ], like the vowel of FORCE, rather than of START.[39]
  • Words like semi, anti, and multi tend to be pronounced /ˈsɛmi/, /ˈænti/, and /ˈmʌlti/, rather than /ˈsɛmaɪ/, /ˈæntaɪ/, and /ˈmʌltaɪ/.
  • Loanwords that have a low central vowel in their language of origin, such as llama, pasta, and pyjamas, as well as place names like Gaza and Vietnam, tend to have /æ/, rather than /ɒ/ (which includes the historical /ɑ/, /ɒ/ and /ɔ/ because of the father–bother and cot–caught mergers: see below). That also applies to older loans like drama or Apache. The word khaki is sometimes pronounced /ˈkɒki/ or /ˈkɒrki/. The latter was the preferred pronunciation of the Canadian Army during World War II.[c] The pronunciation of drama with /æ/ is in decline, and studies found that 83% of Canadians used /æ/ in 1956, 47% in 1999, and 10% in 2012.[40]
  • Words of French origin, such as clique and niche, are pronounced with a high vowel as in French, with /klik/ rather than /klɪk/ and /niʃ/ rather than /nɪtʃ/.
  • Pecan is usually /ˈpikæn/ or /piˈkæn/, as opposed to /pəˈkɒn/, which more common in the United States.[41]
  • Syrup is commonly pronounced /ˈsɪrəp/ or /ˈsərəp/.
  • The most common pronunciation of vase is /veɪz/.[42] Resource, diagnose, and visa also have /z/.
  • The word premier, the leader of a provincial or territorial government, is commonly pronounced /ˈprimjər/, but /ˈprɛmjɛr/ and /ˈprimjɛr/ are rare variants.
  • Some Canadians pronounce predecessor as /ˈpridəsɛsər/ and asphalt as /ˈæʃfɒlt/.[citation needed]
  • The word milk is pronounced /mɛlk/ (to rhyme with elk) by some speakers but /mɪlk/ (to rhyme with ilk) by others.[citation needed]
  • The word room is pronounced /rum/ or /rʊm/.
  • Many anglophone Montrealers pronounced French names with a Québec accent: Trois-Rivières [tʁ̥wɑʁiˈvjæːʁ] or [tʁ̥wɑʁiˈvjaɛ̯ʁ].

Features shared with General AmericanEdit

Like most other North American English dialects, Canadian English is almost always spoken with a rhotic accent, meaning that the r sound is preserved in any environment and not "dropped" after vowels, as commonly done by, for example, speakers in central and southern England where it is only pronounced when preceding a vowel.

Like General American, Canadian English possesses a wide range of phonological mergers, many of which are not found in other major varieties of English: the Mary–marry–merry merger which makes word pairs like Barry/berry, Carrie/Kerry, hairy/Harry, perish/parish, etc. as well as trios like airable/errable/arable and Mary/merry/marry have identical pronunciations (however, a distinction between the marry and merry sets remains in Montreal);[2] the father–bother merger that makes lager/logger, con/Kahn, etc. sound identical; the very common horse–hoarse merger making pairs like for/four, horse/hoarse, morning/mourning, war/wore etc. perfect homophones (as in California English, the vowel is phonemicized as /oʊ/ due to the cot–caught merger: /foʊr/ etc.);[citation needed] and the prevalent wine–whine merger which produces homophone pairs like Wales/whales, wear/where, wine/whine etc. by, in most cases, eliminating /hw/ (ʍ), except in some older speakers.[6]

In addition to that, flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] before reduced vowels is ubiquitous, so the words ladder and latter, for example, are mostly or entirely pronounced the same. Therefore, the pronunciation of the word "British" /ˈbrɪtəʃ/ in Canada and the U.S. is most often [ˈbɹɪɾɪʃ], while in England it is commonly [ˈbɹɪtɪʃ] ( listen) or [ˈbɹɪʔɪʃ]. For some speakers, the merger is incomplete and 't' before a reduced vowel is sometimes not tapped following /eɪ/ or /ɪ/ when it represents underlying 't'; thus greater and grader, and unbitten and unbidden are distinguished.

Many Canadian speakers have the typical American dropping of /j/ after alveolar consonants, so that new, duke, Tuesday, suit, resume, lute, for instance, are pronounced /nu/ (rather than /nju/), /duk/, /ˈtuzdeɪ/, /sut/, /rəˈzum/, /lut/. Traditionally, glide retention in these contexts has occasionally been held to be a shibboleth distinguishing Canadians from Americans. However, in a survey conducted in the Golden Horseshoe area of Southern Ontario in 1994, over 80% of respondents under the age of 40 pronounced student and news, for instance, without /j/.[43]

Especially in Vancouver and Toronto, an increasing number of Canadians realize /ɪŋ/ as [in] when the raising of /ɪ/ to [i] before the underlying /ŋ/[44] is applied even after the "g" is dropped, leading to a variant pronunciation of taking, [ˈteɪkin]. Otherwise it primarily is found in speakers from not just California but also from other Western states and Midwestern areas including the Upper Midwest.[45][46] Speakers who use the [in] variant use it only for the underlying /ɪŋ/, which makes taking with a dropped "g" no longer homophonous with taken. This pronunciation is otherwise incorrect and was described as a "corruption of the language" to listeners.[47]


  1. ^ The GOAT phoneme is here transcribed as a diphthong /oʊ/, in accordance with leading phonologists on Canadian English like William Labov,[48] Charles Boberg,[49] and others.[50][51]
  2. ^ The pronunciation with the stress on the second syllable is the most common pronunciation but is considered incorrect by some people.[38]
  3. ^ The pronunciation /ˈkɒrki/ was the one used by author and veteran Farley Mowat.


  1. ^ Dollinger, Stefan (2012). "Varieties of English: Canadian English in real-time perspective." In English Historical Linguistics: An International Handbook (HSK 34.2), Alexander Bergs and Laurel J. Brinton (ed.), 1858-1880. Berlin: De Gruyter. pp. 1859-1860.
  2. ^ a b c Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 222.
  3. ^ Boberg (2008).
  4. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 223–224.
  5. ^ Boberg (2008), p. 150.
  6. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 218.
  7. ^ Martinet, Andre 1955. Economie des changements phonetiques. Berne: Francke.
  8. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 219.
  9. ^ Esling, John H. and Henry J. Warkentyne (1993). "Retracting of /æ/ in Vancouver English."
  10. ^ Charles Boberg, "Sounding Canadian from Coast to Coast: Regional accents in Canadian English."
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006).
  12. ^ Charles Boberg, "The Canadian Shift in Montreal".
  13. ^ Robert Hagiwara. "Vowel production in Winnipeg".
  14. ^ Rebecca V. Roeder and Lidia Jarmasz. "The Canadian Shift in Toronto."
  15. ^ Boberg.[full citation needed]
  16. ^ a b Boberg, Charles. "Boberg (2008) JENGL paper on Regional Phonetic Differentiation in Canadian English". {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  17. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 221.
  18. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 182.
  19. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174.
  20. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174, 260–261.
  21. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 173–174, 238–239.
  22. ^ a b c Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2.
  23. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 173.
  24. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 238.
  25. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 178, 180.
  26. ^ a b Boberg (2008), p. 145.
  27. ^ Duncan (2016), pp. 1–2; Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 175–177.
  28. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. 183.
  29. ^ Baker, Mielke & Archangeli (2008).
  30. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 181–182.
  31. ^ a b Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), pp. 82, 123, 177, 179.
  32. ^ Labov (2007), p. 359.
  33. ^ Labov (2007), p. 373.
  34. ^ The Cambridge History of the English Language, edited by John Algeo, Volume 6, p. 431
  35. ^ Bill Casselman. "Zed and zee in Canada". Archived from the original on 2012-06-26. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  36. ^ J.K. Chambers (2002). Sociolinguistic Theory: Linguistic Variation and Its Social Significance (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers. Retrieved 2012-10-13.
  37. ^ a b Ballingall, Alex (6 July 2014). "How do you pronounce Lieutenant Governor?". Toronto Star. Retrieved 4 June 2016.
  38. ^ Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  39. ^ Kretzchmar, William A. (2004), Kortmann, Bernd; Schneider, Edgar W. (eds.), A Handbook of Varieties of English, Berlin/New York: Mouton de Gruyter, p. 359, ISBN 9783110175325
  40. ^ Boberg (2020), p. 62.
  41. ^ "pecan /ˈpikæn, /piˈkæn/, /pəˈkɒn/" Canadian Oxford Dictionary
  42. ^ Vase. (2009). In Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary. Retrieved 2009-03-03.
  43. ^ Changes in Progress in Canadian English: Yod-dropping, Excerpts from J.K. Chambers, "Social embedding of changes in progress." Journal of English Linguistics 26 (1998), accessed March 30, 2010.
  44. ^ Walker, James A. (2019). "Sociophonetics at the intersection of variable processes: Variable in English (ING)" (PDF). In Sasha Calhoun; Paola Escudero; Marija Tabain; Paul Warren (eds.). Proceedings of the 19th International Congress of Phonetic Sciences, Melbourne, Australia 2019. Canberra: Australasian Speech Science and Technology Association Inc. pp. 34–37.
  45. ^ Metcalf, Allan (2000). "The Far West and beyond". How We Talk: American Regional English Today. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. p. 143. ISBN 0618043624. Another pronunciation even more widely heard among older teens and adults in California and throughout the West is 'een' for -ing, as in 'I'm think-een of go-een camp-een.'
  46. ^ Hunter, Marsha; Johnson, Brian K. (2009). "Articulators and Articulation". The Articulate Advocate: New Techniques of Persuasion for Trial Attorneys. Crown King Books. p. 92. ISBN 9780979689505. Regional Accents ... A distinguishing characteristic of the Upper Midwestern accent is the tendency to turn the 'ing' sound into 'een,' with a cheerful 'Good morneen!'
  47. ^ "NOT EVEN NETWORK STARS PRONOUNCE WORDS CORRECTLY". Orlando Sentinel. November 7, 1990.
  48. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006), p. [page needed].
  49. ^ Boberg (2008), p. 130.
  50. ^ Bories-Sawala, Helga (2012). Qui parle canadien? diversité, identités et politiques linguistiques. Germany, Brockmeyer, pp. 10-11.
  51. ^ Trudgill, Peter; Hannah, Jean (2013). "The pronunciation of Canadian English: General Canadian". International English: A Guide to the Varieties of Standard English. United Kingdom, Taylor & Francis, p. 53.