[Please note that this page is an archive of blog posts from 2011. Some of the links to articles are no longer active.]
It has been an interesting year for Canadian English in the media. From the pronunciation of Toronto street names to Justin Bieber’s efforts to shed his Stratfordian accent, from features of Northern Ontario and Southern Alberta Englishes to the debate over the Canadian term for a hockey garment, Canadian English topics have appeared in newspapers and on radio programs throughout the country over the past year. Below are a few of those that have caught our attention. Whether the stories are serious or silly, whether we agree with their perspectives or not, we offer them up for you to judge, and hopefully enjoy, and to help us understand how Canadian English studies and issues are portrayed outside the academy.
This post also marks the launch of the new Strathy blog category “In the Media”. Throughout 2012, we will post topics from the popular press as they appear. If any stories catch your attention, please bring them to ours! Write to email@example.com.
Jump to a 2011 media topic:
Justin Bieber’s accent
Canadian dialects on YouTube
Pronunciation of Toronto street names
Multilingualism in Toronto schools
Canadian English identity abroad
Briticisms in Prince Edward Island
Western Canadian English
Northern Ontario English
The Dragonfly of Chicoutimi
“Jersey” vs. “sweater”
English in Victoria, B.C.
Newfoundland English app
Canadian accent and identity
Steve Gallucio’s film about the disco craze in 1970s Montreal was released in early 2011. With dialogue in both English and French, the film’s “bilingual” label has created some controversy. You can listen to an interview with the writer on CBC’s C’est la Vie in which he discusses some of the language issues.
"Lessons in Biebonics, Or how a milquetoast kid from Stratford learned to speak like a true Amurrican"
On CBC’s Spark, host Nora Young interviewed Rick Aschmann, a linguistics hobbyist who is plotting dialect features on a map of North America based on YouTube clips. Below are links to the interview and to the dialect map and videos.
YouTube Dialects Map, CBC’s Spark, March 27 & 30, 2011
North American English dialects, based on pronunciation patterns
The pronunciation of street names in Toronto got some attention this month, inspired by the rendering of certain names by the computer-generated voice of the Toronto Transit Commission in subways and streetcars. The following series of articles was published in the Toronto Star.
“The Fixer: You say Spa-dinah, I say Spa-deenah”
"The Fixer: They say Spa-deenah, but are they right?"
"Taronna names: How our city leaves us tongue-tied"
Multilingualism and English education, particularly in urban Canada, tends to be a popular topic in the media. In an interview with CBC’s Here and Now, Dr. Chumak-Horbatsch of Ryerson University discusses the importance of honouring the native heritage languages of students in the classroom, not only as a way of promoting confidence and cultural awareness but as a way of aiding their acquisition of Canadian English. A link to the program page is below.
ESL for Canadian born children
In a Globe and Mail essay, Rebecca Connop Price writes about the identity struggles associated with being a Canadian English speaker in Britain.
“I’m losing my Canadian English”
While many British terms have been declining in Canadian English over the last few decades, the controversial addition of several roundabouts in Charlottetown PEI offered an opportunity to reflect on new British forms entering the lexicon.
“Sussing out the roundabout”
Research by Dr. Nicole Rosen at the University of Lethbridge on the variety of English spoken in southern Alberta was highlighted by several news outlets this month. Below are two of the articles.
“Southern Albertans might have local dialect, prof says” [CBC News]
“Canadian dialect put under the microscope; West, Prairies, ‘Jambusters’ being studied” [National Post]
A study of English in Northern Ontario by Dr. Sali Tagliamonte of the University of Toronto was featured in several newspaper articles this month. Below are two examples.
“Look North for real Canadian English, eh” [National Post]
“Looking for true Canadian English, there? Go north” [Toronto Star]
Twenty-five years ago, Tremblay’s play explored English-French linguistic tensions through a French monologue with entirely English words. A new production at the National Arts Centre this month offered Tremblay an opportunity to reflect on how issues of language and culture have evolved in Quebec and globally since the play’s 1995 premier, as reported in the following article from the Ottawa Citizen.
“Playing on the language wars; Theatre piece has resonated in Quebec for 25 years”
Jersey vs. Sweater
A debate raged this month over the proper Canadian term for the hockey garment. You can read our previous blog post on the topic and find links to several articles here.
Research on the evolving - but not declining - Newfoundland dialect by linguist Gerard Van Herk at Memorial University was featured in an article in The Telegram.
"Oil industry, other changes, not killing Newfoundland language"
Do residents of Victoria have more “British” features in their English than Canadians elsewhere? Ongoing research by Dr. Alexandra D’Arcy at the University of Victoria that explores this issue has been highlighted recently in the media.
“Pass the crumpets, please" [Times Colonist]
Unsure of how to translate "Buddy's right snapped off, he is"? Check out the humorous new Newfoundland English smartphone app, as mentioned in the following CBC news piece.
In a piece for Salon.com, as well as in an interview with CBC's Q, Thomas Rogers reflects on first embracing, and later losing, his Canadian accent after years of living in New York City, and on his evolving views of Canadians and Americans more generally.
"The loud American I swore I'd never be" [Salon]
http://www.cbc.ca/q/episodes/ [Q interview, December 21, 2011]
Research posters by students in the Canadian English course at Queen's will be on display outside the Strathy offices in Mackintosh-Corry Hall F406 from December through May, with a different poster every two weeks. Topics include Canadian accents in television, texting abbreviations, the "get" passive, onomatopoeia, American vs. British slang, identification of English accents, spelling preferences of new Canadians and lexical differences across Ontario. Click on the images below to view two sample posters.
Students in the undergraduate course Canadian English at Queen’s are working on their final research projects. A few of the groups have put together on-line surveys and they would like you, Strathy Blog readers, to be subjects! Please click here to see the list of available surveys and to participate.
The debate over the proper name for this hockey garment has been raging for the last month. It began when the Ottawa Senators introduced their “heritage jersey” several weeks ago. Is it a “jersey” or a “sweater”?
Many Canadians feel strongly that our heritage demands “sweater” and point to Roch Carrier’s classic Canadian story The Hockey Sweater for support. The Ottawa Citizen searched its files and found quotes from Wayne Gretsky and Sidney Crosby, the former using “sweater” and the latter “jersey”. Several politicians have weighed in, with Prime Minister Stephen Harper, Ottawa mayor Jim Watson and Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty all preferring “jersey”. Roch Carrier himself entered the debate to reaffirm his preference for “sweater”.
An online poll by The Ottawa Citizen found a 70% preference for “jersey”. Our informal inquiries here at Strathy find an overall preference for “jersey” as well, with younger speakers more likely to use this term. However, while some people invariably use just one of these words, for other people, context matters, as does the type of material used to make the garment.
There is a great deal of lexical variation in Canadian English. Should it surprise us that few words inspire the passionate debate that hockey terms do?
Here are links to several articles and a letter on the topic that appeared in The Ottawa Citizen:
In June of this year, the Strathy Language Unit launched a recording project on Wolfe Island, the largest of the Thousand Islands. Wolfe Island is situated at the eastern end of Lake Ontario at the beginning of the St. Lawrence Seaway and is accessible by ferry from Kingston, Ontario and Cape Vincent, New York. (Click here for Google map coordinates.) Many of the approximately 1400 permanent residents are direct descendants of families who settled on the island several generations ago.
Working in cooperation with the Wolfe Island Historical Society, we are recording island residents sharing tales of island life and history. Student research assistants Rebecca Cuthbert and Kathryn Lawrence have been conducting interviews on the island for the past few months, where they have been listening to wonderful tales of box-socials, one-room school houses, driving across the frozen lake in the winter, and the changes introduced through new technologies such as electricity, telephones, and machine-operated farm equipment. They have also enjoyed talking with younger residents about new agricultural initiatives, such as the local organic farming movement, and about their lives and visions of future for the island.
Our Wolfe Island recordings, and the process of transcribing those recordings, will continue through next year. We will also prepare to expand our research area to other communities, beginning with Amherst Island next summer. If you would like more information about this project, or if you are a Wolfe or Amherst Islander and would like to arrange a recording session, we would love to hear from you. Please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
The Toronto Star published an article yesterday on English in Northern Ontario, based on research by Sali Tagliamonte at the University of Toronto. You can read the article here: http://www.thestar.com/news/article/1060704--looking-for-true-canadian-english-there-go-north.
We have added approximately 200 additional resources to our on-line bibliography of Canadian English as well as completed some updates to the format. You can access the bibliography here. As always, we appreciate your feedback!
In May of this year at the annual meeting of the Canadian Linguistics Association, the Organizing Committee for the Canadian Language Museum was formed. The goals of this exciting new initiative are to promote the study and appreciation of Canada’s languages – English, French, the Aboriginal languages, and the heritage languages – as well as to facilitate communication on matters related to language education and public policy. You can read the Museum’s mission statement on their website here: http://www.languagemuseum.ca/mission/. The Strathy Language Unit looks forward to working with the Canadian Language Museum Committee to further develop this project!
As a topic of inquiry, there are many aspects of Canadian English that one could consider: grammar, spelling, language policy, historical change, regional variation, literary styles, and so forth. In addition, one could consider how Canadian English relates to other varieties of English around the globe. After weeks of studying different topics related to English in Canada in the undergraduate Canadian English course at Queen’s, students are always eager to learn how, and why, the English in Canada differs from the English spoken in other parts of the world. It is in this vein that I offer the following brief introduction to another variety of English – Bislama. Bislama is the national language of Vanuatu, a small island nation in the South Pacific, where I recently returned from a month of fieldwork.
Bislama is not a dialect of English but rather a separate language. Bislama is, however, an English lexifier-creole, which means that much of its vocabulary came from English (thus an English-lexifier) but that structurally it began as a blend of several languages (thus a creole). Although they differ from one another a great deal, in the very broadly defined group of global Englishes, Bislama and Canadian English are both members.
The origins of Bislama were in the late 1800s when Ni-Vanuatu (indigenous people of Vanuatu) were taken as slaves or as recruits to work on plantations in Australia and other Pacific countries. The Ni-Vanuatu spoke many different native languages, and in order to communicate with each other and the English-speaking plantation owners, a pidgin was formed. The pidgin relied heavily on English vocabulary, but the grammar (both the sentence structure and the sound patterning) was based on that of the native Melanesian languages of the speakers. The pidgin spread throughout Vanuatu when the workers returned home, and it became a creole when children, mostly in urban areas, began speaking the pidgin as a native language. Bislama is currently a second language for the majority of Ni-Vanuatu and the most widely spoken language in the country, where it is serves as a lingua franca in the midst of over 100 indigenous languages and two other official languages (English and French).
Bislama and English are not mutually intelligible. Even just in terms of vocabulary, words that originate from English may have a different pronunciation (Bislama “manis” is from English “month”); a different morphology (in Bislama, “samting” means “thing”; to give the meaning of English “something” in Bislama, you say “wan samting” [one + something]); or have semantically shifted (in Bislama “swim” means “to bathe”); or changed their grammatical function (“off” and “on” are verbs in Bislama with the addition of the suffix “-em”, so “turn on the light” in English is “on-em laet” in Bislama ).
I have been traveling to Vanuatu since 2004 to study several of the local languages (most recently Na’ahai, spoken by less than 1000 people on the isolated southwest coast of the island of Malakula). I just returned from a month in the country’s capital Port Vila, where the predominant language is Bislama. To give you a sense of Bislama and an opportunity to consider how it compares to the English that you speak, I have collected images of some simple signs in Bislama (below and by following the link) and provided English translations.
Beware! Dog bites
Lukaot Dog i save kaikai man
use-caution dog PRED can eat person
• lukaot originates from English “look out”
• i is a predicate marker found in many Oceanic languages
• save is a verb meaning “can/know how to” which originates from French “savoir” and is pronounced “saw-veh”
• man means “person” of any gender
Blog Hiatus — July and August
Date: June 28, 2011 | Category: News
For the next two months, we will not be posting any new material on the blog. Please use the opportunity to get caught up on our interesting guest pieces - by Jack Chambers, Margery Fee, Stefan Dollinger, Gerard Van Herk, and Sharla Peltier - as well as our news announcements. We will return in September with new material and updates on our ongoing projects.
The Strathy Bibliography of Canadian English is now ready! This database of approximately 1700 sources (and growing) is accessible in a searchable on-line format here.
I have been honoured with the task of shedding light on the topic of First Nations English Dialect (FNED) for the readers of this blog. Let me begin by situating myself and my connection to this subject.
I am Anishinaabe and my family belongs to the Loon Clan, Chippewas of Rama (Mnjikaning) First Nation, Ontario. I have worked for the past 25 years as a speech and language pathologist primarily in First Nation schools on Manitoulin Island and the North Shore of Lake Huron and with Anishinaabek and Cree students in off-reserve schools in the vicinities of Lake Nipissing and Sudbury.
My father and his mother were fluent speakers of the Ojibway language and my mother's comprehension of the Algonquin and Ojibway languages assured her social competence. I grew up in a home that hosted visitors to our community and a myriad of social and political gatherings as my father was Chief and led our community for many years. My parents demonstrated a close connection to our First Nations community and they were carriers of the heartbeat of the community. My mother was a nurse's aid and my father was a veteran of the Second World War with a grade eight formal education.
Although my parents did not experience the residential schools directly, they nonetheless were affected, as they held the widespread belief that English language proficiency was key for success in school and life and our indigenous language was less important. This meant that the sacred Anishinaabe language was not passed on to myself and my siblings. This phenomenon is widespread among Aboriginal peoples of Canada and is part of the legacy of residential schools and colonization.
As an Anishinaabe kwe, I have struggled to acquire the Ojibway language. I experienced shame as a young woman who was not a carrier of the language of my people (as did many of the young people of my 60's generation). My husband is a fluent speaker of "high Ojibway" - he has proficiency with cultural and spiritual indigenous knowledge and the meaningful connections that the language exudes. When I lived in Wikwemikong for fifteen years I took every opportunity to be immersed in the Odawa dialect and I regularly attended community meetings with my husband to develop my comprehension skills. I listened and watched each speaker who took the floor to stimulate discussion about community issues at hand. I jotted down each speaker's name and the gist of what they were saying and at home that night, my husband would confirm or correct my understanding. In retrospect, the time was well spent as it honed my Ojibway language skills so that I enjoy a place in the social interactions with Ojibway-speaking family and friends.
Today I consider myself to be a keeper of First Nations English Dialect and there is no shame in that. Let me share about First Nations English Dialect (FNED) and its importance today.
What is First Nations English Dialect?
Aboriginal English dialects developed from contact between an ancestral language and English, in geographically isolated communities with infrequent interactions with Standard English speakers. The first varieties of non-standard English dialects (pidgins) developed as a contact language when Aboriginal people began utilizing English without formal instruction and applied rules and patterns of their ancestral languages (Ball, Bernhardt & Deby, 2006). As new generations spoke the pidgins as their first language, creoles developed where language patterns became more consistent and regular. Over generations and with continued contact with English speakers, these creoles became increasingly similar to Standard English.
Aboriginal people in Canada and the United States have experienced colonization which has included overt governmental policies aimed at assimilation and eradication of Aboriginal people and their languages. The residential school era from 1892 to 1996 in Canada meant forced removal of Aboriginal children from their homes resulting in negative residential school legacy effects for generations of Aboriginal people. In these schools, children from different Aboriginal language and cultural backgrounds were grouped together. Children were penalized for speaking their native languages. In this way, the residential school system may have inadvertently served to consolidate Aboriginal English dialects.
In current times, FNEDs are evident not only among Aboriginal people who speak their ancestral language, but also people who no longer speak their ancestral tongue. Sadly, many of our ancestral languages are being lost at an alarming rate. This highlights FNEDs as important remnants to our sacred languages.
It is through Aboriginal languages and our tradition of orality that the Aboriginal worldview is expressed. FNED is often evident in the home and community talk of Aboriginal people whether they reside on a First Nation territory or in a rural or urban setting. Regional varieties of FNED share common linguistic features (pronunciation, grammar and vocabulary) and discourse and pragmatic rules. When Aboriginal people communicate within their specific cultural community, they use First Nation English dialect. Each community has a unique, nonstandard, variety of English that holds a central place in social discourse and is key to supporting the individual’s identity and ties to a distinct Aboriginal community. Aboriginal people themselves can usually tell where an individual comes from when they hear the First Nations English dialect.
An interesting aspect of FNED discourse includes exclamations to express emotional reaction or inquisitive response to the communicative exchange. In my First Nation community in southern Ontario we commonly say, "ii saa" to denote distaste, or "urh" to express disapproval. The common expression for distaste in Wikwemikong, Manitoulin Island, for example is "zaay" and FNED speakers say "wii shih" when hearing something incredulous. In the Nipissing First Nation locale in northeastern Ontario "bwaa chug" is used as a reaction to something incredulous. FNED speakers in M'Chigeeng, Manitoulin Island show interest in their communicative partner's story with the question "miina?" while in southern Ontario's Walpole Island First Nation community "izit?" is used.
A number of scholars in the fields of linguistics and education have documented Canadian Indigenous English and American Indian English which are as diverse as the Aboriginal peoples of North America (Mulder 1982, Heit & Blair 1993, Darnell 1993, Leap 1993). In Canada, linguistic ethnographic studies (Speilman 1986, 1998, Valentine, 1995) have examined the culture-specific ways of thinking and interacting among Ojibway language users. Information about different speaking styles, functions of language, dialects, components of phonetics, phonology, morphology and syntax, and discourse are brought forward.
There is a paucity of relevant research in Canada and currently, researchers in the fields of linguistics, education, psychology, and speech language pathology are working to contribute knowledge about what is referred to as FNED. (Bernhardt, Ball & Deby, 2007, Ball & Bernhardt, 2008, Peltier 2009, 2010). This phenomenon has relatively recently come to light and educational implications for First Nation language and literacy learning are currently being explored.
The use of standard English pronunciation, grammar, and discourse rules is critical for school and professional success. Historically, students who use FNED have been stigmatized and misunderstood as learners within the educational system. Young Aboriginal children are socialized to use First Nation English speech and language and discourse patterns within the context of home and community before they enter school. In school, their communication has been judged to be delayed or deficient by teachers and specialists such as speech and language pathologists, resulting in over-identification of Aboriginal students in special education programs. Increased understanding and acknowledgement of FNED in the schools now supports bi-dialectal curricula with teaching about cultural and linguistic diversity, encouragement of “code switching” and the acquisition of standard English as a second dialect, and the important maintenance of the students’ FNED and ancestral language (Cummins, et. al 2006, Ontario Ministry of Education 2007, Fadden & LaFrance 2010, Sterzukk 2010, Wawrykow 2011, Peltier 2010, 2011).
Bi-dialectal English Skills Creates Semantic and Pragmatic Bridges
My personal and professional life experiences with FNED have shown me that FNEDs are alive and well in the Aboriginal community and are an important part of our language retention, especially in light of the language-loss situation that affects every First Nation community today. FNED is an important link to my community of origin which is foundational to my integrity as an Anishinaabe kwe. I do believe that many Aboriginal people, myself included, live in two worlds, and it is important to be able to code-switch in order to function at our best whether at work in the mainstream society or within the First Nation community where we have been socialized and where we feel belonging. As a bi-dialectal English language user, I have a wonderful ability to code-switch according to the communicative context in which I find myself, utilizing semantic and pragmatic bridges.
Many First Nations people like me have left their community to gain a formal education. Professional opportunities and assimilative processes of society erode our fundamentally important link to the land and our people as we settle and work off-reserve. I cherish and honour my FNED as a crucial communicative mode for instant recognition and reconnection to my relatives and place of origin.
References [Please click here]
Footnotes [Please click here]
Researchers at the University of British Columbia Department of English are conducting an on-line survey of English usage in Canada. The survey is short and fun, and they would appreciate your participation! Click here to learn more and to follow a link to the survey.
The 2011 International Society for the Linguistics of English Conference will begin this Thursday, June 16, at Boston University. The presentations and workshops will cover a range of topics on many different varieties of English, including several specifically on English varieties in Canada, with an emphasis on methodological issues. You can visit the conference website and view the full program at: http://www.bu.edu/isle/.
Congratulations to Takashi Mitsuya, Ph.D. student in psychology at Queen's University, and recipient of a Strathy Student Conference Grant. Takashi will present his paper "Cross categorical temporal feedback in English voicing contrasts" later this month at the International Seminar on Speech Production in Montreal. Click here to read Takashi's abstract.
There will be several talks on Canadian dictionaries this week at the XVIII Biennial Meeting of the Dictionary Society of North America, to be held at McGill University in Montreal:
For more information, visit the conference website at: http://mac10.typepad.com/2011_dsna_montreal/.
Shayna Gardiner, an undergraduate linguistics student at Queen's University, has completed a thesis on singular concord in Ottawa Valley English. Read the abstract below. Download a pdf of the full paper (204 KB) here.
|This paper investigates a syntactic phenomenon known as singular concord as it exists in the dialect known as Ottawa Valley English. Ottawa Valley English singular concord is compared and contrasted with a similar agreement phenomenon in Arabic, and with singular concord as it exists in Belfast English. The result is a description of the phenomenon in Ottawa Valley English, including productivity and restrictions, and an account and analysis of the phenomenon in that dialect, along with insights into the singular concord family of phenomena overall.|
When people talk about how Canadian English is all pretty much the same, or about how unmarked it is, they often include the caveat “except Newfoundland.” Traditional Newfoundland English (NE) doesn’t look like other Canadian Englishes, thanks largely to the province’s differing history (European settler input from a very limited area of southwestern England and southeastern Ireland, an early cessation of immigration, and political and geographical isolation). It also has a different reference point. Canadian English is described with respect to how it differs from American Englishes, while NE is described through its differences from the speech of mainlanders – basically everybody in the world who’s not a Newfoundlander. (Labrador, despite technically being on the mainland, is seen as Newfoundlandy, although not by all Labradorites.)
But not only is NE constructed differently, it’s seen differently: by the media, by outsiders, and by Newfoundlanders themselves. Stefan Dollinger’s column describes the media’s Groundhog Day Loop when it comes to Canadian English: Is it distinct? Is it not? Do people still say eh? NE has a different loop: the idea that local language is dying. This is particularly evident in media coverage, both mainland and local. I’ve been interviewed about my research quite often since arriving here five years ago, and no matter what I say, the headlines come out the same: “Is the Newfoundland accent disappearing?” (Canwest/Global) “Are Newfoundlanders losing their distinct dialect?” (Downhome) Often the writers include some nuances, but the headline writers have one particular story in mind. The take-home message is one of death and decline.
A couple of years ago, Global National’s Kevin Newman and his crew came out to Petty Harbour, an urbanizing fishing village that’s our main research site, and did a nice piece on local language. Newman and I chatted while the crew got some background shots. He’s covered stories in Newfoundland for years, and is very aware of the social and economic changes that have occurred. A year later, when he retired from that programme, he reminisced about his top ten stories, and the Petty Harbour piece was one of them. What he remembered, though, was one particular aspect of the story: the decline of traditional ways of life and language.
Now, these Groundhog Day Loops, for both Canadian and Newfoundland Englishes, aren’t a matter of the media getting it wrong, or even imposing an agenda on what they report. Journalists are, for the most part, pretty smart people. They know how to get information in a hurry (when my students drag their feet on research, I tell them that when I interned at Southam News back in the 80s, I would research a story from scratch and write a 2000-word background piece in a day). Journalists also know how to take the great mass of information they collect and find the story in it. They know (or think they know) what will interest their audience, and they know what parts of their collection of information will tell that story best. Often, to be sure, they’ve decided what the story is before they start. At the very least, they know the research question. And sometimes, they follow the herd and tell the same story that journalists have told before.
And there’s the first problem. Language is the stuff of journalism. You use it to show how good you are. As a result, media people have a blind spot when it comes to covering language as a story. For them, there are three kinds of language: right, wrong, and colourful. In media coverage, the standard is right, youth language is wrong, and non-standard varieties are wrong but colourful. Rural and traditional varieties are colourful in a nicer way (all tweedy and earth-toned) than urban varieties (whose colours are too bright). They’re attractive and authentic, like fiddle music and Jiggs dinners. (They’re also safer, spoken by salt-of-the-earth fishers and farmers rather than by young men with handguns.)
The second problem is that mainstream media coverage naturally reflects (and shapes) the dominant Discourses of its culture. A major strand of Canadian Discourse is “Do we deserve to be a separate country?” This leads to media coverage of Canadian English being about whether it’s distinct enough to matter, as Stefan detailed in his column. In this Discourse, NE is useful and interesting, as it helps to flavour up Canadian English, acting as a sort of cultural touchstone or repository of difference, like traditional cultural practices everywhere.
Also relevant to the problem are two big local Discourses: uniqueness and nostalgia. The Discourse of Uniqueness says that Newfoundland is not just slightly different, but that it’s unique. There’s no place like here. We do things that nobody else does. And the thing that most defines our uniqueness is the way we talk. This discourse has been reinforced by the isolation of the province. Most visitors and immigrants – Come-From-Aways – have been mainlanders with mainstream or standard accents, tourists and government people and academics. For economic reasons, there hasn’t been the kind of large-scale working-class immigration that would expose Newfoundlanders to other highly non-standard language varieties. My students at Memorial are usually surprised (and, frankly, tickled pink) to discover the wealth of similarities between local language and varieties like African American English, Caribbean creoles, or the English of the American south. The Discourse of Uniqueness makes useful contributions to the local sense of identity and pride. But if you think of your dialect as unique, then you tend to see it as a kind of linguistic lemur – because it’s not found elsewhere, its existence is precarious.
The second local Discourse is one of nostalgia. This is natural, given the massive social changes that the province has undergone within living memory. Confederation with Canada. Forced relocation of many outport communities. Two waves of major changes to the educational system. The collapse of the cod fishery. The discovery and development of offshore oil, moving the province from have-not to have. A sharp move away from religious affiliation. A huge decline in the birth rate. Urbanization and out-migration. In effect, Newfoundland has done in 60 years what the mainland did in a century and a half. This means that most Newfoundlanders over 50 live in a society that is very, very different from the one they grew up in. People of that generation are the journalists, politicians, civil servants, business owners, and academics who shape local Discourses. They sometimes miss earlier times, and they talk about it. And local speech is seen from that perspective… it becomes one more thing that’s gone.
The funny thing, of course, is that NE is not “gone” at all! In rural areas, traditional features like verbal s-marking (I goes, you knows) and interdental stopping (dat ting for that thing) are still extremely healthy. In urban areas, they seem to be making a comeback among youth after a generation of decline. In both rural and urban areas, non-standard features that aren’t part of local identity discourse never declined in the first place – things like I seen it for I saw it and associative and them (Jim and them are coming). And even if there is a decline in the overall rate of use of some non-standard features, that doesn’t mean that NE as a variety is in decline. Features come and go, or grow and shrink, in every language variety. Nobody thinks African American English is disappearing because its speakers no longer have monophthongal [e] and [o].
If sociolinguists were to focus on media interests and the dominant Discourse of decline, we’d miss out on one of the most exciting things that is going on in the province: the way younger speakers are changing local language to suit their needs. Some features that were originally associated with one region or social subgroup, such as the Irish-origin after perfect (I’m after doing that for I just did that), have spread into English-origin communities. As a result, they have become markers of Newfoundland-ness, rather than Irish-ness. Other Newfoundland markers include to for atin Where are you to?and discourse b’y, now often pronounced bah by young speakers.
Even more interesting, from our perspective, is that when young people adopt (or re-adopt) s-marking, they change the linguistic constraints on its use. S-marking is traditionally associated with active (non-stative) verbs, but young people (especially women) use it mostly with statives, especially a subset of what we’re calling mental stance verbs: loves, wants, needs, thinks, hopes, forgets. What we think is happening is that they’re taking what used to be the most marked context, where you would find s-marking only among the most vernacular speakers, and choosing to use –s only in that context. This lets them simultaneously index Newfoundland-ness and agency: their audience knows that they’re performing, and that they can switch between dialects. So young Newfoundlanders aren’t rejecting traditional speech, nor are they unthinkingly maintaining it. They’re overtly messing with it to create a new sense of identity. By doing so, they’re teaching us something about the issues at the forefront of contemporary sociolinguistic inquiry.
To me, this story is much more interesting and encouraging than a simple narrative of decline and despair. But it may take a while before it becomes the story that appeals to mainstream media or dominant Discourses.
The current issue of the Queen's Alumni Review magazine contains a brief article about the history of the Strathy Language Unit. Click here to read the article.
For the past few days, I have been working at the Endangered Language Alliance (ELA) offices in New York City, with Director Dan Kaufman. Dan and I have been discussing various aspects of language documentation, from recording equipment to transcription software, from interviewing procedures to working with community volunteers. These issues and techniques are equally relevant to ELA’s mission of documenting endangered languages spoken by immigrants in New York City as to the Strathy Language Unit’s mission of documenting varieties of English spoken throughout Canada.
On some level, it may seem that the procedures and goals associated with studying endangered languages could not be further from those associated with studying an increasingly global language like English. While differences certainly exist, in both cases there is great value in careful linguistic documentation, including the collection of quality video and audio recordings of people speaking naturally and sharing their stories. This is true whether the purpose is to create an historical record and revitalization plan for a disappearing language, or whether to understand the grammatical characteristics of a language variety and the stories a community values before the language and the stories inevitably change.
At Strathy, we will soon begin a recording project to collect oral stories by English speakers throughout Canada, starting with Wolfe and Amherst Islands in the Thousand Islands. We will add information about this endeavor to the website as it evolves. Meanwhile, this is an opportunity to highlight the important work of the Endangered Language Alliance. To learn more about ELA, you can visit their website at: http://endangeredlanguagealliance.org/main/, and you can watch a New York Times video about the organization on ELA's media page here.
Phonology in the 21st Century: In Honour of Glyne Piggott will be held at McGill University May 7-9. Jack Chambers will give a talk on Canadian English entitled “Learning to love opacity: Dynamics of /ai/ raising”. Click here to read an abstract of Jack’s talk. Click here for the full conference program.
Research posters based on final projects from the undergraduate Canadian English course at Queen’s will be on display outside the Strathy office for the next few months, with a new poster displayed approximately every two weeks. Topics include the influence of French and Inuktitut on Canadian English, flapping patterns of ESL speakers, Canadian English in Canadian television, American vs. British influences on Canadian English, usage patterns for "like", identification of foreign accents, semantic bleaching of swear words, regional terms for alcohol, and whether your friends' ethnic identities influence your lexical choices. Select papers based on these projects will be available later this year in the next volume of Strathy Undergraduate Working Papers.
It is a great pleasure to be able to write after J. K. Chambers and Margery Fee’s columns and a tall order at the same time. My nine years of working on Canadian English utterly pale in comparison to Jack’s 40-some years as a mover and shaker and to Margery’s 25-plus years in the broader field. Perhaps the theme of “coincidence,” skillfully introduced by Margery in her piece, is the best conduit to the topic that I would like to make the centre of my blog. More precisely, I’d like to make the chasm and connections between scholarly work and public awareness the focus.
As with Margery and the Canadian usage guide, it was coincidence that put me in the driver’s seat for the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, 2nd ed. (DCHP-2) revision project in early 2006 (www.dchp.ca) when I finalized my Ph.D dissertation on dialect formation in early Canada. In an email, Terry Pratt, then reference advisor to Nelson Education (who had bought Gage, the co-creator of DCHP-1), asked me what I thought of the idea of revising DCHP-1. I replied that this was the most interesting project in historical linguistics in Canadian English at the moment and when, a little later, I was asked to become editor-in-chief, I remembered Jack Chambers’ dictum that “if someone offers you a job in the area, you say yes” and so I did. I said yes, but in reality I was daunted by the immensity of the task to revise a historical dictionary. I had other doubts: I wanted to be a linguist and research linguists (unless they are applied linguists) do not usually display a great interest in dictionaries, reference grammars and language learning. This view is the legacy of three centuries of linguistic prescriptivism and the theoretical underpinnings of competing schools of linguistics that aim to go beyond the questions addressed in reference works. Today, there are still traces left of a bad aftertaste of what is called “usage”. Even sociolinguists, who are very much interested in “language in use” are sometimes loath to comment on what the public perceives as the most pressing questions in language. These are usually questions relating to the written language and include, for CanE, questions such as whether “recognize” or “recognise” , “traveler” or “traveller” or “between you and me” or “between you and I” is “correct” (on these, and many more points, Fee and McAlpine’s Guide to Canadian English Usage has some well-balanced answers). Linguists, on the whole, are only mildly interested in such questions. If anywhere, you’ll find more interest in English departments, though here you will sometimes be met with disapproval of some of the things that many Canadians do with their language.
We might call this disconnect between academia and the public the “linguistic chasm” and, I think, it is us, the linguists, who are not only utterly and completely to blame for this situation but who also need to fix the problem. How so? And how does this affect Canadian English and the work of the Strathy Language Unit? In order to answer this question, let us look at the good work of scientists who have, successfully and in a highly entertaining manner, informed the public about their discoveries: take David Suzuki’s The Nature of Things, the CBC show that has brought for 50 years science into Canadian living rooms, or take Bob McDonald’s Quirks and Quarks, the radio show which manages to translate the most complex scientific questions for the “rest of us”. I am deeply impressed with this level of attention to improving the public knowledge of science and I congratulate Canadians for being so eager to learn.
Now, let’s switch to public knowledge about linguistics and the situation is entirely different. You will be hard-pressed to find anyone (who has not recently taken a linguistics university course) knowing anything about even the most basic linguistic concepts, such as: Canadian Raising (the “oot and aboot”-like pronunciations many Canadians say in comparison to American or UK dialects “out and about”), the use of Eh in Canada, or, more broadly speaking, what’s a language and what’s a dialect, or what is” good” or “bad” English? In my experience, very few know good (or any) answers to these questions and this includes some journalists writing on language. Most often, journalists start by asking “Is there a Canadian English,” which turns the entire presentation into a defense battle. I am not just making this up, because if you look at the news archive, you find what can be called a “Groundhog Day Loop” in news coverage on Canadian English: like Bill Murray in the 1993 movie, who wakes up every morning to relive the same day, Canadian reporters are often stuck in a similar loop, as we find reports on yesteryear’s language findings as news. Here are some examples from newspapers, headlines only to keep it concise:
1957, Edmonton Journal: “A Canadian Language?”
In 1957, a major Canadian newspaper asks the question about Canadian English – ending with a question mark. A few years later the case seems to have been settled, as can be seen below:
1964, Kingston Whig-Standard: “Dictionary To Be Truly Canadian”
1967, Kingston Whig-Standard: “Canadians Have Own Language”
These headlines come from the first wave of news coverage triggered by the work on the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, by Charles Lovell, the first editor (until his untimely death in 1960), or Walter S. Avis and Matthew H. Scargill who were among the first generation of scholars seriously working on CanE. Avis was also to die at the peak of his productivity, in 1979, before he could write his opus magnus on Canadian English. It was not until 2010, more than 30 years later, when the first scholarly monograph overview finally became available (Charles Boberg’s The English Language in Canada). Despite great advances in CanE research and the occasional media work of researchers that “translates” findings for a public audience (see, for instance, Jack Chambers’ impressive record), I think it is fair to say that media coverage never left the Groundhog Day Loop. In 1985, old knowledge is presented as news:
1985, Montreal Gazette: “Man the barricades. Canadian English is our very own hybrid, recognizable perhaps only to ourselves but precious, nonetheless.”
What is seen in the Montreal Gazette’sheadline is some sort of step backwards: doubt is reintroduced, as only Canadians seem to recognize the dialect. In more recent headlines, we see another recurring theme in most news coverage, as an aspect of “weirdness” is highlighted:
2007, Harbour City Star: “Only people fluent in Canadian would understand if you told them to put on a toque and dump a two-four of empties into their blue bin.”
No one talks like that, but still you can find these artificial sentences not only in Nanaimo, BC, sources, but also in big Toronto newspapers:
2007, Toronto Star: “Say it ain't so, eh? Hoserdom beats a retreat; The signature expression of Canuck-speak may be fading, eh?”
In the Toronto Star article we are told that Canadian markers are dying out. So, it’s all over now for CanE? Far from it, but what needs to be done is to break the “Groundhog Day Loop” and seriously work on knowledge transfer from academia to the public. There is demand and evidence for it is not hard to find. As Russell Smith, the Globe and Mail’s fashion columnist, wrote a couple years ago: nothing that he writes gets so many responses as his columns on language. I think we linguists owe it to the people to share the word on Canadian English and its dialects.
A reissue of the second edition of Guide to Canadian English Usage, by former Strathy Directors Margery Fee and Janice McAlpine, is now available from Oxford University Press. Visit the Publications page for more information.
My first introduction to the Strathy Unit came from Henry Warkentyne. I had just taken his course on Canadian English as part of a Diploma in Applied Linguistics at the University of Victoria. In the mid-1980s, jobs in English were scarce and I was retooling to become an ESL teacher in Japan, where the yen was high. He said that he was on the board of a “funny little outfit” at Queen’s that had something to do with Canadian English. He thought that there might be a job coming up for which I could apply. When it did, George Logan, the Head of English at Queen’s, wrote me saying that I was a “long shot,” but that they might get back to me. Of course, and rightly, they were looking for a linguist, but their usage guide project (see Fee and McAlpine 1997, 2007) was in an area where few linguists at the time cared to go, trained as they almost all were in formal (Chomskyan) linguistics. Most regarded dialectology as outmoded and guides to usage as analogous to etiquette books. In my defence, I had taken more than one course in Canadian English. In fourth year at Glendon College (York University)—not incidentally a hotbed of Hallidayans (who have a broader view of language)—I took Canadian English from Richard Handscombe; not much beyond a hazy memory of reading Martin Joos remains, but it was enough to keep me enthusiastic. In the 1970s, for example, I chose to review a collection edited by Jack Chambers, Canadian English: Origins and Structures, and a bibliography by Walter S. Avis and A.M. Kinloch, Writings on Canadian English 1792-1975, for the Canadian Book Review Annual. Jack Chambers and Murray Kinloch would be on my advisory board at the Strathy when I arrived in 1987, as were Henry Warkentyne and Sandra Clarke.
Getting evidence for any assertion about specifically Canadian usage was very difficult. My predecessor, W.C. Lougheed, realized that such evidence could only be had by building a corpus, in a day when a million-word corpus was a gigantic achievement (see Brown Corpus, LOB Corpus). Wary of having his data “owned” by the mainframe specialists, he presciently moved—almost before it was feasible—to working on PCs (10-megabyte hard drives!!!). He also inveigled the university into purchasing a very big and expensive Kurzweil flatbed optical character reader to read Canadian text (slowly) into digital form. One needs a very big corpus to find examples of rare usages—how many times in a million words will “decimate” turn up, for example? When I arrived, we had two million words. Figuring out how to store, back up, and search that much text was then a Very Big Deal. Again luckily for me, the University of Waterloo was working out how to tag the digital version of the OED (1989), and visits to Waterloo helped me understand how tagged text worked—and didn’t. Most Humanities computing software required one’s text database to be tagged to facilitate searches, but I was wary of having my data locked up in a non-generic format. We kept the corpus in ASCII code and searched it (a megabyte a minute) with a cheap and cheerful string matcher called Gofer, designed to help businessmen find files on their computers. The big breakthrough came when Southam Press started putting out their newspapers on the very new CD-ROMs for its reporters. They kindly sent copies along to us and finally, we had enough data.
I sent prospectuses for the Canadian usage guide to the University of Toronto Press and to Oxford University Press. Toronto sent back a nice note, saying that they would be happy to get camera-ready copy. Preparing camera-ready copy for a major, new and heavily cross-referenced reference book with emergent desktop publishing software was an unappealing prospect. Fortunately, Michael Morrow had arrived at Oxford University Press in 1986 as Managing Director. His main goal was to produce a Canadian English dictionary (the Canadian Oxford Dictionary operations were shut down in October 2008); luckily he saw our project as complementary to his. Oxford was willing to provide proper copy-editing (thanks, Sally Livingston!) and so we signed on. We shared our corpus with Katherine Barber, who became the Editor in Chief for the Canadian Oxford English Dictionary (1st ed 1998); she provided us with computer files for Oxford books and lots of helpful advice and we, in turn, shared our data.
Jan McAlpine and I finished the first edition of the Guide to Canadian English Usage in 1997; I have just finished proofing the newly typeset hardcover version of the second edition (2007), and finally feel happy with the way the pages look (this version will appear in June). The amount of sheer hard labour that goes into making reference books easy to read and use is astonishing. Computer searching now makes most of this old technology redundant, but web design still has a long way to go to compare with that of the best reference books. However, publishers are experiencing a crisis in reference book publication, since Wikipedia, Google, and the ever-proliferating internet solve (not always elegantly or accurately) many questions once answerable only by fat expensive books.
The work I have done in usage and lexicography has always seemed to me like an accident (one of my friends referred to my getting the job at Queen’s as “being let into the academy by the fire escape”). After all, my teaching and research is mostly in Canadian, post-colonial and Aboriginal literatures. Another accident, then, was that Stefan Dollinger arrived at UBC, where I now work, just after having been made the Editor in Chief of the second edition of the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP, 1st ed. 1967). Now I am, with Laurel Brinton, an associate editor for the DCHP Online (or “DCHP-2”), and we are hard at work bringing this important dictionary into the 21st century—online. And the Strathy, we’re happy to say, has helped us along with this process by digitizing the c.15,000 citation slips collected by Walter S. Avis, left to the Queen’s Archives after his death in 1979.
"Work that -S! Drag queens, gender, identity, and traditional Newfoundland English"
Professor Gerard van Herk, Memorial University of Newfoundland
Presented by the DLLL Lecture Series in Linguistics and Applied Linguistics
Thursday, 17 March, 5:00 PM
Ross Building S562
York University, Keele Campus
We study the adoption and adaptation of a traditional Newfoundland English speech feature, non-standard verbal s-marking (as in We knows a lot of people or I loves it), by social groups not usually associated with traditional dialect: young urban women and drag queens. Using quantitative data from sociolinguistic interviews and language surveys, we show that the form is both decreasing in frequency and progressing from a strictly grammatical function to a resource for the performance of gender and affiliation with local and urban identities.
The Strathy Unit, for the 30 years of its existence, has been both a stimulant for learning more about Canadian English and a yardstick of how much we have learned. Canadian English has been a growth area for about 40 years and it shows no signs of slowing down. The learning spiral makes perfect sense, of course. The more we know, the more we can know. The Strathy Unit came along to fill a niche that was not really needed before, as the repository and clearing-house for work on Canadian English.
Studying Canadian English has not been just a provincial concern, or even a national one. As one branch of the global lingua franca, and one of the first branches colonized by the British motherland, it has always found a ready audience of international scholars. For many years, I have played host to academic visitors who came to me for two weeks or two months at a time for the purpose of learning about Canadian English. For the last three decades, I have happily shared these visitors with the Strathy Unit, and vice versa. They have come from Sweden, Germany, Romania, Lithuania, Russia, Japan, and other countries, and their visits were often sponsored by our Secretary of State for the purpose of getting Canadian content into universities abroad. In more audacious times, I proposed that the Secretary of State could save money by sending me to them instead of them to me, but I never heard back.
Not that I am complaining. I have had lots of opportunities to talk about Canadian English in faraway places, and my trips were sometimes organized by the very scholars I had entertained in Toronto. The first time I remember lecturing in a foreign country in a course that was specifically devoted to Canadian English was at Stockholm University in 1997. But more than 20 years before that, I had presented a mini-course on Canadian English (two lectures on consecutive days, as I recall) at the invitation of Birmingham University in England; that was 1976, in the fall, only six months after I had mounted my Canadian English course, the first one anywhere, in my department at the University of Toronto. Nowadays, it is no surprise when I find myself talking on custom-made topics in courses devoted to Canadian English in far-off places. Most recently I lectured to the Canadian English class at Freiburg University, Germany. Occasionally I have been lucky enough to stay a whole term and teach the course myself. The first time was an intensive four-week seminar at Ruprecht-Karls-Universität, Heidelberg, in spring 1998. Most gratifying, maybe, was the lecture course at Christian-Albrecht-Universität in Kiel, Germany, in the 12-week summer term in 2007, with over 100 students in the auditorium every time.
The real significance of all this, obviously, is realizing that our way of speaking the language is recognized now on the same footing as Australian English or British English or American English. Not so long ago it was treated as a nonentity. In fact, my course on Canadian English took root in jingoistic fervour when one of my colleagues, an anthropologist from Buffalo who joined the Toronto faculty the same year as I did, was assigned to teach Dialectology and loudly proclaimed that it would be about American dialects because nobody knew anything about Canadian ones. (He left academe soon after to sell real estate; I inherited his Dialectology course and kept the Canadian English course as well.) If the content of my Canadian English course was a little thin the first few years, no one complained. Soon enough it was bursting at the seams.
One of the first initiatives of the first Director of the Strathy Unit, Clint Lougheed (who had taught me in the James Joyce M.A. seminar years earlier), was the making of an annotated bibliography, Writings on Canadian English 1976-1987 (Occasional Papers No. 2, 1988). The entries filled about 60 spacey pages, annotations and all— fewer pages, really, than it would take to annotate the published output of any two or three years since then. And there is still, thank goodness, so much more to learn.
Welcome to the inaugural posting on The Strathy Blog. We have added this blog to our new website to keep you informed about ongoing work at the unit as well as research and events in field of Canadian English studies.
We hope that this blog, and our work at the unit more generally, serves several populations. First, we hope to function as a base for the scholarly community, by supporting and facilitating research projects on Canadian English, assisting with networking, and serving as a portal for gathering and distributing information. Second, we want to be of service to students at Queen’s pursuing Canadian English studies, by offering support on a variety of practical levels. Finally, we hope to function as a resource for the general public, by introducing and exploring the topic of Canadian English in a way that is engaging and accessible to a wide range of people.
Blog postings will fall into two categories: “News” and “Guest Column”. The former will contain updates on the unit’s research activities, event announcements, and news about unit students and affiliates. The latter will contain guest pieces written by Canadian English scholars on a range of topics in the field. We hope to post something in this category approximately once a month, and we are pleased that our first guest piece, to be posted in February, will be written by Jack Chambers, Professor Emeritus in the Department of Linguistics at the University of Toronto and leading scholar in Canadian English studies.
2011 marks the 30th anniversary of the founding of the Strathy Language Unit. We are excited to be launching several new projects in honour of this 30th year, including Canada Speaks, a recording project with the aim of collecting oral stories from Canadian English speakers from a range of different backgrounds, and the Strathy Bibliography of Canadian English, a searchable on-line database of Canadian English resources. In May, we will hold an open house during the Queen’s Alumni Reunion weekend to celebrate the unit’s anniversary and its founder, Queen’s alumnus J.R. Strathy.
If you would like to comment on the blog or subscribe to receive postings via email, please send a message to firstname.lastname@example.org. In the case of a subscription request, please indicate whether you would like to subscribe to “Strathy Blog”, or only to “Strathy News” or “Strathy Guest Column”. Please also get in touch if you have an announcement or project that you would like us to highlight on the blog.
Thank you for your interest in the unit and in Canadian English!