The Strathy Blog

News about the Strathy Language Unit and Canadian English studies
 


Soccer or Football

Date: November 28, 2022 | Category: In the Media

With the 2022 World Cup underway, the long-simmering soccer vs. football debate has bubbled to the surface again. But do you know the origins of these words?

 


We Love Scrabble, Amirite?

Date: November 18, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Scrabble dictionary editors have embiggened the game with the additions of hundreds of new words.

 


'Homer'

Date: November 17, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Cambridge Dictionary's word of the year, 'homer' (a home-run in baseball), was inspired by the popular word game Wordle, or more precisely, inspired by the uproar over American English terms and spellings in the game.

 


Permacrisis

Date: November 2, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Does "an extended period of instability and insecurity" describe your 2022? 'Permacrisis' is Collins Dictionary's word of the year.

 


Accent Bias in Children

Date: October 13, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Interesting new research with Canadian English-speaking children finds that children as young as five exhibit a preference for the local accent, even when raised in a multilingual environment or in a household with different English accents.

 


Language and Immigration in Ondaatje's In the Skin of a Lion

Date: August 29, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Philip Swieton

[Editor's note: This piece is the final in our series: Language and Immigration in Canadian English Literature.]

Michael Ondaatje's novel In the Skin of a Lion, published in 1987, is a fictional reimagining of Toronto's construction in the early 1900s, most notably of the prominent role that immigrants occupied in building the Prince Edward Viaduct and the R.C. Harris Water Treatment Plant. The novel takes a special interest in the process of learning English as an immigrant — namely, how the workers concurrently construct from scratch a new infrastructure for the city and a new language for themselves. Their lack of an English voice, among other social factors, disenfranchises these workers from being given their due credit: though they have built structures that have since gained cultural significance in Toronto, the workers have been largely forgotten in the city's history. In the Skin of a Lion, therefore, casts light on the ways that linguistic strains have curtailed the stories of immigrant workers that helped create the Toronto of today.

Nicholas Temelcoff is one such worker on the Prince Edward Viaduct. An immigrant from Macedonia, he is the bridge's daredevil: he swings, free falls, does those acrobatics no other bridge worker has the audacity to do. Precarious as this work is, Nicholas does it effortlessly; he instead strains over learning his English. As he manoeuvres around the site, he can be seen "breaking down syllables and walking around them as if laying the clauses out like tackle on a pavement to be checked for worthiness, picking up one he fancies for a moment then replacing it with another". Here, it is his manual labour which becomes his primary point of reference. Language, something otherwise taken for granted as foundational and elementary, becomes the strenuous work. As Ondaatje writes of Nicholas, "language was much more difficult than what he does in space". While his work on the bridge is the most valuable of the site's workers, Nicholas' difficulty with English makes his mannerisms seem reclusive and his intonations high-strung; his manual labour speaks for him more than he can for himself.

Continue reading...

 


New Language Statistics

Date: August 19, 2022 | Category: In the media

Statistics Canada has released language data from the 2021 census. How many Canadians are bilingual? What are the most commonly spoken languages in your area? How many people are learning an Indigenous language? Dig through the data with these tables and graphics. 

 


Language and Immigration in Chariandy's Brother

Date: August 18, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Philip Swieton

[Editor's note: This piece is the third in our series: Language and Immigration in Canadian English Literature.]

David Chariandy's second novel Brother was published in 2017 to critical acclaim, collecting the Rogers Writers' Trust Fiction Prize in 2017 and the Toronto Book Award and Ethel Wilson Fiction Prize in 2018. The novel is narrated by Michael, a Canadian-born man reflecting upon his childhood in a Trinidadian household in 1980s Scarborough, Ontario. These reflections are mediated by memories of his late elder brother Francis, a precocious boy who gets embroiled in the city's delinquent scene. By retracing these childhood experiences, Brother illuminates how Scarborough's linguistic identity was (and continues to be) in a state of constant flux by the "heated language of the changing nation" − or, the tensions that arise when new generations of Canadian immigrants meet Western European settler notions of what it means to speak English 'correctly'. Brother is, in one facet, a testimony to the ways that a vernacular develops within a social context, and the colonial attitudes that linger towards different English dialects.

Michael introduces the Scarborough of his youth by sketching something of its cultural history. Prior to the influx of families moving into it, when it was still a sparsely inhabited city, it was referred to as 'Scarberia'. Then, the city grew larger and more diverse; Michael rhapsodizes about it as a suburb that had "mushroomed up and yellowed, browned, and blackened into life”. Resuscitated by the many cultures that inhabit it, this new Scarborough was given more fitting nicknames, such as 'Scarlem' or 'Scarbistan'. Just as these sobriquets were reflections of Scarborough's cultural diversity, so too its vernacular expanded to reflect elements of new languages − adopting, for example, the Jamaican slang term rudeboy as a particular term of endearment.

Continue reading...
 


Dictionary of African American English

Date: August 15, 2022 | Category: In the media

An exciting project long overdue... Oxford is compiling a dictionary of African American English. "This is a living language. It's a language that's changing with every song, every tweet, every conversation that's happening amongst Black Americans and the broader culture. This is as much a story about people as it is about words."

 


'Quart' Quandary

Date: August 2, 2022 | Category: In the media

In February, we noted the uproar over the American spelling of 'humor' in the popular word game Wordle. Yesterday's puzzle opened another American vs. British rift with 'quart', a measurement most common in the United States. In Canada, just as both American and British spellings are familiar, so too are both metric and imperial systems of measurement. Could this flexibility make Canadians better at word games??

 


Language and Immigration in Bezmozgis' 'Tapka'

Date: July 25, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Philip Swieton

[Editor's note: This piece is the second in our series: Language and Immigration in Canadian English Literature.]

“Tapka” is a short story by Latvian-Canadian author and filmmaker David Bezmozgis. It was first published in The New Yorker in 2003 and was later arranged as the opening story in Bezmozgis’ short-story collection Natasha and Other Stories. The collection follows the Bermans, a Russian-Jewish family who fled Riga, Latvia (then part of the Soviet Union) for Toronto. 

Mark, the collection's narrator, is six years old in "Tapka". His family lives in an apartment building that has no other Russians except for one older couple, with whom they learn English, their new language. While the adults collaborate on their English lessons, Mark and his cousin are trusted with walking the neighbours' prized dog, a white Lhasa-apso named Tapka. The children would take Tapka by the ravine, throwing Tapka's pet clown Clonchik in every direction and ordering, "Tapka get Clonchik". As Mark proudly remarks: "Tapka always got Clonchik." Here, Mark discovers the relationship between the language he uses and its ability to produce the effects he wants.

Unlike his parents, who rigorously study to apprehend their new language, Mark has a more permissive experience with language acquisition; he describes his absorption of the English around him as the trickle of "a thin rivulet of meaning" into his "cerebral catch basin". While also picking up innocuous phrases from T.V. such as "What's up, Doc?" and "Super-duper!", Mark (as children tend to be) is most keen on retaining playground talk - words that are not worth repeating! This crude freedom begins to colour Mark and his cousin's interactions with Tapka. They excitedly refer to the dog by their newly learned profanities, remarking with glee how she would dutifully retrieve Clonchik all the same. This to Mark is a period of uninhibited linguistic discovery, where anything he says is met with no recrimination or consequence. Tapka will always get Clonchik.

Continue reading...
 


Is Canadian English Disappearing?

Date: July 22, 2022 | Category: In the media

"For anglophone Canadians, now might be the last opportunity to save the spellings, pronunciations, forms and even words that reflect our national and regional identities, our unique cross-cultural influences and our Canadian experiences." What do you think?

Tom Urbaniak: SOS for Canadian English (Saltwire, July 21, 2022)

 


Whose Canadian English? 

Date: July 21, 2022 | Category: In the media

What exactly is Canadian English, and who gets to decide? This is something we think a lot about at the Strathy Language Unit. In this first person piece, the author recounts the experience of being told that his English isn't Canadian enough:

 


Language and Immigration in Thammavongsa's How to Pronounce Knife 

Date: July 6, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Philip Swieton

[Editor's note: This piece is the first in our new series: Language and Immigration in Canadian English Literature.]

How to Pronounce Knife is the debut short story collection of Canadian author — and already-established poet — Souvankham Thammavongsa. Winner of the 2020 Giller Prize and the 2021 Trillium Book Award, the collection narrates the experiences of Lao immigrants as they orient themselves within Canada — many of these relating to their confrontations with the English language. The stories are informed by Thammavongsa’s own experiences immigrating to Canada: she herself was born in a Lao refugee camp in Nong Khai, Thailand, and, at the age of one, immigrated with her family to Toronto per a sponsorship program that the Canadian government enacted in July of 1979. According to the 2016 Census of Canada, just under 25 000 people of Laotian ancestry live in Canada today.

The collection opens with its title story, “How to Pronounce Knife”, which follows a Laotian grade one student named Joy struggling with one particular word, ‘knife’, in her practice book. Enlisted to help, Joy’s father confidently asserts, “Kah-nnn-eye-ffff. It’s kahneyff”. When confronted about her pronunciation at school the following day, Joy stands by her father, arguing, “It’s in the front! The first one! It should have a sound!”

Thammavongsa’s characters in these stories are uncompromising about language. She uses language and its difficulties as a vehicle not for shame but for laughter — the jokes not at the expense of the characters ‘foreignness’, but at everything and everyone but. Thammavongsa tells The Paris Review:

Yes, my parents mispronounced things all the time, and they did it with a wonderful and grand confidence. I would tell my parents that the kids at school pronounced knife with no sound and we would laugh and laugh at how silly they were. There’s a letter right there and they don’t even do anything about it! And they call themselves educated! All of the stories play with that in some way—what is lost and what is gained in these mistakes.

Continue reading...

 


Words of Summer

Date: June 23, 2022 | Category: News

We have been enjoying sharing words from our Wolfe Island English corpus (see a previous post about 'bees'). Now that summer is officially here, we thought it was time for some seasonably appropriate terms.

summer kitchen, an extra kitchen separate from the house, used for cooking in hot weather
“There was a big summer kitchen outside that they used in the summertime.”

summer people, people who reside on Wolfe Island only during the summer
"We had some pretty big crowds. Some of the summer people too that came."

summer picnic, a picnic and social event organized by the church
"They used to have the big picnics here at the church, have a big summer picnic. And the women would be cooking for a week before, and there was no fridges, there was no nothing. And pies, cakes, chickens, salads and all.”
 


Slang with Finn and Mackenzie

Date: May 5, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Actors Finn Wolfhard and Mackenzie Davis explain "hang a Larry" and other particularly Canadian slang terms.


 


Sound Symbolism in Advertising

Date: April 26, 2022 | Category: In the Media

"IKEA. Lululemon. Koodo. None of these names mean anything — but a lot of thought and planning went into them. Danielle Nerman explains why the sound of a company name is sometimes more important than what it means."

CBC's program "Cost of Living" explores the linguistics behind successful brand names.
 


Trailer Park Boys and Rural East Coast Accents

Date: April 4, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Emily Coppella

[Editor's note: This is the final instalment in our series Canadian English in Canadian Television.]

While there is a ton of variation in Atlantic Canadian accents – including the distinctive Newfoundland accent – Trailer Park Boys depicts an exaggerated general East Coast accent for comedic purposes. The show is set in the fictional Sunnyvale Trailer Park in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. It’s a beloved Canadian mockumentary television series that follows Ricky, Julian and Bubbles as they attempt to make money through petty crimes in Nova Scotia.

The show plays up the rural East Coast accent. For example, “car” sounds more like “currh” and "bar" as “burrh”. An “s” is often added to the end of words like “anywhere-s” and “somewhere-s”. Terms unique to Atlantic Canada include “gutfounded” (hungry) and “greasy” which refers to someone who’s sketchy or suspect. Not only does the term, “greasy”, appear multiple times in the Trailer Park Boys script, it’s even part of the title of the spinoff gaming app, “Trailer Park Boys: Greasy Money.” Another common term, “fussy,” often used in a sentence like, “I’m not fussy” means you don’t particularly like something.

A popular phrase in Atlantic Canada that pops up on the show is “that’s the way she goes.” It’s usually used to claim an accident or catastrophe is uncontrollable. You can see the show make fun of the saying in a clip from Season 5, Episode 3 “The Fuckin’ Way She Goes” (Disclaimer: There is language in the video that some may find offensive.)

The show also inspired a new term in the Canadian lexicon: rickyism. This is a term Canadian viewers invented to describe Ricky’s habit of making linguistic slips. Whether he’s mispronouncing words or using strange wordplay, his use of malapropisms – the mistaken use of a word in place of a similar-sounding one, often with unintentionally amusing effect – is a comedic strategy Canadians love to laugh at. Some of the finest rickyisms include saying “frustated” instead of “frustrated” or “what comes around is all around” rather than “what goes around, comes around.” The above clip has a hilarious compilation of rickyisms. 

Trailer Park Boys has left a stamp on Canadian culture, in part due to the way it uses Canadian English to get us all laughing.
 


Feeling 'Verklempt' Over These New Additions

Date: March 30, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Words inspired by the pandemic, like 'vax' and 'anti-masker' are not the only new additions to dictionary.com. Have you been 'forest bathing' or doing 'chair yoga' lately?

 


Starring Canadian English 

Date: March 29, 2022 | Category: In the Media

The new animated movie, Turning Red, is being celebrated for its Canadianness - from the Canadian creator and cast to the iconic Toronto landmarks and local references. It also introduces some classic Canadian terms to the world. Be on the lookout for 'hosers', 'toques' and more!


Kim's Convenience and Linguistic Diversity

Date: March 4, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Emily Coppella

[Editor's note: This is the fourth instalment in our series Canadian English in Canadian Television.]

It’s no secret that language is diverse in Canada. In Toronto – where the television series Kim’s Convenience is set –only 56% of people have English as their mother tongue, and that number is expected to decline. The remaining 44% have French, an Indigenous language or one of hundreds of immigrant languages as their mother tongue. This means that Canadian English, especially in cities, is spoken with a variety of accents and often incorporates phrases and words from these other languages.

Although Canadian media has been slow to portray this linguistic complexity, Kim’s Convenience is one example of a more realistic depiction of how Canadian English is diverse and continually changing. The Canadian television sitcom depicts a Korean-Canadian family operating a convenience store in the Moss Park area of Toronto. Canadian English is spoken by the characters, but the parents have a Korean accent and occasionally shift into the Korean language.

A clip from Season 3, Episode 8, entitled “English is such a hard language!”, shows Mrs. Kim struggling with English spelling on her convenience store signage. Mr. and Mrs. Kim are also shown switching between English and Korean, revealing the realities of a bilingual family. The couple attends the Toronto Korean East-West Presbyterian Church in the Leslieville neighbourhood, where Korean is often spoken and sung. At home, the family cooks traditional Korean foods like 'gimbap' and 'galbi jjim', using Korean words to describe cooking techniques. The Kim children, meanwhile, are native Canadian English speakers without Korean accents, illustrating a common scenario whereby Canadian youth speak differently than their immigrant parents.

In the clip above, you can watch Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, who plays Mr. Kim, discuss how accents and stereotypes portrayed on television have harmed Asians and other minority groups (Disclaimer: Language that may be offensive). He also explores how the humour derived from miscommunication on the show (as a result of English being Mr. and Mrs. Kim’s second language) is a trope used in comedies even with characters who speak English very well.

From 2011 to 2016, there was an 11% growth in the population who reported speaking Korean in Canada. This award-winning show has not only helped represent Korean culture in Canada, but the linguistic diversity of our country as well.
 


All About Bees

Date: March 3, 2022 | Category: News

As we continue to work with our corpus of English from Wolfe Island, Ontario, we encounter many interesting terms from our interviews. You may be familiar with the concept of a "bee" - where a community gathers to complete a project and then socialize. But did you know that there are terms for specific types of bees? Here are a few we've encountered:

corn-shucking bee
"We never grew that much corn, but there used to be corn-shucking bees."

hay bee
"They'd have hay bees, and they'd take it over to the depot, when the big train would take it."

thrashing bee
"You probably remember thrashing bees, eh, and the big dinners that they used to have for those."

wood bee
"Yeah, the wood bees. People'd get together to cut wood."
 


Republic of Doyle and Newfoundland English

Date: Feb. 16, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Emily Coppella

[Editor's note: This is the third instalment in our new series: Canadian English in Canadian Television.]

The uniquely Maritime mix of Scottish, Irish, English and French influences has created several interesting dialects in eastern Canada. Newfoundland and Labrador, though, is seen in the Canadian cultural imagination as being linguistically distinct. In addition to the different accents, Newfoundlanders use various words that people from outside “the Rock” have probably never heard of. There’s even a Dialect Atlas of Newfoundland and Labrador.

A Canadian-made television show that serves as a great example of the uniqueness of this East Coast community is the comedy-drama television series, Republic of Doyle, set in St. John’s, Newfoundland itself. In the show, a father-son duo team up as private investigators with several other characters, and they get into numerous complicated (and sometimes illegal) situations.

Viewers have probably noticed while watching the show that there’s an almost Irish edge to the cast’s accents. Did you know there’s actually a strong connection between Ireland and Newfoundland in particular? Between 30,000 and 35,000 Irish immigrants settled in Newfoundland and Labrador in the early 1800s. In less than 50 years, the Irish population in St. John’s increased 600%. In fact, most of these people were specifically from southeast Ireland, making their accents even more distinct.

The actor who plays Malachy Doyle, Sean McGinley, is Irish himself. In an interview in the clip below, one of the show’s writers says that the typically difficult to master Newfoundland accent was easier for McGinley to achieve because he could simply “flatten” his own accent a bit. Other examples of the Irish accent influencing Newfoundland speech can be seen in the show’s script. For example, “nothing” is written as “nudding.” Sometimes called th-stopping, this phenomenon refers to the “th” sound being replaced by “d”, and it’s a common phonological feature of Newfoundland English – and one that has its roots in Irish English.

Continue reading the article here
 


Unamused

Date: Feb. 11, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Wordle fans outside of the United States did not see the "humour" in Wednesday's puzzle. The American spelling of the word, with only five letters, confused and irritated players who follow British English spelling standards. We didn't hear many complaints in Canada - another sign of Canadians' flexibility when it comes to spelling?

 


Bomb Cyclone

Date: Jan. 30, 2022 | Category: In the Media

"With this pandemic, we are already dealing with way too much emotional precipitation. It is time for scary weather words to vanish from the lexicon."


Mohawk Girls and Indigenous Languages

Date: Jan. 28, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Emily Coppella

[Editor's note: This is the second instalment in our new series: Canadian English in Canadian Television.]

While Canadians are often identified in popular culture through stereotypical language identifiers, such as our pronunciation of “sorry” or use of “eh”, Mohawk Girls demonstrates that the media's portrayal of Canadian English is starting to shift, better reflecting the diverse realities of language on Turtle Island. Mohawk Girls is a comedy-drama television series created by Tracey Deer. The show follows the complicated lives of three best friends and a recent newcomer to their small community on the Mohawk reserve of Kahnawà:ke, by the St. Lawrence River.

Mohawk (Kanien'kéha) is one of approximately 70 Indigenous languages in Canada and is spoken by around 2,350 people, mostly in Quebec and Ontario. The Mohawk language is a member of the Iroquoian language family, with distinct eastern and western dialects as well as variation within these groups and across different communities.
 

Despite being set on a Mohawk reserve, the language used in Mohawk Girls is primarily English, not Mohawk. Nevertheless, Mohawk plays a vital role in the show’s community. While the characters typically speak English, they also incorporate Mohawk words and phrases into their conversations. The show’s on-set Mohawk consultant, Wentahawi Elijah, helped develop a realistic script based on the linguistic realities of many Indigenous communities. Even if not fluent in Mohawk, many people blend Mohawk into their English, as well as study the language and work towards reviving it. In the above video, the show’s creator talks about the importance of having Elijah on set to train the cast and advise the crew on the Mohawk language.

Throughout the show, greetings and farewells are often done in Mohawk, as are other common phrases; for example, “thank you so much” is instead “niawen’kó:wa.” Sometimes characters express their love for one another with the Mohawk phrase “konnorónhkwa,” which is often translated to “I love you” in English, but is closer to meaning “I show you I care.”

To learn more about the revitalization of Mohawk, check out the Mohawk Language Custodian Association.
 


Dogs that Dig Holes

Date: Jan. 13, 2022 | Category: In the Media

It's not every day that your city gets called out by Merriam-Webster, but Toronto had that distinction today, albeit a dubious one, for its wording on a sign for dog owners.


Great White North and Hosermania

Date: Jan. 12, 2022 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Emily Coppella

[Editor's note: This is the first instalment in our new series: Canadian English in Canadian Television.]

Perhaps the most infamous fictional Canadians on television are brothers, Bob and Doug McKenzie, who hosted the “Great White North” segment on SCTV. These toque and plaid-wearing pals have been making Canadians laugh for years due to their poor lack of judgment and goofy commentary on Canadian culture. Did you know the skit was originally created to mock CBC Television for the Canadian content they required at the time?
 


 

Scattered throughout their skits is the term, “hoser,” which is framed as a lighthearted insult. According to the Canadian Encyclopedia, it’s a “slang word for a Canadian of limited intelligence and little education. Almost always a white man, a hoser is, to some extent, the Canadian equivalent of American terms like ‘hillbilly’ and ‘redneck’ – though without the overtly racist connotations of the latter word”. The Collins Dictionary defines the Canadian meaning of “hoser” as “an unsophisticated, especially rural, person.”

Although it is believed to have existed before the 1980s, it wasn’t really until Bob and Doug appeared on small screens across Canada that the term really took off (pun intended – another Canadian saying they often use is “take off!”). Rick Moranis (Bob) and Dave Thomas (Doug) are considered hosers, not only because they call each other so, but because the majority of their comedy is centred around their inability to understand anything beyond their small world.

Some believe “hoser” grew out of the insult “loser" or is due to the verb “hose,” and its meaning to deceive or swindle. Despite the elusive origin of the word, we can thank Bob and Doug for creating what SCTV called the “social phenomenon” of “Hosermania”. “Hoser” is one of the most iconic terms found in Canadian English and we have Canadian media to thank.
 


Insurrection

Date: Jan. 10, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Members of The American Dialect Society have chosen "insurrection" as their 2021 Word of the Year. "Boosted" won Pandemic-Related Word of the Year while "supply chain" topped the list for Financial Word of the Year. Check out the other categories in their press release.
 


A New Dictionary?

Date: Jan. 4, 2022 | Category: In the Media

The Oxford Canadian Dictionary is long overdue for an update. This has researchers wondering how to revive the project or perhaps start from scratch with a new dictionary for Canadian English.
 


Including Canada

Date: Jan. 3, 2022 | Category: In the Media

Linguist Sali Tagliamonte is fighting for the inclusion of more Canadian English words in the Oxford Dictionary - and she's getting results. 


 


Click here to read 2021 blog posts