The Strathy Blog

News about the Strathy Language Unit and Canadian English studies
 


Solar Eclipse

Date: April 8, 2024 | Category: News

The Strathy Unit was in the zone of totality for today's solar eclipse!

eclipse


Bai, b'y?

Date: April 1, 2024 | Category: In the Media

"She has always felt like people outside her home of Banbridge, Northern Ireland, need subtitles to decipher her accent and slang. So it has been strange and delightful to discover . . . that in Newfoundland and Labrador, people understand her just fine."

Woman in Northern Ireland finds people who can understand her — in Newfoundland (Toronto Star, March 30, 2024)

 


11 Cape Bretonisms

Date: March 13, 2024 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Aiden Hickey

[This piece is the second in our new series: Englishes from the Maritimes.]

Cape Bretoner, wha? ⟷ Canadian, eh?

In my last piece, I touched briefly upon the unique accent associated with English speakers in and from Cape Breton, Nova Scotia, along with how the migration of Gaelic speakers from Ireland and the Scottish Highlands—who began settling on the Island throughout the mid-nineteenth century—played a critical role in shaping the phonetic characteristics of the Cape Breton accent. In this piece I turn to the innovative vocabulary of Cape Breton English. With the fairly recent publication of Mackinnon and William’s Dictionary of Cape Breton English (DCBE) comes a good opportunity to explore how Cape Bretoners alter the meaning of standard English words and even invent their own!

Along with innumerable people who grew up in Canada, I spent a great deal of my time playing and watching hockey. As a consequence, a word like “puck”, for instance, became an essential part of my everyday lexicon, used inside and outside of the house: at hockey practice, at Halifax Moosehead games, the local pond, and the living room, of course. Phrases such as “Shoot the puck”, “Pass the puck”, “Dump the puck”, and (usually before early-morning practice) “Where are the pucks?”, reflected my early stock in trade.

It was only later on, during a weekend visit at my grandparents home in North Sydney, Cape Breton, when I learned that the word “puck”—crystallized in my mind’s eye as a hockey puck—could also be used as a verb. My grandfather had been telling me stories of the childhood roughhousing that used to go on between my mother and uncles when I began to realize the genuine distinctiveness of Cape Breton English . . . “I still mind pullin’ in the driveway and seein’ Jimmy puck Jennifer right in the mouf,” my grandfather said. At this point, around the age of sixteen or seventeen, I had gotten familiar with my grandparents' tendency to drop the "th" sound. But what did “puck” mean in this context, and what about “mind”?

Continue reading...
 


A New Dictionary of Canadian English

Date: February 29, 2024 | Category: News

The Strathy Language Unit is excited to be part of a collaborative initiative to produce a new dictionary of Canadian English. Working with our partners at Editors Canada and UBC's Canadian English Lab, we are creating the first dictionary of Canadian English in over twenty years. Our aim is not only to provide an updated resource but one that reflects the diversity of Canada today. Read more about this exciting project — as well as how you might be involved — in today's announcement from Editors Canada.
 


The Cape Breton Accent

Date: February 28, 2024 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Aiden Hickey

[This piece is the first in our new series: Englishes from the Maritimes.]

How’s she goin’, b’y?

Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia, like Newfoundland and other Maritime provinces, is known for its distinctive accent, along with its wonderfully innovative deviations and manipulations of the English language. In this way, Cape Breton English is a unique and regionally defined category of Canadian English, academically established by William John Davey and John P. Mackinnon’s recently published Dictionary of Cape Breton English. Or, put somewhat differently, Cape Breton English, known in the Canadian cultural imagination as an oftentimes humorous, dialectically inflected language filled with what have come to be known as Cape Bretonisms, can be understood to constitute a subset of regional, localized, vernacular language under the national umbrella of Canadian English.

Phrases and usages, however, are not always confined to the Island, of course, as transmission routinely escapes its territorial bounds. Speakers from Cape Breton and Newfoundland, for instance, are often conflated by more metropolitan (or “mainland”) Canadians because of the distinctive yet similar sounding accents. A common quip within the Maritimes, for instance, is that a Cape Bretoner is just a Newfoundlander who took the wrong turn on their way to Toronto.

Continue reading...
 


New Strathy Corpus Access

Date: February 12, 2024 | Category: News

A full version of the Strathy Corpus of Canadian English is now hosted by Borealis: The Canadian Dataverse Repository. Researchers interested in downloading the corpus can request access through the site
 


Ya Knows I Loves Ya

Date: January 22, 2024 | Category: In the Media

"These Newfoundland English features, they may be going through periods of decline, but through quoted voices and through narrative storytelling, speakers are actually holding on to them ... They're not being lost. They're being used in very creative ways."

Are N.L. accents dying? No b'y - but they are changing (CBC, Jan. 20, 2024)

 


And the Winner is...

Date: January 15, 2024 | Category: In the Media

Enshittification! At their January meeting, American Dialect Society members voted on their Word of the Year for 2023. Read all about enshittifcation and the other contenders.

 


Got Rizz?

Date: December 4, 2023 | Category: In the Media

“One of the reasons it’s moving from being a niche social media phrase into the mainstream is, it’s just fun to say...  When it comes off your tongue, there’s a little bit of joy that comes with it.”

Oxford's 2023 Word of the Year is ... 'Rizz' (NY Times, Dec. 3, 2023)

 


Authentic

Date: November 28, 2023 | Category: In the Media

It's the time of the year for words of the year! First up is "authentic" from Merriam-Webster:

"A high-volume lookup most years, authentic saw a substantial increase in 2023, driven by stories and conversations about AI, celebrity culture, identity, and social media."

 


Participate!

Date: November 22, 2023 | Category: News

How has Canadian English changed over the past 50 years? How does it vary across the country today?

In 1972, M.H. Scargill and H.J. Warkentyne published a Survey of Canadian English, a landmark study of the pronunciations, grammar, words and spellings used by Canadians across the country. A great deal has changed in Canada since that study appeared, so a team of researchers in the Linguistics Department at McGill University, led by Prof. Charles Boberg, has undertaken a replication of the 1972 study, reprising 50 of the original questions for comparative analysis and adding some new ones. Canadians of all ages, regions and social backgrounds are encouraged to participate in this research by responding to the survey, in order to ensure a truly representative view of Canadian English today. If you'd like to add your voice to this view, please follow the link below and complete the survey!

Canadian English survey: https://surveys.mcgill.ca/ls3/414379?lang=en

Project website: https://www.mcgill.ca/canadianenglish/

 


Fast Talkers

Date: November 6, 2023 | Category: In the Media

An informal study of speech rate in ten Canadian cities finds that Toronto has the slowest talkers. Which city do think has the fastest?

 


O Canada

Date: October 2, 2023 | Category: News

Anthem: Expressions of Canadian Identity — a new exhibit at the Canadian Language Museum — will explore the national anthem's lyrics through creative work by Canadian artists. Register to attend Thursday's opening!

 


'Bedizened'

Date: September 26, 2023 | Category: In the Media

Author Michael Crummey gives old Newfoundland English terms new life in his fiction.

 


Quebec English

Date: September 21, 2023 | Category: In the Media

"The province has been roiled this year by debates about anglicisms studding the speech of young francophones, especially modern words such as chill and sketch – a sign, for some, of French fragility in North America. But, in a less remarked-on dynamic, the linguistic influence goes both ways. Quebec anglophones have also started using a growing number of French expressions..."

'Meet me at the dep': How anglos borrowed from French to create a 'Quebec English' all their own (Globe and Mail, Sept. 20, 2023)
 


Girl Post

Date: September 13, 2023 | Category: In the Media

"The word 'girl' can be a noun, a verb, an adjective, or an exclamation, meaning something slightly different depending on how it’s said and who has said it..."

 


Get the Scuttlebutt

Date: August 22, 2023 | Category: In the Media

If you're finding it hard to 'toe the line', blame 18th century seamen. Learn how terminology from seafaring life had an impact on the English we speak today.

 


Let's Celebrate

Date: August 15, 2023 | Category: In the Media

It's International Apostrophe Day, "the annual commemoration of a crooked little line that punches above its weight". If you are a fan of the apostrophe and/or regularly annoyed by it's misuse (did you catch that?), you might want to become a member of the Apostrophe Protection Society.

 


How Hip-Hop Changed English

Date: August 14, 2023 | Category: In the Media

On the 50th anniversary of hip-hop, learn the history of 'dope', 'woke' and how the genre has "transformed the English language, bringing the Black vernacular's vibrancy to the world" in this interactive piece from The New York Time's Magazine.

 


Multicultural Toronto English

Date: July 19, 2023 | Category: In the Media

Linguistics professor Derek Denis and students at University of Toronto Mississauga are doing fascinating research on Multicultural Toronto English, "a way of speaking that arises from a variety of features present in Toronto, including its vast diversity of languages".

 


Rink Rat

Date: May 25, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Mackenzie Gagnier

In our blog series, Tales of Canadianisms, Strathy Unit intern Mackenzie Gagnier uses Candianisms as inspiration for a series of short stories. Enjoy his final piece — "Rink Rat":

After dumping the ice shavings from the Zamboni’s bucket, Mr. Berk returned to the small office where he took his lunches. That morning, he had impulsively layered some wild parsley into his typical turkey and Swiss sandwich but now found himself picking it out. He could not remember why he had bought the parsley in the first place.

He wondered if that kid would be hanging around today. Berk recognized him by his forehead more than anything else, as the boy was always watching games while leaning face-first into the glass and as a result usually bore a red splotchy impression just above the brows. He had approached Berk a few times on his rounds, always a bright and focused expression, persistent in his interrogations. He would ask about the daily goings-on of the rink, ice maintenance and even the lighting on one occasion. Often Berk provided brief answers when apprehended, although he tried his best to appear unapproachable. He soon found it difficult to avoid the boy, as he watched nearly every game on Saturdays and lingered around on weeknights as well. Berk had gathered that he played Peewee hockey on Tuesdays at six and that his skates were always the last off the ice during free skate hours. He’d had to yell at the boy on more than one occasion to clear the ice, at which point he always promptly did. And as Berk lumbered onto the ice in the Zamboni during games, he often caught a wave from the boy which he pretended not to see.

Today, however, Berk was feeling agreeable to a chat with just about anyone. He decided that if he saw the boy later, he would perhaps act friendly towards him.

Continue reading...
 


We're Lousy with Words

Date: May 18, 2023 | Category: News

We are excited to announce the release of our new online resource—Words of Wolfe Island—featuring interesting words and phrases from our interviews with residents of Wolfe Island, Ontario. So don't be a sourpuss! Boogie on over and take a tour.

 


Garburator

Date: May 17, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Mackenzie Gagnier

In our blog series, Tales of Canadianisms, Strathy Unit intern Mackenzie Gagnier uses Candianisms as inspiration for a series of short stories. Enjoy his third piece — "Garburator":

On Thursday night, when Carl’s mom was at some conference, he slipped quietly out of his bed and down the stairs into the kitchen, where he stared into the spotless, empty sink. Dim yellow light, cast from the small faux Christmas tree in the living room, illuminated his leaning silhouette as he carefully lifted away the strainer and placed it on the counter. The darkness of the drain was mesmerizing, appearing to extend deep below the house to who-knows-where.

It had been over a week since his last ritual, and Carl knew he couldn’t wait any longer. As he tried to fall asleep, he often imagined the whirling and grinding of the garburator, and the abyss waiting below its glinting teeth. Tonight, however, he could not be satisfied by his imagination, or by ruminating on his ever-expanding list of items for study. His sister’s heavy breathing upstairs had assured him that she was asleep—and if he didn’t wake her up tonight, he knew his experiments would become much more frequent.

When was she supposed to be home—midnight? he thought, stealing a quick glance at the microwave clock to his right. 11:05. Plenty of time. Still, better hurry though. The days-old, hard-boiled egg in his hand slipped around in his anxious grip. He still couldn’t believe Mary hadn’t seen him swipe it from her desk at lunchtime—but more unbelievable was the fact that he had even gone through with it. Sometimes, he had justified at the time, things just went missing—stolen away. Why should Mary expect any different?

Continue reading...
 


Jamaican Patwa Grammar

Date: April 26, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Shamara Peart

This is the final piece in our series Jamaican Patwa Meets Toronto English.

Patwa’s unique grammatical structure is a result of the various languages that contributed to its formation. In this post, I share a few examples of differences between Patwa and English. You may notice these features of Patwa mixed into the English you hear on the streets of Toronto!

Inflection. Unlike English, Patwa doesn’t rely on verbal inflection. Inflection is when a word is modified to contain grammatical information without affecting the meaning of the word. For example:

'Mi taak'
I talk
'Mi a taak'
I am talking
'Mi ago taak'
I will talk
'Mi eh taak'
I had talked

In the above Patwa sentences, to change the tense, a word is placed before the verb, indicating present, future or past. This is in contrast to English, which uses a combination of auxiliary verbs and inflection (-ing, -ed) to indicate tense.

Continue reading...
 


Accent and Gender

Date: April 25, 2023 | Category: In the Media

A new study of Mandarin-accented speakers of Canadian English explores the complex interaction of accent prejudice and gender. 

"Although non-native accents may be seen as a positive for initial hiring in some circumstances, stereotypes associated with non-native accents could lead to women facing more challenges in acquiring higher-level jobs and advancing in their careers ... for roles where competence is viewed as an asset, and warmth as a liability, such as higher-level leadership roles."

Ivona Hideg et al, Women With Mandarin Accent in the Canadian English-Speaking Hiring Context: Can Evaluations of Warmth Undermine Gender Equity?, Psychology of Women Quarterly (2023).

 


Jamaican Patwa Vocabulary

Date: March 20, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Shamara Peart

This is the third piece in our series Jamaican Patwa Meets Toronto English.

Patwa has already left its mark on Western culture and the English language, particularly in populous metropolitan areas. As a Torontonian, I hear Jamaican Patwa being used all the time. In this post, I’d like to share some vocabulary. To start, here are a few phrases that you might hear on the streets of Toronto.

“Weh yuh ah seh?”  ↔  “What are you saying?”

"Wah gwan?”  ↔  “What’s going on?/How are you?”

“Ah where ya a go?”  ↔  “Where are you going?”

“Blous(e) and skirt!"  ↔  “Wow!” [an exclamation used to express surprise]

Speech has always acted as a function of locality, and even in Jamaica, where you come from on the island can be identified by your accent. As you learned from my post on the history of Patwa, this rich language is filled with Indigenous, British, Spanish and African influences. Migration has also spread this creolized language across the world. Below is a table with examples from a few of the languages that have contributed significantly to Patwa’s vocabulary (from Jumieka.com).

Continue reading...

 


Snowbirds

Date: March 9, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Mackenzie Gagnier

In our new blog series, Tales of Canadianisms, Strathy Unit intern Mackenzie Gagnier uses Candianisms as inspiration for a series of short stories. Enjoy his second piece — "Snowbirds":

“Look sharp, Earn. It’s Barb and Bob.”

Denise held her smile through her mask as lightly dressed passengers fluttered by to their designated seats. She nudged her husband, who was fiddling with the sliding window cover, and leaned closer to his ear.

“Earn. You see them?”

He grunted and leaned back into a stretch, eyeline scarcely cresting the rows of seat-tops ahead. “What? Who?”

“Barb and Bob!” she hissed.

He spotted them and hunched back down. “Oh, yeah. They don’t see us."

Their friendly rivals the MacDoyles were shuffling down the aisle, heads busily darting between seat numbers and bustling bodies. Denise was about to call out to them, as they had nearly reached her row, when a young man took his seat directly across the aisle from her. He held his carry-on tight to his chest, having removed himself from the aisle before going for the overhead compartment. His partially-obscured face betrayed a glowing complexion contoured by stylishly slicked, long, dark hair. He wore a black peacoat and spotless dress shoes. Denise instinctively averted her gaze at just the moment the MacDoyles passed by.

Continue reading...
 


Whose Canadian English?

Date: March 3, 2023 | Category: In the Media

As Canada becomes more diverse, so does Canadian English.     


And Sometimes Y

Date: March 1, 2023 | Category: In the Media

CBC Radio is currently rebroadcasting And Sometimes Y, its series on the English language — including an episode on Canadian English. 

 


History of Jamaican Patwa 

Date: February 28, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Shamara Peart

This is the second piece in our series Jamaican Patwa Meets Toronto English.

In order to understand Jamaican Patwa, we need to understand the history of Jamaica and its population. If we focus exclusively on language and ignore the rich, violent history that infuses this island community, we will fail to understand the complexity and character of Patwa. The linguistic influences of early Indigenous populations, Spanish and English colonizers and West African slaves can all be found in the Patwa that we speak today.

For centuries, the island was inhabited by different Indigenous communities. Around the 1500s, Spain seized control of the island, and the primarily Arawak-speaking Taino’s were largely exterminated through enslavement and disease. Spanish rule ended when Britain invaded in 1670. In addition to Spanish and English, the language of Irish and Scottish soldiers also contributed to the nation’s dialects.

The British, like the Spanish before them, brought slaves from West and Central Africa to cultivate sugarcane and other crops. Between the years of 1690-1838, slaves from a variety of countries and language backgrounds became the majority of Jamaica’s population.

African slaves shared their speech and a “pidgin” was formed, a way of communicating based on a combination of features from different languages. The pidgin continuously evolved to meet the needs of the people. Eventually the grammar regularized and it became a full-fledged language, at which point linguists refer to it as a “creole”. (This is why the language is often called “Jamaican Creole”, but see my introduction as to why I choose to call it “Jamaican Patwa”.)

Continue reading this piece
 


Concession Roads

Date: February 23, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Mackenzie Gagnier

In our new blog series, Tales of Canadianisms, Strathy Unit intern Mackenzie Gagnier uses Candianisms as inspiration for a series of short stories. Enjoy his first piece — "Concession Roads":

           “What’s the deal?”

            Constable Marshall Lewis slid into the passenger seat with a fist-full of Lotto Maxs before sealing off the chilly twilight with a slam. He slotted the tickets into the side door while rummaging through his countless pocketsthough he immediately forgot what he was searching for under the expectant gaze of the sergeant.

            His superior spoke after a few seconds; “Take a look.” He flicked his head up at the mobile data computer mounted between them.

            “Not Texas already?”

            “Winner! Gagnant!”

            Without much haste, the cruiser lurched forward, rounding out of the parking lot and into the checkered labyrinth of the county. The men traveled without much talk, observing familiar stretches of farmland and shivering as the last strokes of sunlight withdrew beneath whispering fields.

“Where they park?” Lewis asked, chewing his lip.

“Concession 8. We’ll see if anyone’s there and then keep goin’.”

The constable absently scratched at the chafed skin around his tightly-fitted watch as they neared the intersection of Howard and Texas.

“How many times you been down here for this?”

Continue reading...

 


Is Canadian English Slipping Away?

Date: February 6, 2023 | Category: In the Media

Do you, like the author of this article, "worry that Canadians are losing their linguistic identity without even knowing it"? 

 


Introduction to Jamaican Patwa in Toronto

Date: January 30, 2023 | Category: Guest Column
Author: Shamara Peart

This is the first instalment in our series: Jamaican Patwa Meets Toronto English.

Toronto is known for its unique slang, but the catchy words and expressions that characterize it are the result of decades of immigration. I grew up in Rexdale, a neighbourhood in the northwestern region of Toronto where food, music, and phrases from different cultures are regularly shared. Lately, I’ve noticed that Jamaican culture and language have had a particularly strong influence on Toronto’s lingo. Partially, this is because of the large number of Canadians with Jamaican heritage (including me)! In this series for the Strathy Blog, I will unpack the history of the Jamaican Patwa language and share some of the words and phrases that I’ve grown up with. In doing so, I hope to pay respect to one of the many immigrant communities that infuse Toronto’s diverse, bustling culture.

Jamaica’s national language goes by a few names, ‘Jamaican Creole’, ‘Jamaican Patois’ or ‘Jamaican Patwa’. I prefer to use the term ‘Jamaican Patwa’ or simply ‘Patwa’, which is how the language is typically referred to by speakers. Most people in Jamaica speak Patwa as their native language, so there are a number of different varieties and dialects. In government and education a more standardized variety of English gets used. There seems to be a sliding scale between Jamaican Patwa and Standard English, where speakers use the best variety suited to the occasion and context. Today, many dialects of Patwa and are kept alive by Jamaican communities all over the world. Who knows? By the end of this series, maybe you’ll be motivated to do some research about a new culture and language.

Stay tuned for my upcoming piece on the history of Jamaican Patwa!
 


Full of respair for 2023

Date: January 16, 2023 | Category: In the Media

Do you ever rack your brain in search of the right word to describe a feeling? If so, perhaps you need to turn to the past.


The Year of -ussification

Date: January 10, 2023 | Category: In the Media

American Dialect Society members have voted for their Word of 2022, and the winner is: -ussy.

According to Ben Zimmer, chair of the ADS New Words Committee, “The selection of the suffix -ussy highlights how creativity in new word formation has been embraced online in venues like TikTok . . . The playful suffix builds off the word pussy to generate new slang terms. The process has been so productive lately on social media sites and elsewhere that it has been dubbed -ussification.” 
 


Click here to read 2022 blog posts