How to Talk Like a Canadian

Posted by on Jan 18, 2013 in Silly | 0 comments

How to Talk Like a Canadian

I’m a Canadian. Though I only lived there until age seven before moving to Texas, I was there long enough to pick up the speech mannerisms particular to Canadians. I know this, because my friends made fun of me when I started school in the US.


Eh

As everyone knows, the most recognizable characteristic of Canadian speech is the common ending of sentences or phrases with the word “eh” (spellings vary, but it’s always pronounced like “pay” or “way”).

How did they get the name for “Canada”? Two Canadians were picking letters out of a hat.

“C, eh? N, eh? D, eh?”

When teasing Canadians, Americans will try to be funny by tacking an “eh” onto the end of everything they say. That just makes them sound stupid. The “eh” only used in certain situations. When I was younger, it used to just come out at the appropriate times without even thinking, but now that I’m older, it’s taking me a few minutes to articulate when it should actually be used.

“Eh” is said at the end of a statement about a shared experience, when the speaker would like some sort of response from the listener. The response should be agreement or disagreement, verbal (“yes”, “no”, a laugh) or nonverbal (nodding or shaking head), with what has just been said. Completely ignoring an “eh” may be considered rude by the speaker.

  • “Hello, eh?”
    INCORRECT, since a listener would generally not agree or disagree with a simple greeting.
  • “Do you want some of my salad, eh?”
    INCORRECT, since “eh” should not be used at the end of a question. A question implies that some sort of response is expected, so “eh” is redundant.
  • “This orange juice is spoiled, eh?”
    CORRECT, if both the speaker and listener have tasted the orange juice.
    INCORRECT, if only the speaker has tasted the orange juice.
  • “That was a shit movie, eh?”
    CORRECT, if both the speaker and listener have seen the movie.
    INCORRECT, if only the speaker has seen the movie.

Funny Vowels

Of all the funny-sounding vowels that come out of the Canadian mouths, the “ou” sound (like in “house” and “about”) and the “a” sound (like in “taco” and “garage”) are the ones that are the most bastardized.

I’m having a hard time finding an American equivalent for how Canadians pronounce the “ou” sound in “house” and “about”. Try taking the “e” sound in “pet”, combining it with the “oo” sound in “soon”, and saying it quickly. That’s about it. Easier yet, just find a Canadian to say the words for you.

For Canadians, the “a” in “taco” and the second “a” (but not the first) in “garage” are pronounced like the “a” in “pass” and “back”. Oh, so funny.

Why do Canadians do that to the vowels? Raye Birk, one of my university acting teachers, said that people in colder climates tend to tighten up their mouths when speaking in an effort to conserve their precious warmth. The result is that vowels are shortened and pronounced more with the lips. Over generations, this tendency creates regional accents. People from Canada and the northern US do indeed pronounce their vowels in a very tight-lipped, punctuated way, and people from Scotland, on the northern end of Britain, do much the same thing.

Conversely, people from the south open up and speak with very airy vowels. In the US, southerners will run out of breath saying the word “Alabama”. In southern Britain, you’ll find residents of Portsmouth and the Isle of Wight using airy vowels in much the same way. Coincidence?

Spanish-speakers and Asians: Does vowel pronunciation change the same way from north to south in your native countries?


The Move to America

As a kid, I was teased by my friends (?) in school and learned real quick to drop the Canadianisms that made people laugh. Today, I mostly speak standard American English, though bits of Canadian still trickle out sometimes.


Writing Like a Canadian

Written Canadian English has lots of little weirdisms, mostly due to the country’s mixed English and French heritage. You’ll find “o” sometimes turns into “ou”, “er” sometimes turns into “re”, and strange slashes appear through the number 7 and the letter Z. Canadians also pronounce the letter Z as “zed”. But we won’t get into all that right now.

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