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Canadian English

English is the second most widely spoken language in the world. It  is
the official language of The United Kingdom,  Ireland,  The  United  States,
Canada, Jamaica, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand and  it  is  widely
spoken in India. It is the language of international business  and  science,
of aviation and shipping. As  so  many  people  speak  English  in  so  many
countries, there are many different "Englishes". The best  form  of  English
is  called  Standard  English  and  is  the  language  of  educated  English
speakers. The government, The BBC, The  Universities,  uses  it  and  it  is
often called Queens  English.  American  English  is  the  variety  of  the
English spoken in the  United  States.  It  is  different  from  English  in
pronunciation,  intonation,  spelling,  vocabulary  and  sometimes     even
grammar! An Englishman goes to the town  center  to  see  a  film  while  an
American goes downtown to see a movie. If  an  Englishman  needs  a  pen  he
would ask you: "Have you got a pen, please?" but the  American  would  say:"
Do you have  a  pen?"  Australian  and  New  Zealand  English,  also  called
Australian English, are very similar. Especially in pronunciation  they  are
also similar to British English, but there  are  differences  in  vocabulary
and slang. Many terms, such as kangaroo, dingo, wombat and  boomerang,  come
from the Aboriginal language  and  many  others  from  the  Cockney  dialect
spoken by the first settlers, The Londoners.  Canadian English is  different
both from American and from British English.

      Herbert Agar wrote in his article in 1931:
      The English should try to cope  with  their  philological  ignorance.
They should train themselves to  realize  that  it  is  neither  absurd  nor
vulgar that a language, which  was  once,  the  same  should  in  course  of
centuries develop differently in different  parts  of  the  world.  Just  as
French and Italian may be described as divergent forms of modern  Latin,  so
it would be helpful to think of the language of Oxford and the  language  of
Harvard as divergent forms of modern English. It is  perhaps  a  pity,  from
the point of view of international good feelings, that the  two  forms  have
not diverged a little further. At any rate, when an Englishman can learn  to
think  of  American  as  a  language,  and  not  merely  as  a   ludicrously
unsuccessful attempt to speak as he himself speaks, when  he  can  learn  to
have for American only the normal intolerance of  the  provincial  mind  for
all foreign tongues, then there will come  a  great  improvement  in  Anglo-
American relations. For even  though  Americans  realize  absurdity  of  the
English attitude toward their  language,  nevertheless  they  remain  deeply
annoyed by it. This is natural, for a mans language is his  very  soul,  it
is his thoughts and almost all his consciousness. Laugh at a mans  language
and you have laughed at the man himself in the most inclusive  sense  This
statement may refer to any of Englishes mentioned above.

      Another American  linguist    John  Algeo  states  in  his  essay  A
Meditation on the Varieties of English, that all linguistic varieties  are
fictions. A language system, such as English,  is  a  great  abstraction,  a
fiction, analyzable into  large  areal  varieties    American,  Australian,
British, Canadian, Northern Irish, Scots, Welsh, and  so  on.  But  each  of
those is in turn an abstraction, a fiction. The  point,  Algeo  argues,  is
that even though these terms   American,  Australian,  Canadian  English  
describe the reality that is in fact not there, they are nonetheless  useful
      Useful is the key term in Algeos  argument,  but  unfortunately  he
fails to adequately define in what way these fictions are useful.  The  only
definition of usefulness he offers is this:  without  such  fictions  there
can be no linguistics, nor any science. To  describe,  to  explain,  and  to
predict requires  that  we  suppose  there  are  stable  things  behind  our
discourse. This explanation hardly seems  to  clarify  the  situation.  The
claim that the fictions of national Englishes are useful  because  they  are
the foundation for linguistics is a tautology that serves more to  undermine
linguistics than to justify those fictions. Further, Algeos point that  all
science is based on certain  necessary  fictions  is  perhaps  true,  though
usually science attempt to resolve  known  fictions  into  more  stable,  at
least less fictional truths.   Finally,  the  role  of  predicting  language
change hardly seems an essential component of linguistics.
      Algeo returns to the term useful in his conclusion. He suggests that
the common practice of equating English with UK English, and  the  English
of England in particular, is one of these useful fictions. How  or  in  what
way he never makes clear.
      The  suggestion  that  national  boundaries  are  convenient  regional
groupings for studying a linguistic community is valid,  and  perhaps  there
is some usefulness in studying that linguistic community as such  provided
there is indeed a unique or binding set of  linguistic  features  shared  by
that  group.  But  by  emphasizing  Algeos  remark  that  all   linguistic
varieties are  fictions,  we  may  argue  that  in  certain  circumstances,
Canadian English  being  one,  the  usefulness  of  the  fiction  is  so
limited, that not only is it almost purposeless but it can and  does  result
in negative social and political effects.

      Unique nation, unique language?

      The fundamental political problem is that a language, or a variety  of
a language, is too often equated with a nation. Landre Bergeron  emphasizes
this in his Charte de la Langue Qubcoise by selecting as an epigraph  this
sentence by Michelet: La langue es le signe  principal  dune  nationalit
[Tr.: Language is a principle  symbol  of  nationality].  The  association
between a unique language  group  and  a  unique  political  nation  is  not
necessarily incorrect or worthless.  Our  oldest  political  boundaries  are
clearly a representation of the fact that a common language at one time  was
one of the crucial determining factors in how a group  of  people  delimited
their community. In England they speak English, in France French and so  on.
But in Canada they do not  speak  Canadian,  nor  do  they  speak  Canadian
English, for there is hardly such a  thing.  Historically,  the  geographic
isolation of these nation states must have contributed  to  the  development
of unique languages. The political reality  of  this  century  is  that  the
existence of  a  language,  or  a  unique  variety  of  a  language,  cannot
necessarily be equated with the existence of a unique political  nation.  To
point to the problem more  directly:  a  group  of  individuals  speaking  a
shared language that is different from that of the majority  of  the  people
outside of that community, does not constitute a nation.
      Thus, the desire to create a term such as Canadian English  is  born
from a reversing of the process. There is a nation Canada.  Therefore  there
must be a unique language to complement it.  The  assertion  of  a  national
language is an assertion of political existence, as Landre  Bergeron  makes
very clear in his introduction  to  The  Quebecois  Dictionary  (1982).  And
while many writers on the subject are clear to point out that they  are  not
discussing a Canadian Language, but a  variety  of  English,  emphasis  is
placed on the uniqueness of that variety  and  its  geographical  integrity,
essentially using, or allowing the terms to be used interchangeably.
      The role of dictionaries and  lexicography  in  this  assertion  of  a
national language and thus nationhood is interesting, and as old as  Johnson
and his desire to enter into contest with united academies of  France  and
Italy and permit English to rival those more polished languages  (Plan  of
an English Dictionary, 1747).

      English in Canada

      The term Canadian English has a pedigree dating  back  to  1857,  at
which time the Reverend A. C. Geikie referred to it as  a  corrupt  dialect
growing up amongst our population. Geikies preference  was  obviously  for
the British English spoken at home. In the 1950s and  1960s  an  awareness
of, and a concomitant amount of scholarship, developed  that  was  dedicated
to the subject. In 1962 Gage Publishing of Canada began  its  Dictionary  of
Canadian English series with The Beginning Dictionary in 1962,  followed  by
The  Intermediate  Dictionary,  and  The  Senior  Dictionary  in  1967.  The
Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP),  also  published
by Gage, appeared in the same year. As  was  to  be  expected,  the  primary
justification made for preparing Canadian Dictionaries was  a  lexical  one.
As Walter Avis states in his introductory essay  to  The  Senior  Dictionary
(1967), That  part  of  Canadian  English  which  is  neither  British  nor
American is best illustrated by the Vocabulary, for there  are  hundreds  of
words which are  native  to  Canada  or  which  have  meanings  peculiar  to
Canada. He goes on to elaborate that much of this  new  vocabulary  is  the
result of the unique Canadian landscape, flora, fauna, weather, etc.
      M. H. Scargill, writing a decade later, structures his book,  A  Short
History of Canadian English, around essentially  the  same  idea:  that  the
defining feature of Canadian English is its unique lexicon. He  does  add  a
brief chapter on grammar, but as he states the  unique  vocabulary  is  the
most obvious and major  item  to  answer  the  question  What  is  Canadian
      It is impossible to object to most of the words Scargill  presents  as
Canadian on grounds that they are not truly so. The problem of defining  a
Canadianism is one that DCHP comments upon, citing a great  difficulty  in
distinguishing between a  Canadianism,  an  Americanism,  and  a  North
Americanism.  Nonetheless,  they  do  in  the  end  manage  to  come  to  a
conclusion. One possible objection to Scargills word list is  that  it  for
the most part contains  specific  technical  words  or  proper  names,  very
limited  regional  words,  or  words  that  are  either  rare,  obsolete  or
obsolescent. This method of attempting to establish the periphery of  Canada
as its center is one of the seemingly inevitable tendencies  of  discussions
of Canadian English. In a  review  of  Scargills  work  by  the  American
linguist Raven I. McDavid, Jr., opposition to Scargills  Canadianisms  is
founded on the observation that Scargill seems consciously  to  ignore  the
existence of the United States. He argues that in fact  many  words  cited
by Scargill are well known in various parts of the United  States.  McDavid
provides a list of several specific examples from Scargills text. It  seems
disputable how many of the  lexical  claims  made  by  Scargill  are  indeed
      According to McDavid, this tendency to over-exaggerate difference vis-
-vis Americans is evident in  Scargills  discussion  of  pronunciation  as
well. To cite only one example: he argues that the phonemic coalescence  of
such pairs as cot and caught is not a  peculiarly  Canadian  phenomenon:
it occurs in northeastern New England, the  Pittsburgh  area,  much  of  the
Rocky Mountain and Pacific Coast.

      Language, nation, and dictionary

      There have been a great number of  accounts  recently  which  question
exactly what or whose history is reflected in language change. Literacy  was
the province of the few, and historical texts represent  the  writing  of  a
certain  exclusive  segment  of  the  society.  Yet  each  of  the  Canadian
dictionaries preface their work with a history of the settlement of  English
Canada, and then  proceed  to  a  generalization  explicitly  or  implicitly
equating the history of the language and the history  of  the  nation.  Here
are few examples:

         . Foreword, DCHP, 1967:
      By its history a people is set apart, differentiated from the rest  of
      humanity That separateness of experience, in the bludgeoning  of  the
      Atlantic waves, the forest overburden of the St. Lawrence valley,  the
      long waterways to the West, the silence  of  the  Arctic  wastes,  the
      lonesome horizons  of  the  prairie,  the  vast  imprisonment  of  the
      Cordilleras, the trade and commerce with the original Canadians   all
      this is recorded in our language.
         . Introduction, Gage Canadian Dictionary, 1983,1997:
      The Gage Canadian  Dictionary  is  thus  a  catalogue  if  the  things
      relevant to the lives of Canadians at a certain point in  history.  It
      contains, therefore, some clues to the true  nature  of  our  Canadian
         . J. K. Chambers, Canadian English: 250  Years  in  the  Making,
           Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 1998:
      In the living language there is a reflection of where we have been and
      where we are likely to go next, and what we have considered  important
      on the way. It is the codification of our common understanding.

      These accounts conflate political  history  and  the  history  of  the
language, and in doing so  leave  out  significant  events  and  aspects  of
Canadian political reality. Not the least of these is the  omission  of  the
issues surrounding Quebec and Canadian French, which for twenty  years  have
dominated Canadas political landscape.  Further,  as  in  so  many  of  the
features of Canadian English and  its  study,  these  histories  gloss  over
certain very real distinctions in order to accentuate others. In their mini-
histories of the settlement of Canada as  read  through  the  language,  the
exchange between Aboriginals and Europeans, and between French  and  English
is made to seem flawlessly smooth and  equitable.  Sample  token  Aboriginal
words are often  cited  as  examples  of  this  harmonious  interaction  and
implicit assimilation of  Native  and  French  words  and  people  into  the
dominant Canadian English.  Such  a  method  of  reading  history  through
language is a mode of propagating a myth that serves to heighten  underlying
tensions in Canadian society, and  interfere  with  the  process  of  mutual
understanding and tolerance.
      Separate from this more philosophical  problem  encountered  with  the
historical implications and  assumptions  of  these  Canadian  dictionaries,
there are other reasons to question  their  intention  and  use  value.  The
first is  the  circumstance  of  their  publishing.  Many  of  the  Canadian
dictionaries embrace the fact that they  are  overtly  political  acts.  The
firs wave of dictionary publishing came in the late 1960s, with a push  for
the DCHP and the Gage Senior Dictionary to be  published  in  time  for  the
Centenary in 1967. Both dictionaries refer to this event. At the  conclusion
of the Foreword to the DCHP, W. R. Wees states: The publishers  hope  that,
as a contribution to Centennial thinking,  the  Dictionary  of  Canadianisms
will assist in the identification, not only of Canadianisms but of  whatever
it is that we may call Canadianism. Elsewhere in the Introduction  it  is
essentially revealed that the work was rushed to print,  not  wholly  error-
free, in order to be published  in  1967.  The  Senior  Dictionary  likewise
acknowledges this event: because a dictionary is a catalogue if the  things
relevant to the lives of Canadians, the editor suggests  it  is  therefore
fitting that this book should be first published in  the  year  of  Canadas
      The second wave of dictionary publishing comes in  the  early  1980s,
with  Gage  refurbishing  its  Senior  Dictionary  as  the   Gage   Canadian
Dictionary.  1980  marked  the  height   of   Quebec   nationalist   fervour
(publication of Bergerons  overtly  political  Dictionnaire  de  la  Langue
Qubcoise) and, with the inaugural Referendum  on  Sovereignty,  the  first
real threat to Canadas political integrity since 1812. Perhaps this is  the
reason for the passage acknowledging the inclusion of regionalisms in  the
1983 edition of the Gage Canadian Dictionary, as well as a  striking  change
from a mention of the Centenary to a reassuring comment on Canadas  fragile
identity. This era marks the rise to national  consciousness  of  Canadas
identity crisis, a rise fuelled by both an  anxiety  over  differentiation
from the United States and the fear of internal  disintegration.  The  final
passage remains unchanged in the most recent version of  the  Gage  Canadian
Dictionary (1997), but the passage on regionalisms has changed,  to  include
among other things a reference to  tourtiere  and,  instead  of  borrowing
from a Native Language, the term residential school.
      The current period of the late 1990s, in which we  are  witnessing  a
renewed outburst of dictionary production, is  also  a  period  of  supposed
national identity crisis. Canada narrowly survived politically  intact  from
yet another Quebec referendum  in  1995  and  increasingly  the  Aboriginal
question has risen to  the  political  forefront.  Does  the  inclusion  of
residential school  reveal  a  rising  political  awareness  and  shifting
consideration of the treatment of  the  First  Nations  of  Canada?  We  may
suggest that the pressures and  desires  to  create  a  National  Dictionary
arise from more than linguistic  sources.  These  dictionaries,  consciously
unconsciously, carefully present a picture of a Canada  that  is  relatively
free of division and strife by presenting a coherent account of a  Canadian
English that serves to ease anxieties about the fragility of the  political

      Consistently inconsistent

      Speaking reductively, though not necessarily erroneously, the  primary
use of dictionaries is for consultation in a question of the  definition  or
spelling of a word. It is obvious, from the special  mention  given  in  the
prefatory material to the dictionaries,  that  the  more  famous  thorns  of
Canadian orthography such as the colour/color debate remain unresolved,  and
no effort is made to do so by the  dictionary  makers.  As  a  litmus  test,
then,  we  may  choose  a  less  controversial,  though  equally  unresolved
spelling dilemma of Canadian English: do we analyze or analyse?
      The following descriptions are given in the Gage  Canadian  Dictionary
(1997), the ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary of the  English  Language  (1997)
and the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (1998). Gage lists  the  both  under  the
headline analyse, citing them as entirely neutral equivalents.  Under  the
headword analyze are the instructions see analyse. Nelson provides  no
headword for analyse but does list the s-spelling under the  headword  for
analyze  the reverse of Gage.  The  Canadian  Oxford  Dictionary  defines
analyse as a variant of analyze. Under the headword for  analyze,  the
variant spelling is repeated in  parentheses.  Each  of  these  dictionaries
appears to pronounce neutrally on the subject of the correct spelling,  by
choosing  to  list  the  definition  under  one  or   the   other   headword
preferences. It is interesting  that  not  at  all  three  stress  the  same
headword. It is  perhaps  surprising  that  Nelson  is  not  the  odd  case,
considering it  is  one  of  those  dictionaries  put  out  by  an  American
publisher with token Canadian content often deplored  by  purists  (although
its complete omission of a headword for analyse is perhaps  indicative  of
this American bias).
      This example illustrates two things. The first is that in a desire for
clarification on usage the Canadian dictionaries provide no overt  guidance;
only through the suggestion of definition placement  do  they  advocate  one
spelling over another. Thus either version is correct. Further it  reveals
that there is  not  even  consistency  between  the  dictionaries  on  which
spelling is stressed.
      So is there in fact any pragmatic  value  in  a  Canadian  Dictionary?
Dictionaries are designed to be consulted, and we still long  in  Canada  to
be able to go to The Dictionary and know once and for  all  how  to  spell
the generic name  for  red,  white,  etc.  The  search  for  a  standard  is
precisely what dictionary making is about, but this arbitrary  cross-section
of Canadian Dictionaries yields no consensus.
      The result  of  the  realization  of  the  highly  variant  nature  of
Canadian English and the inability to appeal to any  convenient  authority
to resolve conflicts is that  ideal  conceptions  of  Canadian  dictionaries
become impossible  unrealizable projects.

      Canadian slang

      Canadian slang  as  a  variation  of  substandard  speech  is  obvious
nowadays.  The  lexical  constituent  of  Anglo-Canadian   slang   is   very
dissimilar. There can be singled out the following units:
         . Units that are common for American and Canadian Languages, North-
         . Units, that appeared and are used in USA, but that gradually get
           into Canadian language;
         . Units that appeared and are used in Canada, but can  be  met  in
           American language;
         . Units that appeared and are used exceptionally in Canada.

      1. North-Americanisms:
      These units appeared in  the  slang  in  XIX-XX  centuries.  They  are
different in their origin but are gut assimilated by Canadian  and  American

      1.1. Units that were registered first in USA and then in Canada:
      - Nouns denoting living beings:
      buff (enthusiast) AE 1930; CdnE 1940; floozie  (prostitute)  AE  1935,
CdnE 1940; ripstaker (a conceited person)AE, CdnE 1833
      - Nouns denoting inanimate objects:
      jitney (a cheap taxi) AE 1915, CdnE 1924; beanie (a  freshman's  cloth
cap) AE 1945, CdnE 1946; dump (a pub, a bar) AE 1903, CdnE 1904.
      - Nouns denoting process:
      bend (outdoor party, feast) AE 1903, CdnE 1904;  shellacking  (defeat)
AE 1919, CdnE 1938
      - Nouns of material:
      lightning (cheap whisky) AE 1858, CdnE 1959; weeno (wine).
      - Collective Nouns:
      bull (idle talk) AE 1915, CndE 1916; guff (nonsense,  lies)  AE  1888,
CdnE 1890.

      1.2. Units that were first registered in Canada and then in USA:
      - Nouns denoting living beings:
      boomer (seasonal worker) CndE 1910, AE 1926; flannel-mouth (smb who is
fond of backbiting) CdnE 1910, AE 1912.
      - Nouns denoting inanimate objects:
      bug (a small automobile) CdnE 1919,  AE  1920;  jolt  (a  mouthful  of
alcohol drink) CdnE 1900, AE 1920.
      - Nouns denoting process:
      hush-hush (confidential talk) CdnE  1940,  AE  1950;  fakery(insincere
behavior) CdnE 1912, AE 1925.
      - Collective Nouns:
      bushwa(h) (nonsense, rubbish) CdnE 1916, AE 1924.
      It should be mentioned that the  nouns  with  expressive  meaning  are
easier borrowed from American into Canadian and vice versa:
      gunsel (murderer) CdnE 1950, AE 1951; split (sharing of the profit) AE
1917, CdnE 1919.

      2. Units that appeared and are used in USA,  but  that  gradually  get
into Canadian language:
      - Nouns denoting living beings:
      eager-beaver (boarder) AE, the beginning of the XX  cent;  CdnE  1950;
fink (unpleasant person) AE 1925; CdnE 1965.

      - Nouns denoting inanimate objects:
      Doodad (a thing for reminding about smth) AE 1900; CdnE 1931.

      3. Units that appeared and are used in  Canada,  but  can  be  met  in
American language:
      These units were not well spread, because:
      a) there were American equivalents for the Canadian words:
      noodle, CdnE: nut, AE (head);
      b) this word appeared in the language later, than its equivalent:
      fink (strike-breaker, blackleg) AE, CdnE 1925.
      In this part of lexis  a  great  influence  of  American  on  Canadian
language, but not vice versa, is evident. Canadian units are  often  of  the
regional nature, so they are twice called in question  before  getting  into
the American variant.

      4. Units that appeared and are used exceptionally in Canada.
      The common Canadian slang can  be  subdivided  into  two  groups:  the
common slang that is described in the previous points and  the  professional
slang of the following professions:
      - railway mens slang: pig (locomotive), plug(a small train);
      - musicians' slang:  canary (a female singer), to blow(to play);
      - military slang: Joe boy (a recruit) , moldy(torpedo);
      - sport slang:  rink-rat (a boy,  cleaning  the  rink),arena  rat(fan,
      -  criminal  argot:   pod  (cigarette  with  narcotic),  skokum  house
      So, we can say that Canadian slang is a very complicated  system  that
unites chronologically  different   layers  of  the  American  and  Canadian
slang. And in the whole it is a new and quite original system  that  doesn't
copy either American or British system. This system appeared due to the  co-
operation of all these systems and the national tendencies.

In conclusion we could mention with the statement of Walter Avis who wrote
in his essay Canadian English which introduces the Gage dictionaries,
that unfortunately, a great deal of nonsense is taken for granted by many
Canadians when it comes to language issues. And into that category of
nonsense we may add a notion that there is such a thing as Canadian
English, and that this fiction has any value linguistically,
pragmatically, s
   1. Putiatina E, Bystrova P. English on Linguistics and crosscultural
      communication. Surgut, 2001, 334pp.
   2. John Agleo. The myth of Canadian English. English Today 62, Volume 16,
      Number 2, April 2000, pp.3-9.
   3. .. .    
       (   ).
      ocially, or politically.