Canadian English

Presentation / Essay (Pre-University), 1995

13 Pages, Grade: Morphology



I. Introduction

II. Survey Analysis
2.1. British English vs. American English
2.1.1. How to read the tables
2.2 Older vs. Modern Variants
2.3 Formal vs. Informal or Standard vs. Non Standard Variants
2.4 „eh“
2.5. Surviving vs. Disappearing Variants

III. Conclusion

IV. Bibliography
4.1. Primary Literature
4.2. Secondary Literature
4.3. Dictionaries

V. Appendix
Map 1: Canadian English

I. Introduction

Morphology is the study of the morphemes - the smallest meaningful unit into which a word can be divided - and how they are combined to make words. Syntax we call the rules for the arrangements of words into phrases, sentences and texts. Unlike in the fields of vocabulary or pronunciation, in these areas we cannot find distinctive Canadian patterns of word or text formation if we compare them to British or American English. Small differences to either variety exist - in those cases, however, these do conform to the other variety. As Millard puts it: „The morphology and syntax of Canadian English is for all practical purposes identical to that of American English. At least some Canadians follow British practice...“1 Görlach says: „Morphology is ... identical in British and American English. There are no features that could count as Canadianisms. The same is true in the field of syntax.“2 This becomes plausible if we look at the settlement history and Canada’s relations to Great Britain and the United States. According to the „loyalist theory“ those „Americans“ who backed the British in the American Revolution left the county for England, the West Indies or Canada. The latter settled in the area of today’s Ontario. Appendix: Map1 They had a great influence on the development of modern Canada, and their speech became the basis for what today we call General Canadian - the speech of the urban middle class3. Canada is also a member state of the Commonwealth which is still headed by the Queen of England. The use British English was for a long time, and at some places still is today, associated with higher education and social status. It is also a means of NOT sounding American. On the other hand, at Canadian schools and universities many American grammar- and textbooks, dictionaries etc. are used, and Canada is very much exposed to American television- and radioprograms and the American print media. „Until recently most of the books Canadians read were American or British, and the grammar and spelling reflect that.“4

The following paper is an analysis of the part of the Survey of Canadian English that is concerned with morphology and syntax. The methods I used do not conform with those of a statistician since neither did I have all the necessary information to do that nor am I trained well enough in the field of statistics. Nevertheless, I am certain that the results will give the reader a general idea of the English spoken in Canada. One can also draw conclusions on the direction of the development of English spoken in Canada.

II. Survey Analysis

The Survey of Canadian English was conducted in 1972 among native-born teenage students and their parents from all provinces. It concentrated on spoken English. Besides questions that were aimed at vocabulary and pronunciation, people were asked to report on the usage of certain grammatical features. I tried to arrange the 27 questions concerning morphology and syntax in the following groups for easier interpretation. One has to note, though, that the first four groups are overlapping, a clear distinction cannot be made.

- British English vs. American English
- older vs. modern variants
- standard vs. nonstandard (formal vs. informal) forms
- disappearing vs. surviving forms
- „eh“

Please note, too, that this analysis does not include all examples from the survey concerning morphology and syntax. The results from that grouping are summarized in tables. Since the grouping was done on a somewhat subjective level, the results have to be seen as rough tendencies. The numbers are not suitable to make exact quantitative statements. For that purpose the original survey has to be consulted.

2.1. British English vs. American English

When I mark the following forms as British or American, one has to consider that, of course, not every Briton or every American uses the respective forms. The marks just represent general inclinations.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2.1.1. How to read the tables:

Two thirds of the Canadians prefer than to from except in Newfoundland, where the distribution of these two prepositions is about 50:50. Hardly anyone uses to. Students and males say different than slightly more often than parents and females respectively.

In general, 70 - 80% of the questioned subjects use the British varia nt. Male parents and female students do that slightly more often than female

parents and male students. Overall, younger people stick to BE more often than the older generation.

Here the distribution is as follows: male parents 40% BE : 60% AE female parents 55% BE : 45 % AE and students 25% BE : 75% AE, with male students having an only slightly higher percentage in AE. This is valid for all provinces.

Snuck as past tense and participle form of sneaked is only recorded in Webster’s and there as chiefly dialectal.

For the parent’s generation the country’s average use of snuck is 30% (60% sneaked). In the eastern provinces incl. Quebec, though, 15 - 25% say snuck while in the western part about 40% do so. In general, male parents use the American form slightly more often than female parents. Among the students the differences between the provinces have disappeared, about two thirds use snuck, girls slightly more often than boys. This is true for all provinces except Newfoundland where distribution is as follows: boys 40% (BE) : 40% (AE); girls: 60% 25% (AE). The remaining use both form. The group which uses forms is among the younger people bigger than among older

The answers to the nine above questions are summarized in the following table. Only when 50% or more of the population (male and female parents, male and female students are together 4 populations) uses the British or American variant in each province they get a point. In the table all points are summed up. Since we had 9 questions each cell can contain a maximum of 9 points (BE+AE). Since quite often there was no majority for either variant because some people said they use both or neither form, there are often less than 9 points in each cell. In  (vertical) the points are summed up and we get a rough idea whether each population uses more British or more American variants. The figures do not represent an exact quantitative distribution. We should see them rather as representing a relation. In Æ the average for each generation is calculated, again the numbers should be read as a representation of general relations. In  (horizontal) the figures for each province are summed up, and again we can see only, which variety people generally prefer. In these cells BE+AE should sum up to 36, when the figure is smaller than that it is because for some questions there was no majority for either variant. It is a sign of changes in language (maybe also indifference) when the figures there are fairly below 36. In  (vertical) they should sum up to 90 in each row. Smaller numbers indicate lacking majorities, i.e. ongoing changes in the language or indifference.

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2.2. Older vs. Modern Variants

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2.3. Formal vs. Informal or Standard vs. Non Standard Variants

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2.4. „eh“

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This question was answered with „no“ by ¾ of the population, females did so a little more often than males. About ¼ admitted the usage of eh when asking for repetition. There were no big differences between the provinces.

Of the parents 20% said they would use a sentence as in the example, 40% do not use it and another 40% said they would use it sometimes. Men apply it slightly more often than women. Among the younger informants only 25% said they would use eh in that sense, as many

said they do not use it. 50% of the students admitted to use it sometimes. Generally girls answered „yes“ slightly more often than boys.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

2.5. Surviving vs. Disappearing Variants

The following three examples would probably fit into any of the first three categories, but they have also one feature in common. In earlier stages of the development of the English language both variants of every form were necessary because their meaning was slightly different. Now linguists observe, that one variant is disappearing and the surviving one either takes over the meaning of this one or it is not needed anymore and gets lost.

Abbildung in dieser Leseprobe nicht enthalten

The table is analog to the one about BE and AE.

III. Conclusion

As the examples show, morphology and syntax of English spoken in Canada is a mixture of British and

American variants with neither dominating. There are regional, age and gender differences, but we cannot say that the older generation prefers BE to AE, the eastern regions speak more modern than the westerns or that girls prefer the standard variant more than boys.

In the following I am going to show the general tendencies that can be inferred from the tables.

Among the parent’s generation the British English variants of the examples from the test are more often used than the American ones, by mothers even a little more often than by fathers. Students seem about to switch to the American variants, it is already dominating but only slightly. Boys appear to be somewhat faster than girls in this process. Due to the fairly high usage of BE by the parents the figures of the individual provinces indicate a slightly dominating usage of BE, except for Newfoundland where BE is used a lot more often than AE. It is also interesting to look at the numbers of British Columbia - the only state that has a higher figure for AE than for BE.

If we look at the older - modern version opposition, we can see the transition to the newer forms; parents still report in some cases a dominating usage of older forms, although altogether a greater part of them prefers modern ones. The majority of the students, though, does not use the old forms anymore. This is the case in all provinces.

In the category standard - non standard the standard versions are preferred in both generations but more so by the older one and also more by females. Quebec appears to be the province with the highest proportion of people using the standard variants.

The Canadian „eh“ - it must be a recent invention since only students of all provinces reported to use it a lot, twice as much as their parents and girls quite a bit more than boys.

In Canada we find evidence for the disappearance of one variant of a word or phrase that used to have (or still has) two. The older - or that variant that is supposed to disappear according to Sapir’s theory of drift to the „invariable word“ - is used by the older generation slightly more often than by the younger, but the so called „surviving variant“, which is also not always grammatically correct according to present grammar books, is used even less by both generations.

The English spoken in Canada is a mixture of British and American English, older and modern variants,

standard and non standard forms. It is a language in a process of change as any living tongue. Morphology and Syntax used by Canadians is not specifically Canadian, but the combination and the frequencies of all these various forms makes up a language that can be given a name of its own - Canadian English.

IV. Bibliography

4.1. Primary Literature

Extracts from The Survey of Canadian English 1972

4.2. Secondary Literature

M. Görlach: „The Identity of Canadian English“ in Varieties of English, Amsterdam/Philadelphia (1991)

W.S. Avis: „Canadian English“, Essay from the first edition of the Dictionary of Canadian English: The Senior Dictionary, (1967)

C.M. Millard: A Biography of the English Language, Boston (1989)

R. McCrum, W. Cran, R. MacNeil: „Canadian English“ in The Story of English, New York (1986)

4.3. Dictionaries

Advanced Learners Dictionary; Oxford University Press, Oxford (1989)

Webster’s New Encyclopedic Dictionary; Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers Inc., New York (1993)

Webster’s Encyclopedic Unabridged Dictionary of the English Language; dilithium Press Ltd., New York (1994)

Muret-Sanders Encyclopædic English-German Dictionary; Langenscheidtsche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Berlin (1910)

Dictionary of Contemporary American English; Enzyklopädieverlag, Leipzig (1987)

Handwörterbuch Englisch-Deutsch; Enzyklopädieverlag, Leipzig (1988)

V. Appendix

Map 1: Canadian English

Source: R. McCrum, W. Cran, R. MacNeil The Story of English, New York (1986); p.246.


1 Millard, p. 335.

2 Görlach, p. 116.

3 R. McCrum, W. Cran, R. MacNeil: „Canadian English“ in The Story of English.

4 ibid. p. 245.

Excerpt out of 13 pages


Canadian English
Martin Luther University
Seminar Canadian Language
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ISBN (eBook)
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Canadian, English, Seminar, Canadian, Language
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Antje Matthäus (Author), 1995, Canadian English, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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