The English Language in Canada

Term Paper, 2002

16 Pages, Grade: C


Table of Contents

1. Introduction

2. Historical and Geographical Facts
2.1. Canada
2.2. Canadian English

3. Bilinguality

4. Canadian English vs. US and UK English: Similarities and Differences
4.1. The Types of Distinctiveness
4.1.1. Spelling
4.1.2. Vocabulary
4.1.3. Pronunciation Variation
4.1.4. Unique Features
a) Canadian Raising
b) Words and Phrases
c) The Use of “Eh?”
d) Retention of [r]

5. The Identity of Canadian English – Canada’s Self-Opinion and Self-Depiction
5.1. Language Identity and the Role of Québec: Indigenous Language Movement
5.2. The Identity of Canadian English

6. The Future of Canadian English

7. Conclusion

Works Cited

1. Introduction

„The flag is the symbol of the nation’s unity, for it, beyond any doubt, represents all the citizens of Canada without distinction of race, language, belief or opinion.”said Maurice Bourget, Speaker of the Senate on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on February 15, 1965, thereby lowering the Canadian Red Ensign and raising the new maple leaf flag[1].

Defining the flag as a symbol of the nation’s unity, Bourget touches upon a question of unity not easy to answer in context of a country like Canada. As a multinational and multicultural country, Canada’s search for unity with regard to the language of it’s citizens is not easy to make out as a question of unity in most cases is a question of identity as well.

Whenever we focus on a nation’s unity, we will have to focus on aspects defining the nation, chiefly it’s language enabling communication between it’s citizens and the identity resulting from the use of a language.

This work will put a focus on the the language used in Canada and search for a Canadian identity. It will provide some historical facts and will then focus on the official language(s) spoken in Canada, their differences and similarities to US and UK English. Furthermore the problems resulting from Canada’s bilingualism will be portrayed and it will be asked if and how Canadians experience their English as a separate entity: The English Language in Canada.

2. Historical and geographical facts

2.1. Canada

After the foundation of Québec in 1608, French immigrants spreaded out at the region around the Saint Charles River and lead to confrontations with English colonialists. With the increase of the English immigration into French colonies, tensions between the both colonial powers occurred ending up in a war of seven years (1756 – 1763). A peace contract of Paris in 1763 determined that all French colonies fell to England as conquerer. The Constitutional Act of 1791 seperated Québec into two territories (Upper and Lower Canada) as a result of further political discrepancies. Various rebellions in Upper and Lower Canada in 1837 and 1838 resulted in the Act of Union of 1840. In 1867, the British North America Act (BNA) defined two cultures and their bilinguality and linguistic minorities in Québec and Ontario. With the statute of Westminster in 1931 Canada gained it’s independence. In 1980 the population of Québec refused the plans of the “Parti Québécois” to detach from Canada. A new Canadian constitution in 1982 replaced the BNA of 1867. Today, Canada consists of ten provinces: Alberta, British Columbia, Manitoba, New Fundland, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Ontario, Prince Edward Island, Québec, and Saskatchewan (McConnell 8 – 10; Encarta Encyclopedia, keyword “Canada”).

Based on the dates of the year 2001, Canada has a total area of 9,976,140 sq km and a population of 31,592,805. In 1992, 82.4 % of Canada’s population were White, 11.2 % Asian, 3.8 % Amerindian, and 2.7 % Black[2].

2.2. Canadian English

Following McConnell, the first great division in the English-speaking peoples was the seventeenth century migration across the Atlantic Ocean to the New England and other North American colonies. The emigrants brought with them their regional and local varieties of Elizabethan English, that developed over a few generations, adding own innovations. When the North American people moved westward, the speech determined the various regional dialects of the present-day United States (McConnell 8).

With the end of the American Revolutionary War in 1783 a mass migration of civilian and military refugees (the “United Empire Loyalists”) moved from the new “United States” to the two provinces of “Nova Scotia” and “Canada”. In the 1830’s and 1840’s came a flood of immigrants from England, Ireland, and Scotland leaving a mark upon Canadian speech as well. Political and economic ties, the anti-American and pro-British sentiments of the Loyalists, and the prestige of Nritish English have always influenced the language of Canadians, but the base of Canadian English is the North American English (McConnell 8 – 9).

3. Bilinguality

Canada is a bilingual country, where both, English and French are official languages. Canada’s bilinguality has been a social and political problem ever since as the historical facts given above already suggest.

The question of language lead to dissatisfaction on the side of the French-speaking population discriminated against by the English-speaking Canadians resulting in disadvantages as regards occupational aspects. The French-speaking Canadians felt like “second-class citizens” due to the predominance of the English language. In 1963, the “Royal Commission on Bilingualism and Biculturalism” (“B&B-Commission”) was arranged by Prime Minister Lester Pearson. This commission had the task to find a balanced situation for both cultures. The results of the B&B-commission have been published in a report since 1967 forming the basis of the “Official Languages Act” in 1969. The legislation of bilingualism stipulated that English and French had to be accepted as equal official languages, authorities had to become bilingual step by step and to enlarge the language education (McConnell 8 – 10 / Chiswick 180 - 184 / Crystal 95).

The situation of 1996 illustrates the distribution of English and French in Canada: 84 % of Canada’s population claimed a knowledge of English, while only 14 % were exclusively French speakers with only 2 % knowing neither official language. Remarkably 97 % of those speaking French live in Québec (Brinton/Fee 12.2).

4. Canadian English vs. US and UK English: Similarities and Differences

Modern Canadian English is very similar to the English spoken in the rest of North America and for people outside the region it is often very hard to make out any differences between both varieties. Following Crystal, there exist two reasons for the similarity between both varieties: on the one hand, it might always have been there, with early Canadian English deriving from the same kind of mixture of British English dialects as that which produced the original New England speech and on the other hand, the similarity might have emerged through force of numbers, with the dialects of the many 19th-century American immigrants swamping what may have been a more distinctive variety (95).

Despite the similarities between Canadian and US English, there is no identity between them; however there is no simple statement which can differenciate them (Crystal 95). In the following, the major differences will be subject of discussion.

4.1. The Types of Distinctiveness

It is to determine, that some linguistic features are used throughout Canada and others varying in relation to such factors as age, sex, education, occupation, geographical location, and political viewpoint. Following Crystal, therefore four types of distinctiveness need to be recognized (340):

1) Some features originate within Canada
2) Some features originate outside Canada and are used consistently by everyone in a particular region (e.g. contrast between (federal) prime minister and (provincial) premier)
3) Some features can be identified with US English, and are used only by sections of the population.
4) Some features can be identified with UK English, and are used only by sections of the population

It is categories 3) and 4) which present real difficulties for anyone wishing to generalize about Canadian English (340).


[1] See

[2] See

Excerpt out of 16 pages


The English Language in Canada
University of Cologne  (Philosophy Faculty)
English Worldwide
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
File size
560 KB
This essay deals with the anomaly of the english language in Canada and its associated social identity.
English, Language, Canada, English, Worldwide
Quote paper
Christian Hensgens (Author), 2002, The English Language in Canada, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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