Modern Canadian English
More recent immigration to Canada from all over the world, though involving much larger groups of people than earlier periods, has had comparatively little effect on the development of Canadian English, which reached something like its present form by Canada’s Confederation in 1867. With such a large Canadian-born population to blend into, the children of today’s immigrants rapidly assimilate to the patterns of the English already spoken by the majority of people in their adopted communities. Nevertheless, Canadian English, like all dialects and languages, continues to evolve, with small changes seen in each generation of speakers. We can measure these changes by comparing data on today’s speech, collected in recent studies such as the Dialect Topography survey of J.K. Chambers, from the mid-1990s, or the North American Regional Vocabulary Survey and Phonetics of Canadian English projects of C. Boberg, from the late 1990s and early 2000s, to surveys of Canadian English carried out in the 1950s (by H.B. Allen, W.S. Avis and R.J. Gregg) and in 1972 (The Survey of Canadian English: A Report, by M.H. Scargill and H.J. Warkentyne).Even if the main features of Canadian English are relatively stable, new words and ways of saying things arise all the time, while older expressions go out of fashion and disappear. Some of these changes, together with the stable features of Canadian English, are discussed in the following sections.
A Unique Dialect Canada’s history of English-speaking settlement might be expected to have created a hybrid variety of English with a distinctive blend of American and British features. This is indeed what we find, together with a few features that are uniquely Canadian. Nevertheless, in the most general sense, the English spoken today by most Canadians from British Columbia to Nova Scotia is clearly a type of North American English, most similar to that of the western United States and to General American English. This is particularly true of its grammar (how words and sentences are put together, which linguists call morphology and syntax) and of the most systematic aspects of its pronunciation (what linguists call phonology and phonetics).
Many linguists attribute this North American character to the influence of the Loyalists and post-Loyalists, who to a large extent founded Canada’s English-speaking population and thereby created a common origin with American English. In most places, the children of 19th-century British settlers and those who came after them would have adopted the local variety of English that had developed from 18th-century Loyalist speech, which was later transferred to western Canada when Ontarians settled there in the late-19th century. Several of the main features of Canadian English, however, can also be found in the regional dialects brought to Canada by British settlers from northern and western England, Scotland and Ireland, so their presence in Canada may reflect a combination of both sources of influence.
The English of Newfoundland, which remained a separate British colony until 1949, has traditionally been seen as distinct from that of mainland Canada, reflecting its more specific origins in southwestern England and southeastern Ireland (especially the region around Waterford). Though many young Newfoundlanders have recently been shifting their speech toward general Canadian patterns, the speech of most people in the capital, St. John’s, still retains a notably Irish-influenced character that separates it from general Canadian English. The rich local vocabulary of Newfoundland has been catalogued in a Dictionary of Newfoundland English with thousands of entries (see Dictionary).