English is today’s world lingua franca – while knowing other languages is definitely beneficial, it is no longer a requirement to be able to travel to other countries, as in most cases, you will get around just fine even if you only know English. Not to mention that that’s precisely how many companies nowadays do business on the international level – using the universal language that is English.
English is the official language in several countries around the globe. However, that doesn’t mean that it is exactly the same in all of them – there are certain differences between them, some more subtle than others. You probably know that British English and American English differ from each other – but did you know that Canadian English and American English also aren’t the same?
In this article, we will be exploring the differences between Canadian and American English – and there are quite a few, so let’s get started.
Why Is English Spoken in Canada?
Before we dive deeper into the differences between these two varieties of English, let’s take a second to talk about how did English even become an official language in Canada.
While we could provide you with an essay about how the English language even reached Canada, we’re not going to do that as you don’t need all that information. What you should remember, however, is that there were three main historical events that contributed to it – the Treaty of Paris from 1763, the American Revolution (1775-1783), and the Industrial Revolution in Britain. Of course, there were smaller ones along the way too, but those were the most influential ones.
Nowadays, English dominates the country, with only Quebec being mostly dominated by French Canadians who speak the Canadian variety of French rather than English and Nunavut, in which the Inuit language majority lives.
Canadian English and American English – The Differences
Canadian English combines features of both American and British English rather than just using the rules of only American English. So, let’s look at what exactly is different between American and Canadian English variations.
When it comes to how words are written, Canadian spelling of the English language combines British and American rules, although British spellings definitely dominate. For example, contrary to Americans, Canadians tend to spell words using the “ou” rather than just “o” – e.g. “humour”, “favourite”, “favour”, “behaviour”, “colour”, and so on.
Also, just like in British English, when Canadians add suffixes to a word, they use double consonants rather than singular ones. So, while an American would write “canceled,” a Canadian using Canadian English will most likely write “cancelled.” Same goes for “travelled” (“traveled”), “modelled” (“modeled”) or “fuelled” (“fueled”), among others.
As for words ending with “ce” and “se”, the matter is slightly more complicated. That’s because it depends on whether the word is used as a noun or as a verb. If it’s a noun, then a Canadian would spell it the same way a British person would, with a “ce” ending. If the word is used as a verb, on the other hand, the American spelling (with “se”) is preferred.
Here’s an example of how a Canadian person would write:
- Taylor practises boxing.
- Taylor has boxing practice tomorrow.
Another feature that Canadian English borrowed from British English and that differentiates it from American English is the way they spell words ending with “tre” and “bre“:
- American English: centimeter/theater/fiber/caliber
- Canadian English: centimetre/theatre/fibre/calibre
Finally, we have words that end with “gue” and “g” – again, the Canadian English language follows the British spelling rules. That’s why Canadians write “dialogue” rather than “dialog” and “catalogue,” not “catalog.”
There are some other words that are spelt differently in American and Canadian English, although those don’t fall under a specific rule. Examples of such words would be cheque (check), grey (gray), moustache (mustache) or jewellery (jewelry).
In terms of vocabulary, Canadian English is more similar to American English than British English. For example, the Brits use the word “flat” to describe a home, while Americans and Canadians prefer “apartment.” The same goes for the word “lift” used by the British – in the US and Canada, you would call it an “elevator.”
Every country in which English is spoken has some words that are specific to it and that you are not likely going to encounter in other English-speaking countries – and Canada is no different. While Canadian English shares vocabulary with both American and British English varieties, it also developed words of phrases that you’re not likely to hear anywhere else aside from Canada.
Some examples of such words and phrases that are uniquely Canadian include:
- toque – also known as a beanie, sometimes spelt as ‘tuque’
- two-four – a case of beer containing twenty-four bottles
- pencil crayons – Americans call them colored pencils, while in British English these are called colouring pencils
- kraft dinner – box macaroni and cheese
- give’r – a phrase used to encourage some
- gong show – used to describe an event or a situation that was a mess; for example, you could say “The concert queuing system was so unorganized, it was a total gong show!”
- mickey – a 375 ml bottle of liquor
A useful resource for learning words specific to Canadian English is the Oxford Canadian Dictionary.
An interesting difference worth mentioning is that while Americans tend to use “huh” or “right” as a way to turn a sentence into a question, among Canadians, it is more common to use “eh” instead. So, while an American would ask, “Nice weather we have today, right?” a Canadian would turn it into “Nice weather we have today, eh?”.
For the most part, Canadian pronunciation is similar to the American one. There’s one difference, however, that should be mentioned when talking about the Canadian accent, and that is the so-called Canadian raising, which in simple terms could be explained as ‘lifting’ the diphthongs [aj] and [aw] before the consonants f, k, p, s and t.
The Bottom Line
While it might seem like Canadian and American English are the same since they’re both a variety of English and the countries are situated so close to each other, the truth is slightly different. While there’s no denying that many things are, in fact, similar, one cannot deny that British English also influenced the country’s language.
It could be seen, for example, in words that retain British spellings despite being used on another continent, such as “colour”, “cancelled”, “travelled”, and so on.
Aside from the fact that it’s actually interesting to see how different regions adapted the same language, knowing the differences between Canadian and American English can actually be really helpful if one day you’ll find yourself editing Canadian English copy.
With that being said, we have reached the end of this article. Hopefully, after reading, you’ll have no problem differentiating between American and Canadian English – while the differences might be subtle in spoken English, as you can see, they are much more noticeable when written.
And if you’re interested in learning more about languages, don’t hesitate to take a look at our blog. Have you wondered how many Americans speak Spanish? Or maybe you’d like to know what is the most translated document in the world? We have answers to these and more!