West–Central Canadian English

West–Central Canadian English

The WestCentral Canadian English dialect is one of the largest and most homogeneous dialect areas in North America, ranging from Ontario, through the Prairie Provinces to British Columbia.[citation needed] It forms a dialect continuum with the accent in the Western United States, and borders the Canadian North, and U.S. North Central and Inland North dialect regions.[citation needed] While it is one of the most homogeneous in that the regional differences inside the dialect area are very small, it has few unique features.



A table containing the consonant phonemes is given below

  Bilabial Labio-
Dental Alveolar Post-
Palatal Velar Glottal
Stop p  b       t  d     k  ɡ  
Affricate           tʃ  dʒ      
Nasal m       n     ŋ  
Fricative   f  v   θ  ð s  z ʃ  ʒ     h
Approximant     (hw)  w   ɹ   j    
Lateral approximant         l        

The sequence /hw/ is present only in older speakers who have not undergone the wine–whine merger.

The vowel phonemes are shown in the table below:

Monophthongs Front Central Central
Close i     u
Near-close ɪ     ʊ
Close-mid e     o
Mid   ə ɚ  
Open-mid ɛ   ɝ ʌ
Open æ     ɑ/ɒ

The diphthongs are shown in the next table:

Diphthongs Closer component
is front
Closer component
is back
Opener component is unrounded
Opener component is rounded ɔɪ  

While the West/Central dialect is mutually intelligible with many dialects of English spoken in England, especially Received Pronunciation, in common with much of the US it lacks two distinctive RPinnovations:

  • Unlike RP, the West/Central dialect is rhotic. This means it maintains the pronunciation of r after vowels. Rhoticity has been largely influenced by Hiberno-English, Scottish English, and West Country English. The sound corresponding to the letter "R" is a retroflex or alveolar approximant rather than a trill or a tap. The 'er' sound of (stressed) fur or (unstressed) butter, which is represented in IPA as stressed [ɝ] or unstressed [ɚ] is realized in Canadian English as a monophthongal r-colored vowel.
  • It has also not shifted [æ] to [ɑ] (the so-called "broad A") before [f], [s], [θ], [ð], [z], [v] alone or preceded by [n].

Both RP, and the West/Central dialect have gone through the following changes:

  • The horse–hoarse merger of the vowels [ɔ] and [oʊ] before 'r', making pairs like horse/hoarse, corps/core, for/four, morning/mourning etc. homophones.
  • The wine–whine merger making pairs like wine/whine, wet/whet, Wales/whales, wear/where etc. homophones, in most cases eliminating /hw/, the voiceless labiovelar fricative. This is preserved in some older speakers, as well as being an archaicism.

The following changes are innovations, and do not occur in RP. It shares these changes with General American.

  • The merger of [ɑː] and [ɒ], making father and bother rhyme.
  • The replacement of the lot vowel with the strut vowel in most utterances of the words was, of, from, what, everybody, nobody, somebody, anybody, and because.
  • Vowel merger before intervocalic /r/.
  • The merger of [ʊɹ] and [ɝ] after palatals in some words, so that cure, pure, mature and sure rhyme with fir in some speech registers for some speakers.
  • Some speakers have Dropping of [j] after alveolar consonants so that new, duke, Tuesday, suit, resume, lute are pronounced /nuː/, /duːk/, /tuːzdeɪ/, /suːt/, /ɹɪzuːm/, /luːt/.
  • Both intervocalic /nt/ and /n/ may be realized as [n] or [ɾ̃], making winter and winner homophones for some speakers. This does not occur when the second syllable is stressed, as in entail.
  • Laxing of /e/, /i/ and /u/ to /ɛ/, /ɪ/ and /ʊ/ before /ɹ/, causing pronunciations like [pɛɹ], [pɪɹ] and [pjʊɹ] for pair, peer and pure for some speakers.
  • The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] before reduced vowels. The words ladder and latter are mostly or entirely homophonous, possibly distinguished only by the length of preceding vowel. For some speakers, the merger is incomplete and 't' before a reduced vowel is sometimes not tapped following [eɪ] or [ɪ] when it represents underlying 't'; thus greater and grader, and unbitten and unbidden are distinguished.
  • The vowels in words such as Mary, marry, merry are merged to the open-mid front unrounded vowel [ɛ], except in Quebec.

The following changes are shared with the Western dialect in the US:

  • Traditionally diphthongal vowels such as [oʊ] as in boat and [eɪ], as in bait, have acquired qualities much closer to monophthongs in some speakers. However, the continuing presence of slight offglides (if less salient than those of, say, British Received Pronunciation) and convention in IPA transcription for English account for continuing use of [oʊ] and [eɪ].
  • The cot–caught merger exists. A notable exception occurs with some speakers over the age of 60, especially in rural areas in the Prairies, although the merger is the most widespread overall.
  • For most speakers, /ɛ/ is realized as [e] before g.
  • The words origin, Florida, horrible, quarrel, warren, are all generally realized as [-ɔr-], rather than [-ɑr-].
  • /u/ is slightly fronted after coronals.
  • The -ing ending in words of more than two syllables is realized as [in], [ɪn], or [ɪŋ].
  • Milk is realized as [mɛlk] by some speakers, [mɪlk] by others, although words such as pillow are pronounced with [-ɪl-].

The following changes are shared with the Western dialect in the U.S., but to a lesser extent:

The Canadian Shift: The vowels in the words cot and caught merge to [ɒ]. The /æ/ of bat is retracted to [a] (except before nasals): indeed, /æ/ is lower in this variety than almost all other North American dialects;[1] the retraction of /æ/ was independently observed in Vancouver[2] and is more advanced for Ontarians and women than for people from the Prairies or Atlantic Canada and men.[3] Then, /ɛ/ and /ɪ/ are lowered in the direction of [æ] and [ɛ] and/or retracted; studies actually disagree on the trajectory of the shift.[4]

The following changes are shared with the Pacific Northwest English dialect, as well as other dialects:

  • æ-tensing /æ/ is tense before velar stops. This can cause words such as "bag" and "beg" to sound very similar, and some speakers pronounce both as [beg]. Some speakers, especially in Ontario have tense æ-tensing before nasals as well.
  • Tomorrow is generally pronounced [-ɔr-], instead of [-ɑr-].
  • The following feature is most prominent in the Prairies, Ontario, and the Maritimes: "Canadian raising": diphthongs are "raised" before voiceless consonants (e.g., [p], [t], [k], [s], [f]). For example, IPA /aɪ/ (the vowel of "eye") and /aʊ/ (the vowel of "loud") become [ʌɪ] and [ʌʊ], respectively, the /a/ component of the diphthong going from a low vowel to a mid vowel ([ʌ]). Note also that this phenomenon preserves the recoverability of the phoneme /t/ in "writer" despite the North American English process of flapping, which merges /t/ and /d/ into [ɾ] before unstressed vowels, so "writer" and "rider" can be distinguished from each other even though the t and d in those words are pronounced the same. The most noticeable feature is the raising of /aʊ/ to [ʌʊ] because [əʊ] is an allophone of /oʊ/ (as in "road") in many other dialects, so the (mainly Eastern) Canadian pronunciation of "about the house" may sound like *"a boat the hoas" to speakers of dialects without the raising, and in many cases is misheard or exaggerated to "aboot the hoose". Some stand-up and situation comedians, as well as television shows actually do exaggerate the pronunciation to *"aboot the hoos" for comic effect, for example in the American television series South Park.

In contrast to General American:

  • The /ɑː/ of foreign loan words in words such as drama or lava are usually pronounced like the a in bat: [dɹæmə], [lævə].
  • Been is usually pronounced /bin/ rather than /bɪn/.
  • Words such as borrow, sorry, and sorrow are generally pronounced with [-ɔr-], instead of with [-ɑr-].
  • Americans sometimes claim to be able to recognize the Western/Central Canadian dialect instantly by their use of the word eh. However, only a certain usage of eh (detailed in the article) is peculiar to Canada. It is common in southern Ontario, the Maritimes and the Prairie provinces. eh is used quite frequently in the North Central dialect, so a Canadian accent is often detected in people from North Dakota, Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin.

Regional Variation

British Columbia

The dialect is very similar to the English spoken in the Prairies and Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. BC is home to a very diverse population. In parts of the Fraser Valley the intonation and cadence of Dutch and Mennonite German have influenced local English. British accents and a wide range of European and Asian second-language flavoured English have always been common, to the point of the British flavour being identifiably a hallmark of early 20th Century British Columbia, as has been English as spoken by First Nations peoples, which is distinct as an accent but also remains largely undocumented. Canadian raising (found in words such as "about" and "writer") is less prominent in BC than other parts of the country and is on the decline further, with many speakers not raising /aɪ/ before voiceless consonants. Younger speakers in the Greater Vancouver area do not even raise /aʊ/, causing "about" to sound like "abowt". The "o" in such words as "holy," "goal," "load," "know," etc. is pronounced as a back and rounded [o], but not as rounded as in the Prairies where there is a strong Scandinavian, Slavic and German influence. The interrogative "eh" is not used as frequently as in the rest of Canada, however "hey" is occasionally substituted.

Listen to a sample of BC English

Chinook Jargon

Pacific Northwest English and British Columbian English have several words still in current use which are loanwords from the Chinook Jargon, which was widely spoken throughout British Columbia by all ethnicities well into the middle of the 20th Century. Skookum, potlatch, muckamuck, saltchuck, and other Chinook Jargon words are widely used by people who do not speak Chinook Jargon. These words tend to be shared with, but are not as common in, the states of Oregon, Washington, Alaska and, to a lesser degree, Idaho and western Montana.


A strong Canadian raising exists in the prairie regions together with certain older usages such as chesterfield and front room also associated with the Maritimes. Aboriginal Canadians are a larger and more conspicuous population in prairie cities than elsewhere in the country and certain elements of aboriginal speech in English are sometimes to be heard. Similarly, the linguistic legacy, mostly intonation but also speech patterns and syntax, of the Scandinavian, Slavic and German settlers – who are far more numerous and historically important in the Prairies than in Ontario or the Maritimes – can be heard in the general milieu. Again, the large Métis population in Saskatchewan also carries with it certain linguistic traits inherited from French, aboriginal and Celtic forebears.

The noun bluff (and the adjective bluffy) in reference to an aspen and willow grove typically surrounding a slough, appears to be unknown outside the Canadian prairies, whereas the eastern Canadian and international use of the term in reference to a low cliff or abutment, is largely unknown in western Canada and causes some puzzlement to newly arrived westerners in Ontario.

The phrase whack of is often used in western Canada to refer to a large amount, e.g., We sure got a whole whack of snow in town last week, eh?.

Prairie housewives formerly used the somewhat disparaging adjective boughten, also used in the Northern U.S., in reference to bread purchased commercially rather than home-baked. The word is now considered nonstandard, and rarely used.

In Saskatchewan, the term "bunny hug" refers to a hooded sweatshirt.

There is noticeable pronunciation differences by which each speaker calls the name of his or her respective city. People from Edmonton generally omit the "d" in their city's name, making it sound more like "Eh-mon-ten". Calgary is pronounced by people native to the city with an /ə/, or omit the second "a" altogether, making the name sound like "Cal-guh-ry" or simply "Cal-g-ry", instead of "Cal-gah-ry", used elsewhere in the country. Saskatoon is pronounced as "Sask-toon" by its native residents, omitting the "a" (or, in some cases, eliminating the first two syllables altogether, turning it into "S'toon"). People from Regina (generally pronounced /rɨˈdʒaɪnə/) are inclined to pronounce the first vowel as an [ə]. People from cities with longer names tend to shorten their city's name to a single syllable, as in the case of Lloydminster (Lloyd), Swift Current (Swift), Medicine Hat (Hat), Lethbridge (Leth), Prince Albert (P.A.) etc. With regards to provincial names, Albertans tend to lessen the emphasis on the "al" in Alberta, making the province's name sound like "ul-ber-ta". Saskatchewan residents pronounce the "wan" as /wɨn/ instead of /wɑːn/, which is used in central and eastern Canada.

Other prairie terms include:

Slough: a shallow pond that is located in a field that usually dries up in the summer.
Dugout: a small, artificial (or artificially-deepened) body of water, often dug to provide soil for road construction.

Mostly used in Alberta due to its climate, a Chinook refers to a warm winter wind that causes sudden increase in temperature (20-30 degrees in a matter of an hour or two)

Shinny: A form of casual or "pick-up" ice hockey .

A semi or semi-truck is a large trailer used for the transportation of mostly industrial goods.

May Long is a regionalism to refer to the long weekend for Victoria Day every May.

Chauch: A slang term generally referring to young men who work out and attempt to dress well but are ultimately, not classy. (In 1970s Ontario, "chauch" meant attractive young women, normally heard in the expression "Nice chauch". The word was both singular and plural.)

header, gooder, giver (mostly Saskatchewan and southern Manitoba, although this is also used in parts of the United States): As in, to leave, it was great, give it all (or alternatively, to leave), respectively.

Slang term used for men's briefs – 'Gotch' or 'Gotchies' in Saskatchewan, 'Gonch' elsewhere. Gitch in Manitoba.

Listen to a sample of Prairies English


Canadian raising is often quite strong in Ontario.

Southwestern Ontario

In Southwestern Ontario (roughly in the line south from Sarnia to St. Catharines), despite the existence of the many characteristics of West/Central Canadian English, many speakers, especially those under 30 speak a dialect which is influenced by the Inland Northern American English dialect found on much of the American regions adjacent to the Great Lakes, though there are minor differences such as Canadian raising (listen to "ice" vs "my"). Additionally there is a tendency to round the mouth after pronouncing the vowel "o" which is distinct from the General American Accent.

Also, the vowel of "bag" sounds closer to "vague" or "egg", "right" sounds like "rate", the "ah" vowel in "can't" is drawn out, sounding like "kee-ant".

Northern Ontario

see Northern Ontario English

Midwestern Ontario

The subregion of Midwestern Ontario consists of the Counties of Huron, Bruce, Grey, and Perth. The "Queen's Bush" as the area was called, did not experience communication with Southwestern and Central dialects until the early 20th century. Thus, a strong accent similar to Central Ontarian is heard, yet many different phrasings exist. It is typical in the area to drop phonetic sounds to make shorter contractions, such as: Prolly (Probably), Goin' (Going), and "Wuts goin' on tonight? D'ya wanna do sumthin'?" It is particularly strong in the County of Bruce, so much that it is commonly referred to as being the Bruce Cownian (Bruce Countian) accent. Also 'er' sounds are often pronounced 'air', with "were" sounding more like "wear".

Ottawa Valley

The Ottawa Valley has its own distinct accent, known as the Ottawa Valley Twang.

Eastern Ontario

Canadian raising is not as strong in Eastern Ontario as it is in the rest of the province. In Prescott and Russell, parts of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry and Eastern Ottawa, French accents are often mixed with English ones due to the high Franco-Ontarian population there. In Renfrew County a separate dialect known as Ottawa Valley Twang has developed. In Lanark County, Western Ottawa and Leeds-Grenville and the rest of Stormont-Dundas-Glengarry, the accent spoken is nearly identical to that spoken in Central Ontario and the Quinte area.

Words in which the Eastern Ontario accent is significant:

  • Got it – often pronounced [ɡɔɾɪʔ]
  • Okay – often pronounced [ɔɪke]
  • Hello – often pronounced [helo]


Suburban residents are known to merge the second /t/ with the /n/ in Toronto, pronouncing the name variously as [toˈɹɒɾ̃o], [təˈɹɒɾ̃o] or even [ˈtɹɒɾ̃o] or [ˈtɹɒɾ̃ə]. This, however, is not unique to Toronto as Atlanta is often pronounced "Atlannna" by residents.

In Toronto and the areas surrounding Toronto (Central Ontario, Greater Toronto Area), the th sound /ð/ is often pronounced [d]. Sometimes /ð/ is elided altogether, resulting in "Do you want this one er'iss one?" The word southern is often pronounced with [aʊ]. In the regional area north of York and south of Parry Sound, notably among those who were born in these bedroom communities (Barrie, Vaughan, Orillia, Bradford, Newmarket, Keswick, etc), the cutting down of syllables and consonants often heard, e.g. "probably" is reduced to "prolly", or "probly" when used as a response.

In Toronto's ethnic communities there are many words that are distinct; many of which come from the city's large Caribbean community.


English is a minority language in Quebec, but has many speakers in Montreal, the Eastern Townships and in the Gatineau-Ottawa region. Uniquely, Montreal-native anglophones do not fully merge Mary and merry, to most speakers of Canadian English these words are homophones. Among Eastern Townships-native anglophones, syrup is often pronounced as sir-rup. Quebec also has French influence. A person with English mother tongue and still speaking English as the first language is called an Anglophone. The corresponding term for a French speaker is Francophone and the corresponding term for a person who is neither Anglophone nor Francophone is Allophone. Quebec Anglophones generally pronounce French street names in Montreal as French words. Pie IX Boulevard is pronounced as in French, not as "pie nine", but as "pee-nuff". On the other hand, Anglophones do pronounce final d's as in Bernard and Bouchard; the word Montreal is pronounced as an English word and Rue Lambert-Closse is known as Clossy Street.

Listen to a sample of Quebec English

See also


  1. ^ Labov p. 219.
  2. ^ Esling, John H. and Henry J. Warkentyne (1993). "Retracting of /æ/ in Vancouver English."
  3. ^ Charles Boberg, "Sounding Canadian from Coast to Coast: Regional accents in Canadian English."
  4. ^ Labov et al. 2006; Charles Boberg, "The Canadian Shift in Montreal"; Robert Hagiwara. "Vowel production in Winnipeg"; Rebecca V. Roeder and Lidia Jarmasz. "The Canadian Shift in Toronto."


  • Barber, Katherine, editor (2004). Canadian Oxford Dictionary, second edition. Toronto: Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-541816-6.
  • Chambers, J.K. (1998). "Canadian English: 250 Years in the Making," in The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, 2nd ed., p. xi.
  • Clarke, Sandra, Ford Elms, and Amani Youssef (1995). "The third dialect of English: Some Canadian evidence", in Language Variation and Change, 7:209–228.
  • Labov, William, Sharon Ash, and Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton-de Gruyter. p. 68. ISBN 3-11-016746-8. 
  • Peters, Pam (2004). The Cambridge Guide to English Usage. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0-521-62181-X.
  • Walt Wolfram and Ben Ward, editors (2006). American Voices: How Dialects Differ from Coast to Coast. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. pp. 140, 234–236. ISBN 978-1-4051-2108-8. 

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