Canadian English


English came to The Thirteen Colonies (c. 1600) and much later to Canada (c. 1784-1815).

In 1775, in the Thirteen Colonies, “American” English was well established.

Following the end of the American Revolution (1784), United Empire Loyalists (UEL) fled to British North America (BNA) from the northeastern states. Somewhat later, American-born “late loyalists” (1791-1815) followed. These two groups formed the first significant mass of English speakers to arrive in the upper country. Although French Canada was “conquered” in 1759, colonial settlement in Canada remained largely French. Ontario (Upper Canada) was almost empty of established First Nations’ villages because a pandemic had decimated Huronia.

Some Canadians still believe mother English flowed like beer from a broken bung direct into the mouths of Canadians, where it was corrupted by Americanisms. Not true. Canadians today speak a form of relic American English. No one corrects mistaken Canadians on the sensitive language issue, though. Why? We’d rather be corrupted English than organically American.

In 1791, colonial lieutenant-governors made “free-land” offers to the former American enemy. Late loyalists heeded the call. By 1812, 80% of settlers in the British colonies were American born

Colonial administrators called American plain speech and writing “lazy” and “degenerate.” To combat Americanization, Canadian schools drew texts and books and novels and even pronunciations from the English canon, even drawing upon contemporary Victorian English intonations. Furthermore, officials did their best to have educators sharpen the elite sound into a British sound, with ridiculous effect, as Moira Rose (character on Schitt’s Creek) demonstrates with her refined Upper-Canadian accent and her clipped t’s.

It is worth mentioning, of course, that U.K., American and Canadian English have travelled down their own “distinct” paths since the initial period of the second separation of the English language from England.

The American Revolution blazed a hasty trail to British Québec and the blazing continues into Upper and Lower Canada until 1815. Two kinds of American folkways came to Upper and Lower Canada: first round (pro British) in 1784, and second round (pro American) post 1790.

schoolhouse c 1850 Ontario

Toronto 1856

Ruth McConnell, OUR OWN VOICE Canadian dialectician, says the immediate effect of the American Revolution (1775-1783) was south-to-north immigration, which carried on, unbroken, until around the end of the next ‘civil’ war (c. 1814-1815): “American settlers continued to move into British North America, and within a generation after 1783 the area that later would become Ontario had a population of over 90 000 – largely land-hungry settlers from the United States, with a sprinkling of British and German soldiers and other immigrants . . .. The base of Canadian English is the North American English spoken by those first settlers of the 1780s and 1790s.” Thus, as McConnell explains, Canadians sound the way we do because of early American settlement.


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