Codifying Canadian English


by Nicholas Koppel

© 2006


Contemporary editorials against US cultural encroachment into Canada mostly all argue with a grave sense of immediacy.  America is at our resources; America is at our culture; America is at our language, again.  With General American disseminated through CNN and Friends, Canada’s regional peculiarities do not seem to stand a chance.  A study of English spoken in Ottawa, conducted by Howard B. Woods at the end of the 1980s, concludes bleakly: “English Canadians will have to (and may want to) define their identity by means other than language” (“A Synchronic Study,” 174).[1]  On Woods’ evidence, even our infamously parodied “Canadian Raising,” albeit unrepresentative of the speech of all English-speaking Canada, was submerging below prominent US phonetics by the end of the ’80s – and one can only assume has continued to do so.

Presupposed in this, however, is that “Canadian” is a dialect of English independent of both British and American dialects.  The publication of the 2nd Edition of the Canadian Oxford Dictionary (2004) reinforces such a claim; “Canadian is codified,” its presence seems to say – and yet the codification of Canadian English enjoys a much richer history than two editions within the Oxford series of dictionaries (the first published 2001).



Canadian English & North American

            Understanding the history of the codification of Canadian English requires prior knowledge of the history of Canadian English.  Both J.K. Chambers and M.H. Scargill write broad accounts of the subject; both, like Katherine Barber, place emphasis on the first migrations north by American settlers.  Canadian English, however, first begins with the formation of a “Canadian” land.

Historian William Newbigging evidences of formation of Canada in his Encarta article on The Québec Act.  In 1763, Britain acquired New France and its 65,000 settlers as part of the Treaty of Paris.  The treaty also officially ended what is termed the Seven Years’ War.  However, R.E. McConnell reminds us that “when Canada became a British possession in 1763, it had almost no English-Speaking settlers” (Our Own Voice, 8).  Britain had taken over the northern colonies formally held by France, but with the land, it inherited a populace steadfastly ordered by French civil law.  The populace failed to consolidate beneath attempts to impose British institutions, and consequently, Britain introduced the Québec Act, a piece of legislation originally meant to address conflict between French and English speaking populations in North America, but which ultimately led to the creation of English speaking Canada.  The Québec Act saw the expansion of the colony of Québec to below the Great Lakes and the institution of French civil law into the colony.  The act also fortified a hybrid social structure at odds with the greater English-speaking populace while at the same time unsatisfactory to the former French colony occupants.  The greater outcome of this dissatisfaction was the American Revolution (1775-1783).

            Canadian English has its roots in the Thirteen Colonies of New England.  J.K. Chambers, in his Introduction to the Canadian Oxford Dictionary, identifies “four significant waves of immigration” (COD, viii), signalling the first two as the most important.  The significance behind the first is as follows: generally, a founding populace sets the overall temperament of a region into which future immigrants and generations assimilate.  Politically, the American Revolution saw a mass migration of civilian and military refugees – the United Empire Loyalists – to the regions of Lower Canada (formerly part of Québec) and Nova Scotia.  Today we hear a clear dialectal difference between Central Canada and the Maritime provinces.  This distinction goes all the way back to the founding of English Canada.  As both Walter Avis and Robert Gregg independently record, immigration northward during and consequentially after the American Revolution tended to follow two paths: first, those leaving coastal New England moved into the regions of New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, and second, approximately 50,000 of those living in western New England – especially Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Vermont – ventured into the Great Lakes basin.  These two migratory groups set the linguistic temperament of Canada: Western New England dialect (which had been brought to North America by colonizers from Southern England).[2]

            The second significant wave of immigration, Chambers notes, would come a generation after the American Revolution.  “Americans” continued to migrate north, and by 1813, 80% of inhabitants of Upper Canada were American in origin.  America had also had a generation of independence and a generation to develop its own imperial intentions.  The country made these intentions known in 1812 when its leaders declared war against Britain and launched a series of raids against Canadian borders – what would initiate the War of 1812 (1812-1815).  J.K. Chambers notes that “the American invasions of 1812 made Canada’s British governors acutely aware of the dangers of having a majority of American descendants in the country when the United States was showing imperialistic tendencies of its own” (“Victorian Views,” 5).  Britain’s response was to incite, between 1815 and 1850, some 800,000 people from the British Isles to move to North America, 300,000 of which, mainly from Scotland and Ireland, were recruited and shipped to “British” North America.[3]  However, such a large number, nearly quadrupling the population of Canada, had its effect mainly on civil and governmental institutions; effects on regional linguistics were minimal: the foundational dialect was already in place and the children of these immigrants spoke with accents developed by those who came up round about the American Revolution.



Identifying Canadian English

Anyone who has had the pleasure of traveling abroad through Europe without a Canadian flag sown on his or her backpack has endured the simple observation that Canadian English sounds like (or close to) American English (Chambers, “Lawless,” 1).  The fact, as outsiders intuitively recognize, is that Canadian English is a derivative of American English, not British English.  This is reflected in our vocabulary.  We adjust antennas not aerials; we visit downtown not the town centre; and we note-take dewy-eyed from the gospel of professors not lecturers.  And yet, in contrast to Americans, we eat sultana raisins, put our daughters in girl guides (not girl scouts), pull over onto the hard shoulder (not the paved shoulder) and spread jam and marmalade on our rye bread (not preserves).  Canadian English shares vocabulary independently with Britain and America, but Canadian English speakers can also juggle both vocabulary sets simultaneously.  During blackouts we turn on either a torch or a flashlight and our trains roll along the parallel lines of railroad and railway tracks because Canadian English speakers are, to use a term coined by Robert Gregg, “bidialectal” (“Canadian English Lexicography,” 33).

            By the Victorian period, Canadian English had its roots in place.  It remained politically separate from its southern neighbour, yet richly detailed with British law and custom.  Successive generations had evolved a dialect uniquely Canadian.  The time had come to recognize it as such; but if Canadians today are surprised to hear themselves compared to Americans, British migrants to Canada were equally shocked to hear a dialect far removed from the British they knew. Victorian England was notoriously oblivious to its possession across the Atlantic.  As J.K. Chambers explains, “Canadians were thought to be – nay, expected to be – basically British, and to speak British English. We were, after all, the loyalists” (COD, ix).  Shock and disparagement would mark the first identifications of the dialect.

            In 1857, Rev. A. Constable Geikie, addressing the Canadian Institute, singled out in his speech numerous “lawless and vulgar innovations” in the vernacular of Upper Canada (quoted in Chambers, “Victorian Views,” 2).  Though earlier dialectal observations exist, he is the first person in recorded history to identify “Canada English” and term it, albeit discouragingly, as a distinctive linguistic entity.  Geikie used the term, in his words, as “expressive of a corrupt dialect growing up amongst our population, and gradually finding access to our periodical literature, until it threatens to produce a language as unlike our noble mother tongue as the negro patua or the Chinese pidgeon English” (“Victorian Views,” 6).  Geikie had moved with his parents to Sarnia, Ontario from Scotland in 1843.  He believed that there was proper English and that there was low English.  His family spoke the former.  The people already living in Ontario when his family arrived spoke low English, what Geikie would declare in his address “a corrupt dialect.”

            Geikie’s proscriptive attitude was shared by his generation of immigrants (including most famously Susanna Moodie).  As Chambers notes in his essay “Lawless and Vulgar Innovations: Victorian View of Canadian English,” such a predilection towards British spelling, grammar and word choices characterized a breed that became known as “Anglo-Canadians”.  While Geikie’s generation were too late to protect their children form Canadian phonetics, his generation was determined to supplant North American usage with British at all times, and according to J.K. Chambers, “Anglo-Canadian attitudes enjoyed a special prestige” in Canada for an entire century, until the 1950s (COD, x).  A majority populace unwilling to assimilate produced a “bidialectal” citizenry.  This would become a characteristic trait of Canadian English.  Whenever British and North American practices differ, Canadians comprehend both.  Canadians can even use both within Canada without drawing comment (for example, the varied pronunciations of neither).  However, Canadian bidialectalism often gave and often gives the illusion that Canada lacks a unique linguistic variety, and when Sir William Craigie, fresh from working on the Oxford English Dictionary (1933) began working on the Dictionaries in North America, Canada was overlooked.



Dictionaries Of North American English

The first dictionaries to emerge in North America were “American.”  Just as the United States was first to nationalize, so too was it first to codify its variety of English: particularly its spelling.  Richard S. Bready, in his Microsoft Encarta article “Dictionaries,” give an overview of dictionaries of American English.  The first important contribution was The American Spelling Book (1783), issued by educator and lexicographer Noah Webster as part of his Grammatical Institute of the English Language.  Throughout the 19th century other American dictionaries emerged.  Joseph Emerson Worcester, Webster’s greatest competitor, published his own Comprehensive Pronouncing and Explanatory Dictionary of the English Language in 1830.  Webster in turn brought out a revised edition of his own dictionary in 1841 and Worcester published A Universal and Critical Dictionary of the English Language in 1846, and after Webster’s death, G. C. Merriam Company acquired the rights to the dictionary and editions continued to emerge.  Until 1913, however, the closest thing to the codifying of Canadian English had been Thomas Chandler Haliburton’s satirical sketches published in The Novascotian (1835, 1838, 1840) featuring Samuel Slick of Slickville and the “Bluenose” dialect of the Maritime Provinces.

Why early Canadians never formed themselves around the codifying of their distinct variety of English is open to speculation.  Even as late as 1957, M.H. Scargill, who would chair the Lexicographical Committee responsible for researching and compiling Canada’s first dictionary, would write with ponderous resolve: “A definitive history of the English language of Canada is yet to be written, and few scholars would attempt to write it at present.  The vast amount of preliminary work necessary for such a history has not been done” (“Sources of Canadian English,” 12).  James Geddes, Jr. and Adjutor Rivard managed their Bibliographie du Parler Français au Canada by 1906, and by the time the Lexicographical Committee began its work, Scargill would further complain that “Our French Canadian colleagues have a culture and a language of their own…. It is the English-speaking Canadians who lag behind” (“Canadian English and Canadian Culture,” 26).  Even Slavic communities had beaten English-speaking Canadians in codifying their distinct Canadian varieties.  Perhaps, as Mark Orkin suggests, French Canada as a minority language and populace sought political and cultural self-assertion? (Speaking, 4-5).  Assertion was definitely behind Webster publishing his volumes.  English-speaking Canadians, in contrast, recipients of the full traditions of England, would not have needed such reassurance, and generation upon generation of Anglo-Canadians would have checked any doubts.  Perhaps A.R.M. Lower’s colourful description of early Canadians comes near the truth: “An illiterate, money-grubbing, evil-smelling lot,” he describes them, who “did little, if anything, at least during the nineteenth century, to mend their untaught, unmannerly ways” (Speaking, 7).  Survival marked the New World: even in the 19th century.

Though the majority of English Canada overlooked its unique variety, three names emerged from the 19th century: Geikie, W.D. Lighthall and Alexander F. Chamberlain – the founders of Canadian English lexicography.



Early Canadian English Lexicography

            Robert J. Gregg, a founding member of the Lexicographical Committee, sets the beginning of Canadian English lexicography with John Sandilands, who he subtitles “Lexicographic Pioneer.”  Sandilands is not the pioneer of Canadian English Lexicography; he is, however, the first codifier of Canadian English.  Far from thorough and far from serviceable to future researchers, Sandilands authored, edited and published in 1913 a 52 page little volume entitled Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase Book.  If its title page is accurate, the book was intended to aid newly-arrived Britons in gracefully adjusting to the unfamiliar words and phrases they would encounter in Western Canada.  It comprises 1500 headwords assembled by the author and includes racist terms, archaic forms, slang, North Americanisms and Canadianisms.  The book stands out as a linguistic record of turn of the century Canadian English, but as Gregg points out, none of the lexical items are labelled; and while Sandilands published the first “Canadian Dictionary,” the observations of Geikie, Lighthall and especially Chamberlain set a foundation for the “vast amount of preliminary work necessary” to produce the first “researched” Canadian dictionary: the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP).

            Walter S. Avis, its Editor-in-Chief, defines a Canadianism as “a word, expression, or meaning which is native to Canada or which is distinctively characteristic of Canadian usage though not necessarily exclusive to Canada” (DCHP, xiii).  Reverend Geikie, for all his gripes about the “corrupt dialect” in Canada, actually profited later lexicographers.  In his seminal article “Canadian English,” published 1857, he divides the “lawless and vulgar innovations” of Canadian English into two categories: those “imported by travellers, daily circulated by American newspapers, and eagerly incorporated into the language of our provincial press” (i.e. Americanisms) and those “coined for ourselves” (i.e. Canadianisms).  In the first category he includes words such as lot (in the sense of a plot of land), boss (in the euphemistic sense meaning master) and store (as displacing synonym for shop): all Americanisms according to the current Oxford English Dictionary.  However, Geikie, in his second category, mistakes a great many Canadianisms for Americanisms, and moreover, he terms Canadian or American in origin words dating before the American Revolution – an error recurrent throughout the history of Canadian lexicography.[4]

            Canadian lexicography would not be revisited until 1889 in an article by W.D. Lighthall published in The Week (Toronto) and titled “Canadian English.”  In brief, Lighthall’s article collects and comments on various English dialects from Nova Scotia to Quebec to British Columbia.  His observations initiated Canadian dialectology, and a year after publication, Alexander F. Chamberlain sent a response, not just to Lighthall’s article but Geikie’s as well, in the form of a study entitled “Dialect Research in Canada.”  The article was largely a re-writing of the other two.  Chamberlain agreed that several dialects were spoken in the Dominion and that Ontario English was replete with Americanisms.  He also identified some further Canadianisms including political union (a journalist term to describe the absorption of Canada by the US) and sawoff.

In his article, Chamberlain complained that “towards the investigation, scientifically, of the spoken English of the Dominion little indeed has been done” (quoted in Speaking Canadian English, 5).  The record of Canadian English study would remain a patchwork until after the Second World War: specifically the year 1954 – the year a group of scholars founded the Canadian Linguistic Association.



Preparing For Canada’s First National Dictionary

            In his “Introduction” to DCHP, Walter Avis writes that the dictionary “has been compiled on historical principles in that every term entered is supported by dated evidence from printed sources.  In this respect, we are in the well-established tradition of The Oxford English Dictionary, A Dictionary of American English and A Dictionary of Americanisms” (xii).  The first “researched” Canadian dictionary, as opposed to Sandiland’s less than scholarly pamphlet, has more in common with the dictionaries than the partaking of tradition.  First, the need for the DCHP derived from the inadequacies of the other dictionaries, and second, a more homely connection, the dictionaries share a staff lineage.

            The OED set itself apart from other dictionaries of its day by tracing the history of every word using citations from the oldest available dated sources and then tracking its progress throughout the history of the English language.  19th century dictionaries, including those in America, had not done this; but with over nine million dated entries, its editors concentrated on British words at the expense of regional varieties.  When it appeared in 1933, American lexicographers, upset with the omission of a great many Americanisms, commissioned Sir William Craigie, one of the OED editors to come on board as Editor-in-Chief of a Dictionary of American English.  Published in 1944 in four volumes, the American dictionary failed to satisfy, and one of Craigie’s former students, Mitford M. Matthews, undertook to edit a new dictionary: The Dictionary of Americanisms (DA).  Matthews defined an Americanism as “a word or expression which originated in the United States” (quoted in DCHP, xii).  Yet as Avis points out, “he uses a wide variety of Canadian source materials as evidence for a substantial number of ‘Americanisms’” (xii).  Matthews’ assistant, Charles Lovell, noticed this, and during preparations of DA, he kept such words aside.



The Canadian Linguistic Association

            If the first half of the 20th century was marked by the turbulence of two Great Wars and one Great Depression, the second half of the century had its roots in prosperity: oil in Alberta, increased world trade, and industrial growth.  To this was added immigration, mostly from Europe, and the postwar baby boom, raising Canada’s population by 50 percent from 12 million to 18 million, between 1946 and 1961.  National optimism was high, and protests against US cultural invasion resurfaced: this time with strong government support, which made it its mandate to promote Canadian culture and national identity as a counterweight to the American influx.[5]

            At the University of Manitoba, in 1954, within this brewing national temperament, the Canadian Linguistic Association (CLA) held its first meeting.  M.H. Scargill gives some regard to this meeting in his preface to A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles.  As well as being present himself, of note also were Walter Avis and Charles Lovell.  Scargill says that some discussion was given to the possibility of preparing a dictionary of Canadian English, but that these ideas would not be immediately pursued.

            Dictionaries require research, and prior to the founding of the Canadian Linguistic Association, only a handful of rigorous studies of Canadian English had been conducted.  Ultimately, the CLA transformed Canadian English into a subject of study and inquiry.  It immediately established separate committees for linguistic geography and lexicography.  In its second year, the association founded its own journal through which it started publishing its findings.  These included articles on the differences between Canadian and American English, studies on a variety geo-linguistic peculiarities, and Charles Lovell’s expanding collection of Canadianisms were also included.  Independent dialectal research also began around this time, specifically on Newfoundland phonological systems, but these are peripheral to the codification of Central Canadian English.

            In 1957, the Association established a Lexicographical Committee.  Its purpose, in Scargill’s words, was “to begin promoting and co-ordinating lexicographical work in Canada” (DCHP, vi).  In other words, the CLA had evidently collected enough raw data from which it could construct an authoritative account of Canadian English.  The Committee included H. Alexander, W.S. Avis, W.H. Brodie, P. Daviault, and R.J. Gregg, with Scargill acting as Chairman.  Scargill writes in his Preface that “Plans were made to prepare three types of dictionaries: a series of dictionaries for use in schools and universities; a historical dictionary of the English language in Canada; a dictionary of Canadianisms, which was to serve as a pilot project for the larger historical dictionary of the English language in Canada” (vi).  The first type would be published variably under the name Gage Dictionary – a general purpose English Canada oriented dictionary – and the second and third would combine into one foundational volume.



A Dictionary Of Canadianisms On Historical Principles

            Two original members of the Lexicographical Committee have published historical accounts of the development of the DCHP: Robert Gregg dedicates a section in “Canadian English Lexicography” and M.H. Scargill in his preface to the dictionary.  The Committee appointed Charles Lovell editor of what was originally simply titled Dictionary of Canadianisms.  In 1960, he won a Visiting Fellowship to Canada award from the Canada Council that he might work full time on the project: however, he died that year.

            The original publisher, W.J. Gage Limited, purchased Lovell’s entire lexicographical collection and asked Avis and Scargill to continue his work.  They were given space to house their materials at the University of Alberta; thus, the “Lexicographical Centre for Canadian English” was formed.  Over the next several years, materials piled into the Centre both from within and from outside of the Association.  However, editorial work progressed slowly until 1963, when granted a Senior Fellowship, Avis devoted a year singularly to editing manuscripts for publication.



The Gage Canadian Dictionary

            Only one edition of DCHP was published; however, concurrently with preparatory work on it, Avis, Gregg and Scargill authored three dictionaries ultimately titled Gage Canadian Dictionary, which were geared independently for Canadian students in grade school, in university and in Canadian households or offices.  Its earliest editions (1962, 1963, 1967) predate DCHP, but it continued to come out in revised editions up 1996.

            Prior to the Gage Canadian Dictionary, Canadians had only the choice between American dictionaries and British dictionaries for their daily use.  As the editors write in their introduction, “Every effort has been made to ensure that all entries…, whether of terms peculiar to Canada or of terms which Canadian English shares with English speakers in other countries, reflect the usage generally accepted among Canadians throughout the country, with respect to style, vocabulary, spelling, and pronunciation” (Gage, x).  Like the Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles, the Gage series identifies North Americanisms (e.g. petrol), French words in English (e.g. portage), Native American loanwords (e.g. mocassins), Inuit words (e.g. mukluk), established words for flora and fauna and place names.  It also includes regionalisms such as chuck and bluff, and it states the very different meanings some British expressions have in English (e.g. knocked up).

One problem with the Gage Canadian, as John Willinsky has pointed out (58-60), is that although the sources for its reading program included periodicals and the CBC, it is “a repackaging of the Gage Senior Dictionary”, a senior high school dictionary, and “in terms of editorial policy” still “consigns the sense and substance of this national language to the demands of the school textbook market.” Although its early editors included Avis, Scargill, and Gregg, who brought to the Gage Canadian their expertise in “regional linguistic forms and of forms common to the country as a whole,” budget cuts restricted the input of external readers in 1982. Later editions failed to consolidate dialectal changes, and not having had a secure foundation in a corpus of Canadian usage, the dictionary drifted from accuracy.

Language is always changing, and though enormous research, orchestrated by the Lexicographical Committee, went into the production of DCHP, a research centred, Canadian dictionary had not emerged since 1967.  Even the ITP Nelson Canadian Dictionary of the English Language first published in 1997 is developed from a US dictionary.  Room existed for The Canadian Oxford Dictionary, and the editor and team would not only utilized the company’s 20 million word-set but would conduct fresh research into the current state of Canadian English.



Codification: Making The Grade

The Canadian Oxford Dictionary boasts that it contains “two thousand Canadianisms more than any other general dictionary of English” (COD, iix).  We are well accustomed, at least those of us pushed through the Canadian education system, in locating a word in a dictionary.  But how is a word chosen?  How do lexicographers confirm etymologies? What goes into a dictionary?  In essence, what is it that we codify?

Katherine Barber is intriguingly enlightening as to process: “five years of work by five Canadian lexicographers examining almost twenty million words of Canadian text held in databases representing over 8,000 different Canadian publications” (COD, iix).  The words “text” and “publication” in conjunction with “dictionary” suggest the drab and dreary indexing of arid writings.  Far from this, “text” and “publication” in the context of codification must be interpreted in the widest possible sense.  As Barber continues, “Fiction and non-fiction books, newspapers, magazines, even theatre programs, grocery story flyers, and Canadian Tire catalogues were read to ensure that the vocabulary recorded in this dictionary is that of Canadians’ everyday life.”  Contrasted with the “study” based lexicography of DCHP, who would have thought codification could be such fun!

The COD lexicographers do, however, follow what may be termed “the Oxford rule of lexical durability”: five years in print.  How do we know which foreign words actively used within cultural enclaves will spread outwards?  Who is to say which words in popular use today will die out as quickly as they achieved faddishness?  The Oxford rule is in place to discriminate the short-lived from the less temporal.  Though, as Katherine Barber has noted, some words less than five years old, such as podcast, do make it in.

The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles followed something similar to the Oxford Rule.  Avis writes that the dictionary “precludes the entering of terms for which there is only oral evidence and of others for which the printed evidence is fragmentary or otherwise inadequate” (DCHP, xii).  What this ultimately means – and the same applies to the recent edition of the COD – is that Canada’s codifying dictionaries will never achieve completion.





            Even with the efforts put forth by the Canadian Lexicographical Association and Oxford University Press, a lot of work remains to be done on Canadian English, particularly in the area of dialectology.  On subject of central Canadian, or Ontarian, English we might choose to return to Howard B. Woods’ “A Synchronic Study of English Spoken in Ottawa: Is Canadian English Becoming More American?”  He opens rather pessimistically: “Linguistically, we have questioned whether – and feared that – American English would inundate all aspects of our variety of the English language and that most forms and patterns which are characteristic of Canadian English would be replaced by Americanisms” (Focus on Canada, 151).  His conclusion leaves one with the feeling that Canadian English is doomed.  “It seems futile and perhaps regressive,” he writes, “to try to find an identity in our linguistic peculiarities.  Rather, Canadians will conform to the standards of the world language, as will most other nations, and will more likely find a distinct identity in the way they carry out their daily activities” (174).  Woods forgets that language is organic, and while Americanization of Canadian English suggests a long withheld reunion of central Canadian English with Standard American, the dissemination of Standard American accomplishes the same destructive levelling of regional flavour within its homeland.

            And yet, the US possesses hundreds more dialects, from Brooklyn to Sacramento, and Ontarians generally intuit that someone is over from British Columbia.  If, as Woods’ study suggests, Canadianisms are in decline, no available studies have been conducted of the possible sustainment or stabilizing of aspects of Canadian English through popularly received dialects, such as “Coaches Corner with Don Cherry” or Trailer Park Boys.  Woods traced eight Canadianisms; the COD contains over 2,000.  “Canadianism,” therefore, is not so narrowly defined as to comprise “Canadian Raising” and pronunciations of <ing>.  Maybe it is, that “Eh!” will fall out of use; but Canadian English has a long life ahead.




Dictionaries of Canadian English (Prefaces / Introductions)


Avis, Walter S. “Canadian English”. Gage Canadian Dictionary. Toronto: Gage P Ltd., 1983. xi-xiii.

Avis, W. S. Introduction. A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. Toronto: W.J. Gage, 1967. xii-xv.

Barber, Katherine. Introduction. Oxford Canadian Dictionary of Current English. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005. viii.

Sandilands, John, Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase Book: Things a Newcomer Wants to Know. Winnipeg: Telegram Job Printers, 1912.

Scargill, M.H. Preface. A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. Toronto: W.J. Gage, 1967. vi-vii.



Works / Articles about Canadian English


Bloomfield, Morton W., “Canadian English and its Relation to Eighteenth Century American Speech.” Canadian English: Origins and Structures. Ed. J.K. Chambers. Toronto: Methuen, 1975. 3-11.

Brinton, Laurel J. and Margery Fee. “Canadian English.” Cambridge History of the English Language. v. 6. Ed. John Algeo. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1992. 122-440.

 “Canadian Dictionaries in English.” The Oxford Companion to the English Language. Ed. Tom McArthur. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1992.

Chambers, J.K., “‘Lawless and vulgar innovations’: Victorian views of Canadian English.” Focus on Canada, ed. Sandra Clarke. Amsterdam: John Benjamins PC, 1993. 1-26.

Gregg, Robert J., “Canadian English Lexicography.” Focus on Canada. 27-44

Halford, Brigitte, Talk Units: The Structure of Spoken Canadian English. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1996

McConnell, R.E., Our Own Voice: Canadian English and How It Is Studied. Toronto: Gage Educational PC, 1979

Orkin, Mark M., Speaking Canadian English: An Informal Account of the English Language in Canada. New York: David McKay Company, Inc., 1970.

Scargill, M.H., “Canadian English and Canadian Culture in Alberta.” Journal of the Canadian Linguistic Association. March (1955): 26-29.

Scargill, M.H., “The Significance of the Survey of Canadian English.” Modern Canadian English Usage: Linguistic Change & Reconstruction. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Ltd., 1974. 11-20.

Scargill, M.H., “The Sources of Canadian English.” Canadian English: Origins and Structures. 12-15.

Woods, Howard B. “A synchronic study of English spoken in Ottawa: Is Canadian English becoming more American?” Focus on Canada. 151-178.



Other Sources


Bready, Richard S., “Dictionaries.” Microsoft Encarta Reference Library 2003. DVD-ROM

Willinsky, John. “Cutting English on the Bias: Five Lexicographers in Pursuit of the New.” American Speech 63:1

(Spring, 1988), pp. 44-66.




[1]  Woods’ synchronic study of eight phonological “Canadianisms,” four of which appear in British usage but all of which are absent from American usage, found a decreased use of six from the older generation to the younger.  Most notably are post-tonic, medial, intervocalic <t> (i.e. <VtV>) – realized more often as American usage [d] – and the high and fast diphthong <ou> (/۸u/) heard by foreigners in approximately 20% of Canadian speech, which was found by Woods to have a range of height, but which was discovered rare among informants younger than 25 years of age.

[2]  As a point of interest, wide westward spread of the Central Canadian, or Ontarian, dialect would not take place until under a century later when then Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald responded to the Riel Rebellions of 1870 in Manitoba and 1885 in Saskatchewan by directing a mass movement of Ontarians to form the west’s new majority (Chambers, “Lawless and vulgar innovations,” 2).

[3] Such reparative deployment arguably dates the general subject of anti-encroachment editorials with the beginning of Canadian nation building.

[4]  For a rich analysis of Geikie’s dissection of Canadian English, please see J.K. Chambers’ “Victorian Views of Canadian English.”

[5] July 9, 1958, US President Dwight D. Eisenhower visited the House of Commons expressly to address Canadian unrest.  Canadian business, worried they would be overtaken by American interest, had rallied for legislative intervention. (CBC Archives)