Step off the plane in the Great White North, and wham! Canada’s legendary inferiority complex hits you in the face like a wet, rolled-up newspaper. Or, in this case, like an article in a dry, unfurled one: “Canadians to merge language with Americans.” Back in the home country for a few days this week, I learned that my fellow Canadians have given up worrying that they’ll get annexed by the Americans, and have started worrying that they’ll just start sounding more and more like them. The horror!
Surveying speaking patterns along the Canada-U.S. border, a team of researchers led by Professor Jack Chambers of the University of Toronto has discovered a continental standard that includes influences from both sides of the border. Canadians, it seems, are dropping their “chesterfield” for the American “couch”; Americans, reports the Toronto Globe and Mail, are dumping that “obnoxious drawling a sound — where the word “caught” sounds like ‘caaa-it'” — in favor of the more demure Canadian “cot.” Canadians are also fudging many of those funny British influences, replacing “vase” (rhymes with “cause”) with “vase” (rhymes with “daze”), a bowdlerized version of the American “vase” (rhymes with “face”).
“What we’re seeing is widespread merging rather than widespread Americanization which is what many Canadians have feared,” says Chambers. Says Mary MacKeracher, another Canadian investigator: “I’m pretty sure Canadians will keep saluting a lef-tenant, but never a lootenant.”
Canadians are especially protective of their long e (ee) sounds, in words like “anti-American” and “semi-idiotic,” as compared to Americans, who insist on using the long i’s (aye) (but not when they “ante” up in poker). Canadians are shyer, more self-conscious. Self-assured Americans open wide. They say “rauwte” for route. Canadians prefer “roote” and — as South Park keeps gently reminding us — “aboot.”
Canadian pronunciations were born in Britain. Perhaps the root (“roote” in both countries) of it all is that the British have bad teeth. I’m not really sure. Americans spend big bucks on orthodontics, have beautiful teeth, and want to show them off. That may be why some British folks — Prince Charles for one — speak with a proverbial potato (potahto?) lodged in the throat, making it hard to know exactly what they’re saying. Canadians are circumspect but comprehensible. Americans literally bowl you over with frank talk. But soon we’ll all be one big happy language family. Perhaps, with the advent of hemispheric free trade, continental speech could eventually morph into Amerindofrancohispaninuit. Then, at least, Canadians finally might stop whining about U.S. cultural imperialism. Hooray for that (and hurrah)!