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Canada is divided into two major linguistic groups--English speakers and French speakers--which have learned, over the course of 300 years of cohabitation, to hate each other.—Dave Barry's Only Travel Guide You Will Ever Need
For many, the distinctions between American Accents and Canadian accents is marginal at best... a fact which many casting managers rely on, when filming north of the 49th Parallel for shows ostensibly set in the States. However, when it becomes relevant -- or when someone is not quite there, acting wise -- certain things can be determined, eh?
Generally, what everyone recognizes as generic "Canadian" is the accent found in Western and Central Canada. The two major features that distinguish it from a conservative General American accent are "Canadian raising" and the "Canadian shift". Also, we tend to refer to the letter 'z' as 'zed', and may add 'eh?' to the end of our sentences (per the cliché).
- British Columbia: Virtually indistinguishable from Pacific Northwest states like Washington, Oregon, or Idaho. However, there may be some measure of Chinook jargon in an undisguised B.C. accent, such as potlatch, skookum, saltchuck, or muckamuck.
The British Columbian accent is subtle enough not to be strongly associated with a particular usage. However, given B.C.'s strong primary industries, its stance on environmentalism, and its extremely relaxed stance on cannabis usage, hippies old and new tend to have it. Thanks to the active entertainment industry, the "slick businessman" type also tends to be a B.C.er; the "traditional" or "banker-style" businessman being from Toronto or Ottawa.
- Alberta/Prairies: Generally, a close analogue for Midwestern accents, particularly Wisconsin. Tends to be used for rednecks or oilmen. The further west you go, the faster the people speak. Calgarians can sound like their city is a training school for hockey play-by-play announcers. They can get out 100 words before you can say "hello". Alberta accents tend to sound stronger than other Prairie accents even to other Canadians, possibly because despite Alberta's business connections with the US, Albertans live physically further from the US border than other Canadians, and they generally don't cross-border shop in person - after all, who's going to drive sixteen hours roundtrip to Great Falls to buy lightbulbs?
On the other hand, certain areas of Winnipeg are heavily bilingual, to the point that it's not unheard of for someone from St. Boniface or St. Norbert (or even north St. Vital) to refer to the "depanneur" instead of the convenience store.
A lot of seniors living in the Prairie Provinces speak English with a slight European accent. Most are first-generation Canadians who grew up in an ethnic enclave, often in a small town, and who as a child only spoke English in school. It's more common in the Parklands, an area of the northern Prairies running in a line roughly from Edmonton to Winnipeg and containing both cities. The most common accent heard among these seniors is Ukrainian due to the large number of Ukrainians who settled the Prairies in the early 20th century. The Ukrainian accent is so common that most people living in the Prairie Provinces will assume that any Eastern European accent is "Ukrainian" unless they're informed otherwise.
- Scarborough: Working-class Toronto suburb. See: Mike Myers, the Barenaked Ladies. The rest of Toronto is very multi-racial, but even so the long time Canadians lack a conspicuous accent. In fact, the accent could be viewed as "generic."
- Quebec English: Influences from the French-speaking community will be strong. Even an Anglophone with limited French might find himself ending sentences on an upturned tone that would otherwise indicate a question, or reading a partially French sign like "Pie IX Boulevard" as "pi neuf", not "pie nine". English Quebeckers also tend to pronounce all the long "A" sounds, so they will pronounce "Larry married Mary in Paris" as "Lahree mahreed Merry in Pahris," whereas English-speakers from west of the Quebec line tend to say "Lerry merried Merry in Perris."
- English spoken by Francophones: Francophones speaking English also tend to make small mistakes with tenses, such as using saw for see or seen, and mixing up present singular and present plural verbs, such as is instead of are.
Much ado is made of the Quebecois nationalism, so the French accent tends to crop up when filling roles matching the "rude to foreigners" shtick. If this is not the case, they are filling one of two roles: domestic terrorist (less common in these tense days) or substitute Frenchman stereotype, with drinking, carousing, and cigarette-smoking in quantity. Keep in mind the Quebec journalist who criticized the late French president Charles de Gaulle for calling the Quebecois the "French of America." What De Gaulle didn't understand, the journalist said, is that "Quebecois are actually Americans who speak French."
A quick, easy trick to distinguish a Quebec French accent from the cliche Paris accent: In English the word "the" should be pronounced like "de" and not like "ze". This is dead giveaway and often shows imitators that Did Not Do the Research at all. Also, cue in colorful religious-objects-themed curse words.
- Quebec French: If you understand that a taxi driver from the Bronx doesn't speak the same English as a Cambridge law professor, then you should understand that a Quebecois accountant and a Paris computer programmer wouldn't sound the same either. And no, they don't wear berets or walk around with baguettes under their arms in Montreal either. Quebec French at all social levels is very distinct from European French, probably more distinct than Bronx English vs. upper class British English. Quebec French developed over a long period of separation, with a strong influence from pioneers who in turn were influence by trading with First Nations peoples. Has some degree of Verbal Tics, as some people say "là"("there") at the end of each sentence. Other Quebecismes include 'chu' (replacing 'je suis') and 'maudits Torontois' (take a guess). It is also influenced by the fact that most of the French settlers were from Normandy and mostly not from the upper classes, so Quebecois French isn't quite as strict about class distinctions as formal French. This varies if one is considering "French", Franglish, or...
- Joual: Street French. Rougher in ways, a little more archaic, a little more mixed with other languages. Avoid discussing religious topics, as most of the strongest profanities are based on religious, particularly Catholic, iconology, rather than bodily functions as is true for English.
- West Coast French: As the name implies, this tongue-in-cheek 'pseudo-dialect' is particular to the West Coast of Canada, and consists of English phrases directly transliterated into French (often at the expense of grammar). Any attempt to use West Coast French in an actual French-speaking country is not recommended, as it does not, by any stretch of the imagination, translate intelligibly.
- Maritimes: Reasonably close to Northeastern coastal accents, with a slight influence from Acadian French and a slightly stronger one from the Scottish community of the area. Tends to be slightly slower than the central Canadian (Torontonian) accent, especially in the rural areas. To a Maritimer the Torontonian pronunciation of their city's name sounds something like 'Tarana' or 'Trana'. The accent shows a distinct spectrum from west to east, with New Brunswick not that different from Central Canadian, proceeding to more distinctive in mainland Nova Scotia and with the greatest distinction on Cape Breton Island. The Caper accent is the closest to the Newfoundland accent out of Newfoundland one can find. In all provinces the accent along the coasts (outside the cities) is stronger than in the interiors, leading to the general perception that someone with a pronounced accent likely works in the fishing industry. For those outside of the Maritimes, the most distinctive aspect of this accent it a hard or elongated 'r', which isn't uncommon in places like Halifax and Truro, despite the stereotypes which suggest otherwise.
- Actually, people from PEI speak pretty fast, if the comments of my uncle from Calgary and teacher from New Brunswick are to be believed.
- And the Cape Breton accent (and Nova Scotia accent in general), even at their thickest are easily differentiated from the (many, many) Newfoundland. The quick and dirt rule is that a thick NS accent is some sort of vaguely-Scottish (hence "New Scotland") accent, whereas Newfoundland is more like a Irish-English-Canadian English hybrid dialect.
- Acadian French: while Acadian French proper tends to be equivalent to joual, a more recent evolution, call chiac has been recognized as a distinct dialect, using not only English words but entire English phrases on a French grammatical base with French pronunciation and even verb forms. J'va parker mon char. (I'm going to park my car) is a good example. It's stereotypically spoken by someone who can't speak either English or French "properly" but in the last few years there's been a growing use of it in literature and television. This form of French is spoken primarily in Eastern Canada, and especially in New Brunswick and the Gaspé (The bit of Québec on the South side of the St. Laurence River.) where the joke is "Move to New Brunswick and lose your French and your English both." As a bit of historical trivia, the word "Cajun" is a corruption of "Acadian," as a lot of settlers in that area were exiles from Acadia.
- It should be pointed out that chiac is a fairly recent concept, with most of its active speakers being 40 or younger. Before then, people from New Brunswick spoke either French or English. Chiac is a result of the loosening of these cultural divisions and both languages merging into a common dialect. It should by no means be used as an indicator that the individual cannot speak "proper" French or English - speaking chiac is commonly a concious decision on the part of a speaker who is also fluent in either "proper" French or Canadian English - and often both.
- Newfoundland English: Not just an accent, but an actual dialect in its full form. If an accent is recognized by a non-Canadian, it'll be this one; even Quebecois French may be mistaken for Continental French, but "Newfunese" or "Newfie" is a class all its own. Pronounciation, words and even grammar are different from anywhere else, even the Maritime provinces. Think a stereotypical pirate/sailor accent, with fewer "arr"s, the addition of rounding the long-"i" (so "Mike" sounds like "Moike") and unusual constructions like "That was some boring" instead of "That was very boring." "Whaddya at?" is the archetypal greeting. In conversation, every sententce will end in "b'y" (boy) or "dear" depending the gender of the person being spoken too. See Rick Mercer for a "townie" St. John's accent, or the movie The Shipping News for reasonable rendered "bay" accents. Linguistically, English in North America is divided between Newfoundland...and everywhere else.
Newfs are funny, if one goes by the sheer number of them doing comedy on Canadian television; stereotypically, they fill many of the roles that the Irish do for British TV, or anything in the "uneducated but canny" range of roles. In recent years, thanks in part to This Hour Has 22 Minutes, the accent is also associated with a sharp-tongued jab about to hit. Indeed, Newfoundlanders, and Maritimers in general, seem somewhat overrepresented in Canadian comedy in no small part due to This Hour Has 22 Minutes and other Canadian comedy shows produced in the region. Here's an example.
It should be noted that a 'Newfoundland accent' is nearly impossible for a non-Newfoundlander to manage; the result of such efforts is usually that the speaker ends up sounding more 'Ireland' than 'Newfoundland'.
In the past twenty years some Newfoundland phrases and pronunciations have leaked into standard Canadian English, especially in previously sparsely populated areas such as northeastern Alberta and the southern Northwest Territories where so many Newfoundlanders have moved for work. This can disconcert the traveller who expects Yellowknife to be just like Edmonton until someone tells them that the fishing is right good this week but he's some worried about the blackflies.
- First Nations:' The accent itself is similar to that used by Native Americans especially those from the northern states there are some specific differences. For one Canadian Aboriginals have a much stronger rhythmic element to their accent. First Nations tend to stretch the first part of words and clip the second syllable so that Ever Sick becomes Eevvv-R Ssiii-k. Also Native tends to pitch their speech so that their voice go very high on the long syllables. This is actually something of an emotional cue with high notes indicating joy and joking with low notes indicating seriousness. Aboriginals don't tend to use volume as an emotional cue so for instance just because the Aboriginal person is yelling doesn't always mean they're angry although it can. The two most noticeable regional differences are how mach an accent drawls and is muddied generally the further east you go the more drawling the accent and the further North you go the muddier the accent(although mileage varies naturally). Aboriginal accents are very geographically specific and most reserves with have their unique features to the point that person can be identified as coming from a specific place just by their accent(at least by other Aboriginals). Urban Natives often have their own specific accent which is usually a mix of the various local aboriginal accents. Also Aboriginals will have their own idioms and malproprisms such "ever sick" which best translates to "majorly nasty" or phrasing like "close the light"' most reserves will have their own unique set of these. Many media examples, such as Lorne Cardinal on Corner Gas feature even less-accented speakers talking as if their teeth are clenched with each word. This is actually a usually the result of actors trying to minimize their accents to fit a specific example of an aboriginal accent popular in period pieces. Its disappearing though as more native actors (you'll notice Corner Gass other Native actors had more natural native accents) are finding work in a broader range of roles. Also Canadian Aboriginals do incorporate aspects of their regional accents into their speech for instance an aboriginal person from Nova Scotia will pronounce their Rs in the typical Nova Scotia manner.
Usage of First Nations accents is notable for a lack of a common association found elsewhere. Generally, Canadian programming has more roles open to aboriginal people that do not rely on them being "the Indian guy", as is typically seen when an American Indian appears in a U.S. show.
As with First Nations characters, Canada's emphasis on multiculturalism, particularly in recent years, has led to a larger numbers of strong Indo-Canadian and Chinese accents appearing "without qualification" on-screen. This may seem strange to those used to American tendencies to hyper-emphasis on cultural background.