7.21.2006

tongues

Americans parody Canadians by saying "aboot" (real clever) and some Canadians claim they don't say it.

But they do. It's not really the hard oo sound of "boot," but it's not the ow sound of "towel," either. It's a sound somewhere between ow and oo that I can't pronounce, but wish I could. It's distinctively Canadian. Even Canadians who have lived and worked in the US most of their lives will have just the slightest hint of "aboot" in their speech. I always smile when I hear it.

Many Americans don't know that other, everyday words are pronounced differently north of the 49th parallel.

In the US, "again" and "against" have a vowel sound like "fence". In Canada, in those words, you hear the word "gain".

In the US, "been" - as in, I've been working on the railroad - rhymes with gin. In Canada, "been" has the same sound as "bean".

There's project - Americans say prah-ject, Canadians pro-ject - and process, same distinction. In each case, Canadians pronounced the "pro" to rhyme with "toe".

On an episode of Corner Gas, Mark McKinney, playing an anti-stereotype of a mild-mannered American, asks if the folks in Dog River are bilingual - pronounced with four syllables: bi-ling-you-al. In the US, that word has three syllables: bi-lean-gwal. Dead giveaway.

24 comments:

Masnick96 said...

It's funny when have mentioned the "aboot" issue with Canadian friends they are quick to dismiss it.

Personally, I love the fact that our two country's have such distinct dialects.

L-girl said...

Personally, I love the fact that our two country's have such distinct dialects.

I do, too. And of course both countries have many regional accents. I can even recognize some of the Canadian ones by now.

andrea said...

The funny thing is that on the west coast you hear multi pronunciations of any given word and never think twice. There's a lot of accepted variety. Like the two versions you mentioned of 'bilingual'; Americans (and some Canadians) often subsitute the short 'e' for the short 'a'. For example: 'Canada' becomes 'Cenede.' What I find weird is the differences within Canada. My husband and I are in a competition to see how our sons end up pronouncing 'bury.' To me it's 'berry.' To him it's 'burry.'

L-girl said...

My husband and I are in a competition to see how our sons end up pronouncing 'bury.' To me it's 'berry.' To him it's 'burry.'

Ha! That's good. I also say "berry".

This reminds me of another difference: sorry. I say "sah-ry". Canadians - or at least Ontarians - say "sore-ry".

And they say it a lot! :)

L-girl said...

Oh also, I think these are all accepted and no one thinks anything of them. I'm just observing.

kelly said...

I have to disagree with you on "again". Im a born and bred Toronto-girl, and have always said it to rhyme with "gin".

I actually get annoyed when people (and yes, usually Americans) talk about "oot and aboot". It's rarely brought up as a "oh hey, you have an accent" and is more of a mocking -- but that's just my impression.

kelly said...

eta: Ive been sitting here saying "again" over and over, and figure it rhymes more with "hen" than anything else.

James said...

But they do. It's not really the hard oo sound of "boot," but it's not the ow sound of "towel," either. It's a sound somewhere between ow and oo that I can't pronounce, but wish I could. It's distinctively Canadian.

It's called "Canadian raising", and it is a pretty distinctly Canadian phenomenon -- but it's also found in the US upper midwest and parts of New England.

It's not just "au" and "oo" sounds, though. You see it when you have a vowel that can be followed by voicless or voiced version of a consonant (s -> z, f -> v, t -> d, etc)

ice, eyes
knife, knives,
a house, to house
lout, loud
couch, cows
wrote, road
writer, rider

In the first words, the vowel has a short duration, while in the second, it's drawn out a little. It's apparently due to Scottish influence ('Twas the Scots That Built This Country and all that).

But it's not at all like the "moose loose in the hoose" accusation we get from the US. ;)

There's a fairly techincal Wikipedia page on it as well.

Wrye said...

'Twas the Scots That Built This Country.


The Wryesignal!

but...no...sooo...hot....maybe tomorrow....song...can wait....zzzzzzzzzzzzz....

L-girl said...

I have to disagree with you on "again". Im a born and bred Toronto-girl, and have always said it to rhyme with "gin".

Well, just for an example, listen to the way Peter Mansbridge says it. That's what I'm referring to. I guess it's not everyone.

I actually get annoyed when people (and yes, usually Americans) talk about "oot and aboot". It's rarely brought up as a "oh hey, you have an accent" and is more of a mocking -- but that's just my impression.

Well, I don't know those people, so if that's your impression, who am I do argue. All I know is, I don't mean it that way. Just an observation.

L-girl said...

but it's also found in the US upper midwest and parts of New England

Not to my ears. I've heard a lot of New Englanders, as you know. I've only heard this in Canadians' speech.

orc said...

Well, I'm not Canadian, but people who aren't from Wisconsin claim I've got the oo accent. I know a few people from the prairie provinces who have a pretty strong oo accent, even filtered through a few decades of living in the American Imperium (it's not a reliable indicator; my friend Francois is from the prairie provinces, and sounds more like a New Yorker despite never having lived there.)

James said...

Not to my ears. I've heard a lot of New Englanders, as you know. I've only heard this in Canadians' speech.

According to one of the sites I linked, it can be found in Martha's Vinyard.

Maine, of course, sounds somewhat Newfie, which is something else entirely.

L-girl said...

According to one of the sites I linked, it can be found in Martha's Vinyard.

Maybe it was once - or the few remaining people who sound like that are 110 years old. :)

Maine, of course, sounds somewhat Newfie, which is something else entirely.

Yes, when I hear the Newfoundland accent it reminds me of the old Mainer sound. I also hear the Celtic in it.

L-girl said...

Well, I'm not Canadian, but people who aren't from Wisconsin claim I've got the oo accent.

Are you from Wisconsin originally?

my friend Francois is from the prairie provinces, and sounds more like a New Yorker despite never having lived there.

Interesting! Many people here have expressed surprise upon hearing I'm from New York - because I "don't have the accent". I'm never quite sure what accent they're talking about, since no one I know sounds says "tirdy tird street". :)

That stereotypical Brooklyn sound is rapidly disappearing - and mostly found in New Jersey. Brooklyn English is often spoken with a Carribbean lilt, and New York English is spoken with a Latino accent more often than not.

But that's the way that goes, really. Things change, but stereotypes don't get updated.

James said...

Interesting! Many people here have expressed surprise upon hearing I'm from New York - because I "don't have the accent". I'm never quite sure what accent they're talking about, since no one I know sounds says "tirdy tird street". :)

Bugs Bunny does! Actually, he's more "Toity-toid"...

Isaac Asimov (who was, IIRC, from Brooklyn -- his father ran a variety store) was once writing about the visible light spectrum and the mnemonic for the colours, "ROY G. BIV" (Red Orange Yellow Green Blue Indigo Violet). He said that it had always confused him as a kid, as he had no idea what Indigo was, and he always called the last colour "purple". "Or, rather," he wrote, "being from Brooklyn, I called it 'poiple'."

L-girl said...

Bugs Bunny does! Actually, he's more "Toity-toid"...

[slapping forehead] Of course! I forgot the best part. Toidy-toid! :-)

I believe that Brooklyn accent was contemporaneous with Bugs Bunny and with Isaac Asimov's youth.

Asimov's nephew, Eric, who reviews restaurants for the New York Times (and is now the Times's chief wine critic), does not sound like that. :)

Lone Primate said...

I've heard the "oo"-"aboot" thing on occasion... I've even heard it coming out of my own mouth once or twice. It's more characteristic of an older generation, though. If you were to watch episodes of This Hour Has Seven Days from the early 1960s, you'd hear it a lot more. Canadians on the street back then seemed to my ear to have spoken with a more precise, clipped manner, even casually. Speech today seems a little more sloppy. Let's face it, most of us grew up learning to talk watching Sesame Street, The Rockford Files, and Married With Children. I was in Los Angeles for six days before my host managed to pounce on me for ending a question with "eh?". How he must have been salivating.

Of course, there are still regional differences, and as orc pointed out, they're not always respecters of borders. More than once since I moved to Ontario I've been mistaken for an American; it's probably some feature or figure of speech from my childhood in the Maritimes that people here identify as American. Who can say for sure? To my ear, though, for the most part, the accents of North America have been converging, probably due to popular culture.

L-girl said...

To my ear, though, for the most part, the accents of North America have been converging, probably due to popular culture.

They definitely are. Regional accents are fewer, and less pronounced now. But they haven't completely disappeared, thank something.

L-girl said...

I was in Los Angeles for six days before my host managed to pounce on me for ending a question with "eh?". How he must have been salivating.

Oh yeah. I got jumped on in NYC when I used it. People do say "eh" all the time here, some more than others, of course. I happen to like it. It's a useful little tic.

MSS said...

My mother was born in Duluth, Minnesota, in 1925. Even though she lived in California from about 1948 on, as long as she lived, she continued to have something similar to the "aboot" in her speech (though not as pronounced, so to speak, as Peter Mansbridge).

She also pronounced the name of my wife, Merry, as though it was "Mary." Nothing unusual about that. Most people in the western half of the USA do not distinguish among merry, Mary, and marry. (I did not distinguish them until I took a class at Cal Poly, Pomona, on broadcast speech, which apparently was training for being able to say my future wife's name correctly!)

But my mother, while pronouncing "Merry" with a vowel that was a shorter version of the long "a" sound, pronounced "Mary" as if the first syllable were the word "May" with a very clear "y" at the end of it, and put the "-ry" clearly in the second syllable.

In other words, while standard west-coast speech would have all three (merry, marry, Mary) as something close to "Mare -y," she said "May -ry."

Minnesota rising?

L-girl said...

I did not distinguish them until I took a class at Cal Poly, Pomona, on broadcast speech, which apparently was training for being able to say my future wife's name correctly!

Love it. :)

Minnesota rising?

Sounds like a revolution...

You remind me of another speech tic shared by many people in the northern plain states and many Canadians. I'm having trouble explaining it in writing. It's a way of saying "oh yah" at the end of a sentence - with an upwards inflection - it has a slightly Scandanavian sound to it. Remember Frances McDormand in the movie Fargo?

I love how this sounds. After I'm around someone who says this I find myself saying it for days. "Oh-yah?"

Franc said...

Dwelving even further into this topic, check out this link. It contains audio clips and VERY detailed analysis done by the University of Kansas on dialects and accents. I simply couldn't stop listening to the clips first time I found the site a couple of years ago.

Dalong said...

I'm Canadian and I use a simple test to spot Americans and that is to pronounce either positive or Wisconson. The Canadian pronounes the o as "awe" whereas an American will pronounce it like the a in hat
"pasitive" and "Wiscansan" Of course I generalize but it has been a pretty good indicator thus far. Love this site by the way