Canadian and American English have many differences. But while there are numerous strong regional accents, what we call Neutral North American accent is pretty much what we use in Toronto.

One of the main ways accents differ can be found in the vowels (as I mentioned in Friday’s post about Australian babies understanding a Canadian accent more easily.) And these differences in vowels not only cut across regions but also ages. For example, while I say milk with an /i/ sound, my daughter says it with an /e/ sound (like melk.) Our accents shift depending upon who we spend time with, whether that be linguistic groups or social groups.

The following article discusses some of the patterns we can find in English North American pronunciation. Interesting how the accent which dominates in Toronto is closer to the predominant Californian accent than to what is spoken in New York, despite proximity.

What is the difference between Canadian English and American English?

by Ben Trawick-Smith

As per our recent discussion of Canadian accents, I’d like to delve into a question I often hear: how different is Canadian English from American English?

What’s remarkable about Canadian English is not that it’s different from American English, but how different it is from the American accents nearby. The Toronto Accent, for example, is closer to the English spoken in California than the English spoken in nearby Buffalo. Why is this?

Not only are Buffalo accents and Canadian accents different, but they are actually shifting…in opposite directions.

Buffalo, along with other Northern US cities, features something called the Northern Cities Vowel Shift (NCVS). That means that a number of vowels have shifted from their “normal” positions in General American. The vowel in bet moves toward the vowel in but, bat moves toward bet, bot toward bat, bought toward bot, and but toward bought. It’s like a game of linguistic musical chairs!

Read more…