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Feature of the month | January 2012

Shall we go? Or will we go?

Is your mother known as “Mum” or is she “Mom” to you?

Photo: Sarah Eaton

Depending on your linguistic leanings or your personal lineage, you might have strong feelings about which term you choose in the two instances above.  Britain-backed persons might prefer the former usage in each case while those influenced a great deal by Americans and how they speak might choose the latter.

Several years ago, Sarah Elaine Eaton, then a graduate student at the University of Calgary, prepared this paper for a workshop on teaching English as a Foreign Language (Universidad de Holguin, Cuba, 1998). Titled Canadian English: Not Just a Hybrid of British and American English, her document is what the author calls “a brief study on Canadian English.”

Though the paper was written 14 years ago and the regional, cultural and economic scenarios depicted by the author have changed somewhat over time, the discussion is still relevant today.

Why do we as English Canadians speak the way we do? How do people abroad distinguish us from our American cousins and what is a Canadian anyway?

The paper looks at these issues.  It is entertaining, thought-provoking and perhaps takes you back to another time – long before the Internet and social media musings came along – when the structure of clear and simple English language, Canadian-style, meant a lot.

Sarah concludes her discussion by saying: “If throughout the course of this short paper you have come to understand better a few of the characteristics – even the idiosyncrasies – of Canadian English, then that’s not too bad then, eh?

You have to appreciate her Canadian sense of humour.

“Since I wrote the original paper, social media and technology have changed how we write in some ways, particularly with the emergence of short cuts such as ‘LOL’ for ‘laugh out loud’ and so forth,” Sarah says.  “Having said that, in our conversations with one another, we continue to express and embody our sense of national identity through our Canadian idioms, expressions and words. Our daily face-to-face interactions with one another as we sit around our kitchen tables with family, or chat at our local coffee shops with friends and colleagues, continue to show our Canadian linguistic richness and uniqueness.”

Canadian English: Not Just a Hybrid of British and American English is located in the NALD library.

About the author

Sarah Elaine Eaton holds a PhD in Educational Leadership and a Master of Arts in Spanish from the University of Calgary. Before moving to Calgary she attended Saint Mary’s University in her native city of Halifax where she earned a BA (Honours) in English.

Dr. Eaton has years of experience teaching Spanish to adults and college-age students and has taught at both the college and university level. She has also worked in educational administration in various capacities including English as a Second Language (ESL), post-secondary language and educational research, and most recently, evaluation and monitoring in the educational and non-profit sectors. On the lecture circuit she speaks on topics ranging from leadership and language learning to literacy awareness.

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