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Atlantic Canadian English

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Atlantic Provinces

Atlantic Canadian English is a class of Canadian English dialects spoken in Atlantic Canada that is notably distinct from Standard Canadian English.[1] It is composed of Maritime English (or Maritimer English) and Newfoundland English. It was mostly influenced by British and Irish English, Irish and Scottish Gaelic, and some Acadian French. Atlantic Canada is the easternmost region of Canada, comprising four provinces located on the Atlantic coast: Newfoundland and Labrador, plus the three Maritime provinces of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Prince Edward Island.[2] Regions such as Miramichi and Cape Breton have a wide variety of phrases and words not spoken outside of their respective regions.


Canadian English owes its very existence to important historical events, especially the Treaty of Paris of 1763. English was first spoken in Canada in the 17th century in seasonal fishing communities along the Atlantic coast, including the island of Newfoundland, and at fur trade posts around Hudson Bay.[2] Treated as a marker of upper-class prestige in the 19th century and the early part of the 20th, Canadian dainty was marked by the use of some features of British English pronunciation, resulting in an accent similar to the Trans-Atlantic accent known in the United States. Students in school were not permitted to use Gaelic, upon threat of punishment for not using the King's English, and thus Gaelic fell into disuse. The Canadian dainty accent faded in prominence after World War II, when it became stigmatized as pretentious, and is now almost never heard in contemporary Canadian life outside of archival recordings used in film, television, or radio documentaries.[3]

Distinctive regional settlement histories have also created several smaller, less broadly recognized speech enclaves within Canada, which likewise challenge the notion of a unified Canadian English, if not as starkly as the case of Newfoundland. Today, these are found mostly in Nova Scotia, where they include Cape Breton Island (the northern part of Nova Scotia), settled mostly by Scottish Highlanders; Pictou County, a second centre of Highland Scots settlement on the mainland; Lunenburg, a town on the south shore settled largely by Germans; and an African-Canadian community, dispersed among several locations, made up of descendants of the servants who accompanied Loyalist immigrants and of refugees from American slavery.[4]


The Atlas of North American English (2006) revealed many of the sound changes active within Atlantic Canadian English, including the fronting of PALM in the START sequence (/ɑːr/) and a mild Canadian raising, but notably a lack of the Canadian Shift of the short front vowels that exists in the rest of English-speaking Canada. Canadian raising means that the diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ are raised to, respectively, [ʌɪ] and [ʌʊ] before voiceless consonants like /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /f/. In all Atlantic Canadian English, /æ/ (the "short a sound") is raised before nasal consonants. That is strongly true in Nova Scotia's Sydney English specifically, which also features a merger of /æɡ/ and /ɡ/ (making haggle sound like Hagel).[5] The merger, typical of Standard Canadian English as well, is not typical of the rest of Atlantic Canadian English, however. Nova Scotia's Halifax English and New Brunswick's Saint John English show /æ/ raising before a few consonants, somewhat reminiscent of a New York accent, but nowhere near as defined (bad has a different vowel sound than bat and back),[6] though Charles Boberg suspects that to be an older recessive feature.[7] Nova Scotia's Lunenburg English may show non-rhotic behaviour,[2] and Nova Scotia English generally has a conservatively-back // compared with other Canadian English dialects.[8]

Certain Atlantic Canadian English dialects have been recognized by both popular and scholarly publications for distinctly sounding like Irish English dialects.[9][10] Irish immigration patterns have caused a strong influence of Irish English features in Newfoundland English, Cape Breton English, and some Halifax English, including a fronting of /ɑː/~/ɒ/,[11][12] a slit fricative realization of /t/, and a rounded realization of /ʌ/.[12] Newfoundland English further shows the cheer–chair merger, the line–loin merger, and a distinct lack of the marry–merry merger,[13] which is the merger of /e/ and /æ/ before /r/.

The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to an alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels, as well as pronouncing it as a glottal stop [ʔ], is less common in the Maritimes than elsewhere in Canada and so "battery" is pronounced [ˈbætɹi] instead of with a glottal stop. The varied but similar Maritimer accents are influenced by an overwhelming majority of early Scottish and Irish immigration namely in the regions of Saint John, Miramichi, Cape Breton and parts of Halifax.


In addition to the above, the English of the Maritime Provinces (New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Prince Edward Island) has some unique phonological features:

  • Like most other Canadian English, Maritimer English usually contains Canadian raising though to a less extreme degree than the rest of the country. Also, both variants of /aɪ/ can have notably rounded realizations.[12]
  • A merger of coach and couch is possible because of the raised variant of /aʊ/ being rounded.[12]
  • The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels, as well as pronouncing it as a glottal stop [ʔ], is less common in the Maritimes than in the rest of North America. Therefore, battery is pronounced [ˈbætɹi] instead of [ˈbæɾ(ɨ)ɹi].
  • Especially among the older generation, /w/ and /hw/ are not merged; that is, the beginning sound of why, white, and which is different from that of witch, with, and wear.
  • A devoiced and retracted /z/ is traditionally common.[12]


The interrogative "right?" is raised to [ˈɹʌɪt] and is also used as an adverb, as in "It was right foggy today!" That sense may be influenced by Yorkshire dialect "reight" [ˈreit],[2] which means "very, rather, or considerably".

Ingressive speech exists; "yeah" and "no" are spoken by people while they inhale (colloquial pronunciation). That is often referred to as a "Gaelic gasp."[2][pages needed]

Prince Edward Islanders use more British terms more often than any other Maritimers because of the overwhelming homogeneity of the province's Scottish and Irish ethnicity.[2]

Some Maritimers add an /s/ to the end of "somewhere" and "anywhere" and produce "somewheres" and "anywheres".[2]

New Brunswick[edit]

Canada as a country has two official languages: English and French. This is due to the long withstanding history of its colonization and settlement by both France and Britain, as well as the continuation of the French language which was sanctioned by the ruling British authorities at the time. There was no assimilation of English into the francophone population simply due to their solid establishment into the province. According to historians,[14] the consensus is that approximately 15,000 New York Loyalists emigrated and settled into New Brunswick. However, it was not until a wave of 35,000 Loyalists[14] arrived in New Brunswick in 1783 that cemented a substantive English-speaking community, combined with the francophones in creating a larger population, which enabled it to become its own province.

Most of the French settlers in New Brunswick were descendants of Acadians during the great emigration.[15] The francophones in New Brunswick constitute more than 5% of the francophone population in Canada. Francophones are not outnumbered by the speakers of non-official languages and make up a third of the population, thus making them the only official bilingual province. In comparison to its Maritime neighbours, New Brunswick is considered less anglophone due to its relatively big francophone population.[14]

In a reported merger of couch and coach, observations from Charles Boberg indicate that lower values for the F2 of /awT/ tend to occur in New Brunswick.[14]

Variations in vocabulary[edit]

In New Brunswick, the combination of typical standardized toppings at Canadian pizzerias that includes pepperoni sausage, mushroom, green pepper, tomato sauce and cheese is referred to as the works. Additionally, where the term notebook is used to describe lined paper that is bound together, in the Maritimes, the type 1 Canadianism scribbler takes over.[14]

Nova Scotia[edit]

The distinct regional differences have led to the creation of less broadly recognised speech enclaves in Canada, which challenge the notion of a Unified Canadian English. Nova Scotia; which includes Cape Breton Island (the northern part of Nova Scotia), settled mostly by Scottish Highlanders; Pictou County, a second centre of Highland Scots settlement on the mainland; Lunenburg, a town on the south shore settled largely by Germans; and an African-Canadian community, dispersed among several locations, made up of descendants of the servants who accompanied Loyalist immigrants and of refugees from American slavery.[16] The town of Lunenberg, in particular, has been a huge influence in Nova Scotia English; Lunenburg pronunciations are regarded as substandard and "ignorant" and an accusation that he was "speaking like a Dutchman" was enough to bring a young Halifax boy of thirty years ago back into the circle of linguistic propriety. As indicated above, many features of vocabulary and of sentence structure are regarded with amusement; yet in the domestic circles from which 1 derive most of what might be called "the folklore of Lunenburg Dutch" have noticed that some Lunenburg sayings were regularly used, albeit self-consciously. They included the familiar "all" for "all gone", and a final "ain't" as a request for confirmation.[17] The most distinctive characteristic of Lunenberg speech is the complete absence of /r/ postvocalically. The Lunenberg dialect today is very much like that of the surrounding region along the South Shore of Nova Scotia and bears far greater resemblance to the Yankee New England speech likely spoken by the early planters. Outside of the treatment of /r/, South Shore speech shares many similarities with other parts of the Maritimes owing to its (indirect) English ancestry. rincipal vowels of Lunenburg English kit i fleece i near iə dress ε face əi square eə trap æ palm æ ~ a start a... lot ɔ ~ a thought ɔ north ɔə strut Ø ~ ɔ goat əυ force ɔə foot υ goose u cure υə bath æ price ɐia happy i cloth ɑ voice ɔia letter nurse mouth əυa comma ə a see discussion below. throughout Atlantic Canada. Contrary to reports of velar /r/, the most distinctive characteristic of Lunenberg speech is the complete absence of /r/ postvocalically, making it much more similar to neighbouring South Shore dialects, so that it is often confused with the speech of New England by outsiders.[18]

Prince Edward Island[edit]

The total population of Prince Edward Island is approximately 130,000 – only slightly larger than that of Cape Breton.[19] As with other provinces, PEI's urban population steadily increased throughout the 19th, 20th and 21st centuries, but at a much slower rate than seen in most other provinces. Between 2001 and 2006, PEI's urban population grew by only 0.8 per cent while its rural population declined by 12.8 per cent. Nevertheless, 45 per cent of PEI's population dwelled in urban areas as of 2016.[20] Along with Canada's Eastern Arctic, PEI is one of the most culturally homogeneous regions in Canada. The overwhelming majority of the Island's population (91.5 per cent) reported English as their mother tongue in the 2016 census, while only 3.8 per cent of the total population reported French. The most commonly reported ethnic origins were Canadian, Scottish and English. Visible minorities comprise 4.8 per cent of the population, with Chinese, South Asian and Black people making up the largest visible minority communities. Indigenous people (including First Nations, Métis and Inuit) make up 2 percent of the population.[20]

Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English[edit]

First published in 1988 by the University of Toronto Press in conjunction with T.K. Pratt a professor of English at the University of Prince Edward Island. Pratt makes a major scholarly contribution to the growing list of regional dictionaries further enabling us to discover the rich heritage of the language as spoken in the eastern province. Furthermore, it offers a splendid general introduction to the historical and sociological life of the island. There are approximately 1000 entries of non-standard or dialect words, past and present. The notes by Pratt deal with usage, pronunciation, alternate forms and spellings, and stylistic and regional labels.[21] Much of the increased public interest in Canadian English seen during the past half century emerged from lexicographical work and landmark publications such as the Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English.[22]

Below is a list of words that are distinctive of Newfoundland English found in the Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English:[23]

1. Angishore hangashore (DPEIE Page 5)

n. — Prince Edward Island, A fisherman who is too lazy to fish. Critical term. Someone who didn't want to fish (II 083).

2. Ballast Lath (DPEIE Page 9)

n. — Prince Edward Island, One of the strips of wood on the bottom of a lobster trap that secures the ballast.

3. Cork corker (DPEIE Page 38)

n. — Prince Edward Island, A hired hand on a fishing boat, especially a lobster boat.

4. Grayback (DPEIE Page 68)

n. — Prince Edward Island, A large ocean wave.

5. Hiller Potato Hiller (DPEIE Page 73)

n. — Prince Edward Island, A machine with two rotating discs used to hill or pile soil around potatoes.

6. Kippy Kipper, Dilsey, Trappy (DPEIE Page 86)

verb. — Prince Edward Island, Usually of a woman, well dressed or attractive.

7. Round White (DPEIE Page 123)

n. — Prince Edward Island, Any roundish, white-fleshed variety of potato.

8. Scoff (DPEIE Page 126)

n. — Prince Edward Island, A big meal, often of seafood or other seasonal food and in connection with a party.

9. Slobby Lolly, Slob Ice, Slurry (DPEIE Page 138)

adj. — Prince Edward Island, Of the sea, covered with a dense, slushy, mass of ice fragments, snow and freezing water.

10. Whitewashed Islander Whitewashed American (DPEIE Page 166)

n. — Prince Edward Island, A Prince Edward Islander who has picked up affected 'foreign' manners, especially in the 'Boston States.'


The distinctiveness of Newfoundland English derives from a variety of factors: historical, economical and geographic.[24] In the eighteenth century there was a clear divide between the small managerial class which consisted of English merchants and agents from Devon, Dorset, and neighboring counties and laborers most of which were Irish.[25] English was transmitted in the families in towns and outports, infused every summer with folk speech from England and Ireland.[25] The nineteenth century provided a model of educated and cultural English and Anglo-Irish speech due to the governor becoming the focus of a small elite circle in the capital city of St. John's that included naval officers, principal merchants, clergymen, doctors, officials, and a steady stream of educated visitors and scientists.[25] Newfoundland English, especially its common and folk varieties, began before many English speakers had settled in the present area of Canada and at least 200 years before the Dominion of Canada was created in 1867.[25] Researchers find it difficult to identify specific Canadian pronunciations, intonations, grammatical forms, idioms, or regional vocabulary brought from other provinces to Newfoundland before 1949.[25] Newfoundland's linguistic development has also been influenced by the United States. During World War II many Newfoundland brides were brought home by American soldiers and consequently close familial ties in both countries.[25] Other activities like the medical and missionary activities in Northern Newfoundland and Labrador of the Englishman Dr. Wilfred Grenfell drew American nurses, teachers, and volunteer college students to northern outports.[25] Thus, the personal relations within families may have resulted in subtle American influences in some Newfoundland areas.[25]

The following list provides a list of the principal grammatical features of various folk speech types to be found in Newfoundland and Labrador as outlined in the Dictionary of Newfoundland English:[26]

  1. Nouns after numerals above one have no plural -s. 'Now a cod-trap is about sixty fathom on the round.'
  2. Finite verbs in the present tense take -(e)s for all person and numbers: 'I thinks this is unlawful, and as other informs me is onproper and impossible, and this the livi-ers here, all could tell ye.'
  3. Only one form is employed for both the past tense and past participle of strongverbs: 'She was gangboarded, fore-cuddy an' after-cuddy on her, and freeze come on they got drove off.'
  4. Am, is, and are are employed for an assertion about an event at the present moment, while be's, for all persons, indicates continuous or repeated activity: 'There's a sunken rock. You know when the water's high, that it be's under water.'
  5. To have (already) done (something) is not a normal usage, the notion being expressed by to be after doing (something): 'How many times am I after tellin' you?'
  6. The unstressed object form for he is un: 'We'd see the sun steady for three months, never lose un.'
  7. The stressed forms for the personal pronouns after verbs (including forms of be) and prepositions are /, he, she, we, they: '[Fairies] was only little small people, they used to tell we.' 'He thought to hisself he'd killed the two of 'em [but] 'twasn't they now.' 'Never mind they – let 'em bite.' (The unstressed forms, except for example 6 above, are the same as in standard colloquial English.)
  8. Stressed he and she are often used as substitutes for count nouns, but it for mass and abstract nouns like crookedness, fog, weather: 'But the first hour we hauled in the log, and he registered three miles. So the next hour we hauled 'im in again, and she's got another three miles.'
  9. Adjectives derived from names of materials end in -en: 'tinnen cup, glassen pole.'
  10. For many speakers the plural demonstrative determiners are those with objects and events that are current, and them with objects and events that are past: 'Years ago, not so much, those days, you'd always have a gun line.'

Below is a list of words that are distinctive of Newfoundland English found in the DCHP-2[27] as well as the Dictionary of Newfoundland English.[26] The definitions are taken from DCHP-2 with a link to the definitions from Dictionary of Newfoundland English (with the exception of 8 and 10, linked to the DCHP-2 definitions):

1.bangbelly bang-belly (DCHP-2 October 2016)

n.Newfoundland, Food

a pudding, cake, or pancake.

2. Cockabaloo (DCHP-2 April 2016)


someone who teases; a bully.

3. duckish duckies, duckest (DCHP-2 July 2016)

exp.Newfoundland, somewhat rare

dusk or twilight.

4. figgy duff Figgy Duff (DCHP-2 October 2016)

n.Newfoundland, Food

a boiled pudding made with raisins.

5. flahoolach flahoolagh, flooholic, < Gaelic 'flaitheamhlach' (DCHP-2 May 2016)


generous, extravagant or wasteful.

6. jinker joner, jonah, jader (DCHP-2 April 2016)


a person believed to bring bad luck.

7. mummering mumming (DCHP-2 October 2016)

n.also attributively, Newfoundland, Social customs

the practice of visiting houses in elaborate costumes and disguises, participating in various group activities over Christmas.

8. screech-in Screech-in, Screech-In (DCHP-2 October 2016)

n.Newfoundland, Social customs

an informal bonding ceremony in Newfoundland, involving drinking rum and kissing a (dead) fish, usually cod

9. sleeveen sleveen, slieveen, sleiveen, < Irish Gaelic slighbín 'trickster' (DCHP-2 May 2016)

n.Newfoundland, slang, informal

a sly, mischievous person; a rascal.

10. Jiggs' dinner Jigg's dinner, Jiggs dinner, Jigg's Dinner (DCHP-2 October 2016)

n.Food, Newfoundland

a dinner of corned beef and cabbage, with potatoes and other vegetables on the side.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Labov, William; Sharon Ash; Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 141, 148.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Chambers, Jack K. (2010). "English in Canada" (PDF). Kingston, Ontario. p. 14. Retrieved July 20, 2012.
  3. ^ "Some Canadians used to speak with a quasi-British accent called Canadian Dainty" Archived 5 July 2017 at the Wayback Machine. CBC News, 1 July 2017.
  4. ^ Boberg, C. (2012). Standard Canadian English. Standards of English, 159–178. https://doi.org/10.1017/cbo9781139023832.009.
  5. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:182)
  6. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:182, 223)
  7. ^ Boberg, Charles (2011). "Regional variation in the allophones of CANADIAN ENGLISH". Canadian Acoustics, [S.l.], v. 39, n. 3, p. 170-171, sep. 2011. ISSN 2291-1391. Available at: <https://jcaa.caa-aca.ca/index.php/jcaa/article/view/2465/2214>.
  8. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:103)
  9. ^ Hickey, Raymond (2007). Irish English: History and Present-Day Forms. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. pp. 407–408. ISBN 978-0-521-85299-9.
  10. ^ Hertz, Kayla (2020). "This Canadian woman's Irish accent sounds straight out of Ireland". IrishCentral. Irish Studio LLC. Archived April 14, 2023, at the Wayback Machine.
  11. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:89)
  12. ^ a b c d e Mari Jones (March 4, 2010). The Lesser-Known Varieties of English: An Introduction. Cambridge University Press. pp. 65–69. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511676529.004. ISBN 978-1-139-48741-2.
  13. ^ Labov, Ash & Boberg (2006:219)
  14. ^ a b c d e Boberg, Charles (August 26, 2010). The English Language in Canada. Cambridge University Press. doi:10.1017/cbo9780511781056. ISBN 978-0-521-87432-8.
  15. ^ Grenier, Gilles (July 1, 1997). "Linguistic and Economic Characteristics of Francophone Minorities in Canada: A Comparison of Ontario and New Brunswick". Journal of Multilingual and Multicultural Development. 18 (4): 285–301. doi:10.1080/01434639708666321. ISSN 0143-4632.
  16. ^ Boberg, Charles (2012). "Standard Canadian English". In Hickey, Raymond (ed.). Standards of English. Standards of English. pp. 159–178. doi:10.1017/cbo9781139023832.009. ISBN 9781139023832.
  17. ^ Wilson, HR (2017). The dialect of Lunenburg County, Nova Scotia: A study of the English of the county, with reference to its sources, preservation of relics, and vestiges of bilingualism. Canadian Journal of Linguistics. pp. 97–105.
  18. ^ Keifte M, Main & K Raining Bird. Ltf] (2017). Canadian and Maritime English. Edinburgh University Press. p. 1.
  19. ^ Kiefte, Michael; Kay-Raining Bird, Elizabeth (2010). "Canadian Maritime English". The Lesser-Known Varieties of English: An Introduction. Studies in English Language. Cambridge University Press. p. 62. doi:10.1017/CBO9780511676529.005. ISBN 9780521883962.
  20. ^ a b Holman, H.t.; Robb, Andrew (2021). "Prince Edward Island. In The Canadian Encyclopedia". Archived from the original on June 24, 2021.
  21. ^ Pratt, T.K. (1988). Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English. University of Toronto Press. p. 1. ISBN 9780802079046. JSTOR 10.3138/j.ctt2ttx17.
  22. ^ Dollinger, Stefan; Clarke, Sandra (2012). "On the autonomy and homogeneity of Canadian English". World Englishes. 31 (4): 452. doi:10.1111/j.1467-971X.2012.01773.x.
  23. ^ Pratt, T.K. (1988). Dictionary of Prince Edward Island English. University of Toronto Press. ISBN 9780802079046. JSTOR 10.3138/j.ctt2ttx17.
  24. ^ Clarke, Sandra (2010). Newfoundland and Labrador English. Edinburgh University Press. p. 3. doi:10.1515/9780748631414. ISBN 9780748631414.
  25. ^ a b c d e f g h Kirwin, William J. (2008). "Newfoundland English". In Algeo, John (ed.). The Cambridge History of the English Language (6 ed.). Cambridge University Press. pp. 442–445. doi:10.1017/CHOL9780521264792.014. ISBN 9781139053822.
  26. ^ a b Kirwin, W. J.; Story, G.M.; Widdowson, J.D.A (1990). "Dictionary of Newfoundland English Introduction". Heritage Newfoundland & Labrador (2nd ed.). Archived from the original on February 20, 2016.
  27. ^ Dollinger, Stefan; Fee, Margery, eds. (2017). Written at Vancouver, BC. "DCHP-2: The Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles". Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles (DCHP). With the assistance of Baillie Ford, Alexandra Gaylie and Gabrielle Lim (2nd ed.). University of British Columbia.