Canadian count: 6

Had another "Is that a Canadian accent I'm detecting?" moment today, bringing the Canadian count to six. This one, upon hearing that I was American, said "I thought so. I always guess Canadian first. That way, I don't offend anyone."

I told you that people are afraid of Canadians!


  1. Well, you know, Canadians will get very politely sarcastic on you, eh.

    I've been teased/pegged often for my Canadian accent, picked up solely from relatives. I've always lived in the US. (It's the house/about thing)

    Brit actors doing Am accents in film are usually pretty bad. Tracy Ullman, Kenneth Branaugh, Minni Driver are the shining examples of good ones, but even they have moments of slippage. John LeCarre, reading Russia House on tape, has a Boston character who has nothing of a Boston accent. Hit's every R for one thing.

  2. I take it that the presumption is that Americans won't be offended by being taken for Canadians, whereas Canadians might be offended for being taken for Americans? Seems fair enough. I'm offended just to be an American!

  3. Ooooh, we are such a scary bunch! :P Must be the beer...

  4. I'm always thrown aback by "Oh, I Love Australians!"
    My response is usually some variation on "Well, that makes one of us."

  5. I can these days often distinguish a Canadian accent from a US one, or a New Zealand from an Australian, but if not, I will often plump for the "lesser" one, the Canadian or Kiwi, not for fear of causing offence, but because it seems so much more impressive if you're right; the person concerned is invariably impressed and pleased that you "spotted" their accent instead of thinking them American or Australian, whereas if they ARE from the US or Australia they will think nothing of it that you are wrong. I once almost blew a guy from Birkenhead off his chair by asking if it were a Birkenhead accent I was hearing. He was utterly astonished that I could apparently distinguish it from a Liverpool one (Birkenhead basically IS Liverpool, only on the other side of the river).

  6. I got into terrible trouble in the north-east of England once for suggesting that, because of their accent, someone came from a town some 20 miles away from where they actually came from.

    As an undergraduate, I was staggered when the dialect expert at my first university was able to pinpoint the part of suburban London that I came from. I had thought that, apart from cockney, middle-class London speech was much of a muchness, i.e. RP with a twang.

    Would I be right in saying (from my ignorant BrE perspective) that some AmE accents are closer to CanE accents than they are to other AmE accents. For example, might Americans to the south of the great lakes speak more like Canadians to the north of those lakes than like Americans from Georgia? Not sure if this notion of closeness-of-accent holds linguistic water. BTW, Wikipedia, that fo(u)nt of all wisdom, has an article on CanE.

  7. I'm an American who's been living in England a bit over three years (husbands and their jobs!), and I've never been asked if I was Canadian. My husband has been asked fairly often, but then, he's a Lecturer, so his accent has more exposure. Amusingly, he's Belgian, but lived in America for 10 years (picking up a wife in the process) and does actually speak with a mostly American accent.

    By the way, in the post that you reference, you mention intervocalic flaps in AmE and the voiced t in BrE -- but what is it when certain BrE speakers completely swallow their double Ts? I'm not sure if it's a northeast thing, but I hear (or don't hear!) that a lot. It's where you hear the "le" and the "er" but nothing in the middle at all.

    Finally, I got here via the "A Way with Words" podcast, it being a new-to-me show on NPR over in the US. Grant Barrett, one of the co-hosts, mentioned your blog and I had to immediately go look it up. (their web page is:

  8. Tora, you haven't said what kind of American accent you have. Could it be that it's one that's unmistakable for a Candian accent?

    Interestingly, although I am a lecturer, it's not lecturing that gets me accused of Canadianness. My students may ask "where are you from?" but they don't hazard guesses.

  9. I'm not sure what kind of American accent it would be. I'd say whatever the standard TV accent is classified -- my mom says we both learned to speak English watching Sesame Street!

    I don't know if that's one that's particularly Canadian-like. But I definitely grew up not far from the Canadian border: Stonybrook, Long Island, NY for approximately ages 1-5 and a suburb of Pittsburgh, PA for 5-18.

    I tend to get asked where I'm from and when I say the US, people tend to say "well, yeah, but where in the US?" :-)

  10. Tora, I think you're hearing - or not hearing - the glottal stop. Or glo'all stop. Or glo'all sto'.

  11. dearieme, I thought that might be what it was called, but wasn't sure.

    thanks! :-)

  12. Ginge: apart from a mother-in-law, you mean?

  13. I think Ginge is suggesting that if you'd ask an Australian what AusE and NZE would answer to that question, they'd reply "AusE - fish; NZE - fush"...

    but if you asked a New Zealander the same question the reply would be "NZE - fish; AusE - feesh". 8-)

  14. Would I be right in saying (from my ignorant BrE perspective) that some AmE accents are closer to CanE accents than they are to other AmE accents.

    Yes. A New England or Minnesotan accent is much more Canadian than any Texan or deep southern drawl. Western Canada also sounds more like northern Idaho and Washington state, and less like eastern Canada.

    I've always thought the native tribes had much to do with those northern accents, as the African slaves marked the southern American ones. Or has this been discussed here before?

  15. How to put this discretely... (Lynne, feel free to delete)

    I have heard that it is possible to tell the difference between an Australian male and a NZ male by asking them to down-trou. (One assumes the blokes in question a. must be too drunk to be linguistically distinguishable, and b. drunk enough to get them to co-operate.) This applies to those born after about 1968, by the way.

    Reason being, most NZ males born after the aforementioned date were not circumcized whilst the medical profession of Australia was still blithely going ahead with that small operation.

    Er... yeah. *delicately lets the subject drop*

  16. Eh?! I was born in 1969 (just) and they bloody got me!

  17. Sorry to make you flash like that, Flash!

    All I can say is that that is what they told us at med school. Pre-about that year, approx 98% of NZ boys/men were circumcized (due to myths about sand getting where sand ought not to being during the Great War and WW2); post-that date it dropped dramatically to about 3%. Most of that small percentage tend to be polynesian, or - early on at least after the change - tend to be younger brothers of boys who'd already had the snip. Gotta have those boys matching, you know!

    I suggest you blame your older brothers (if you have any), and suddenly develop a predilection for wearing yellow and green. Not to mention practicising saying 'Seedney'.

    (By the way, does anyone else think the Aussies have a 'thing' about religion, considering they talk about turban-wearing indians all the time? five, sikhs, seven...)

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  20. On the question of whether Americans from near the northern border sound more like Canadians than Americans from others regions: yes, sometimes. I'm from the upper peninsula of Michigan (aka the UP). My family moved to Colorado when I was seven, and it took ten years for people in Colorado to stop asking me if I was from Canada and people back home to tell me I had picked up "a drawl".

    However, the UP accent isn't the same as a Michigan accent from the lower peninsula. Nor is it the same as the accent just across the border in Ontario.

  21. I am a West-Coast American who grew up in Canada, raised by a Danish mother who learned Victorian English from her British grandmother.
    As if that weren't enough if a stew for my vowel formations, my accent chameleons to match my conversation partners; my mother used to claim she could tell which friend I'd sat with at school. When I visit Canada, my "abouts" morph and my "ehs" return.
    So when I lived in Oxford, England, at first I was indeed taken for Canadian. Believe me, Canadians are received much better than Americans, so we dual citizens trot out our "outs" to the max when traveling overseas. But as I lived there a while, answering a telephone switchboard, my accent migrated almost all the way across the Atlantic, and I became mistaken for Northern Irish. My friends teased me that I'd finally achieved citizenship of Rockall.

    Just wanted to say, I enjoy your blog very much.

    - Renaissance Woman,
    spouse of Elswhere

  22. I have to say, I've never been put down (except for jokingly with reference to my linguistic choices at Scrabble club) been harassed or insulted for being an American. People do, however, say to me, "But you're not a typical American" and it is clear that this is meant to be a compliment. Which is fine with me, as I don't really want to be a typical anything.

  23. When my husband and I visited Malta (where English is an official language) a few years ago, we were repeatedly mistaken for Brits. We are East Coast Americans of Polish and Irish descent.

    Also, when we asked about church services, we were repeatedly mistaken for Protestants; we are Catholic (see above lineage), as is 99% of the population of Malta. It was all very strange!

  24. Did you specifically say "church services?" I've heard that it isn't as common for mass to be called a "service" in predominatenly Catholic countries, and the term is associated more with protestantism.

    Also, if someone who I thought might be British asked me about church services, I would probably assume they were Protestant because I associate Britian with the Church of England. Even if they knew you were American, it's possible that people assume the vast majority of Americans are protestant (well, technically somewhere around 50% are).

  25. I am an American, and I would hate it if someone asked if I was Canadian.....Personally finding Canadian/upper US accents atrocious!

  26. Sorry :) I really mean no offense, I just cringe at that accent. I guess if I heard it more I would become accustomed to it. I am from the St. Louis, MO area. Where are you from? I just stumbled on your blog today when looking up terms for "bathroom" in BrE.

  27. Upstate NY is not on my accent radar! LOL But Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin areas are more what I am speaking of. Similar? Not sure :)

    Really enjoying your Blog by the way :)


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AmE = American English
BrE = British English
OED = Oxford English Dictionary (online)