01 July 2016

Aboot the Canadian "about"

Canadians -- like the authors of anthro everywhere! -- are pretty used to hearing English-speakers from the US and elsewhere in the world poke fun at our accents, especially our use of the all-purpose "eh," our frequent apologies (sorry!), and of course, how non-Canadians hear how we say "about."

The linguistic enigma of the Canadian "about" is what American author Dan Nosowitz addresses in: What's Going On with the Way Canadians Say ‘About'? (2016, Atlas Obscura). This short piece addresses some of the more interesting things that make Canadian English and our accent unique, including the Canadian Shift, Canadian Raising, introducing monophthongs and diphthongs, and connects all of these things historically to the Great Vowel Shift in English.
To say that Canadians are saying “aboot” is linguistically inaccurate; “ooh” is a monophthong and the proper Canadian dialect uses a diphthong. “A-boat” would actually be a bit closer, but still relies on a monophthong. Why can’t Americans get their heads around the Canadian “about”? 
To be fair, it's not just Americans who have trouble with this one. When I was doing research in the Netherlands, the Canadian Raising lead to a funny conversation about another friend's boat. Basically, it went like this: Rhiannon: "Dennis has a boat." Dutch friend: "Dennis is about what?" Rhiannon: "No, Dennis has a boat." Dutch friend: "Dennis is about what?!" Rhiannon: "No. Dennis, he Has... A... Boat." Dutch friend: "Oh..."


In addition to this fun article, you might also consider this short (cheesy, fun, and informative) documentary put together by the CBC, The Canadian Experience: Talking Canadian (2004, running time 43.30 minutes).

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