Thursday the 20th of June, 2019
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English is our mother tongue. Spotlight on... Canada

by Christina Rosa
English is our mother tongue. Spotlight on... Canada

Canada is the northernmost country of North America. Inevitably linked with the United States for geographical reasons, it also has a cultural-linguistic heritage that is quite similar to its southern neighbor. Canadians are often taken for “Americans”* because they speak a standard North American English which is virtually indistinguishable from the English spoken in the U.S. However, Canadian English has its particularities regarding pronunciation, spelling, usage and vocabulary. It’s a different country with a different history and many characteristics that make it unique.

Let’s take a look at some of the distinctive features of Canada. First of all, it’s enormous! It’s the 2nd largest country in the world, after Russia, but only has about 33 million inhabitants - this translates into a population density of 3.5 people per square kilometer, among the lowest in the world! In addition to the many waves of immigrants to the new world during the last few centuries, the Canadian government has actively promoted immigration to the country to populate it. So although Canada has a relatively small population, it’s one of most diverse of any nation in the world.

As England, Scotland and France were the colonizers of this “new” land, the two official languages in Canada today are English and French. English is the mother tongue of about 60% of the population and French of approximately 23%. But how did the English language take hold in Canada?

The first permanent European settlements in Canada were established by the French in 1603. Then came the English in 1610, establishing outposts in Canada and the thirteen colonies of the future United States. When the thirteen colonies won their independence from Britain in 1776, approximately 50,000 inhabitants from the newly-founded nation migrated to Canada as an act of loyalty to the British. This significantly increased the amount of English speakers in Canada. The years that followed brought several wars between the French and British settlers. As a result of these wars, most of the Canadian territory was ceded to the British by the end of the 19th century, reinforcing the dominance of English and the English-speaking culture in Canada.

The exodus of 50,000 from what is today the U.S. not only helped determine the emerging Anglo dominance in Canada, but was important in marking a fundamental difference between Canada and the United States; The Americans broke their ties with Britain by means of a violent war, but Canada never had such a turbulent relationship with it colonizing country and maintained closer ties to Britain; ties which are still evident today. For example, its government follows the Parliamentary system of Britain and not the Presidential system of the U.S. Also, it’s a federal constitutional monarchy, which means that it has a Queen; and who else but Queen Elizabeth II!

As the Canadian accent essentially sounds the same as the “American”  (U.S.) accent, a lot of the more notable differences are found in the written language. In many cases Canada uses the British way of spelling, as in words with the -our ending (colour, favour) versus the American color and favor. Other examples are the -re ending in words like centre and theatre versus the American center and theater. Other characteristics of Canadian English are the influence of French, words borrowed from the indigenous people, and words particular to Canada, or “Canadianisms.”  These characteristics reflect the unique experience of this country’s inhabitants. An interesting anecdote is that the first Canadian English dictionary wasn’t published until 1967!

*U.S. citizens refer to themselves as “Americans” and Canadian citizens refer to themselves as “Canadians.” In the English language when the term “American” is used, it generally refers to people from the United States, not from Canada. However, geographically speaking, both countries’ inhabitants are “American.”

northernmost- el más al norte
linked- vinculado
heritage- patrimonio; herencia
are often taken for- muy a menudo se les toma por (estadounidenses)
regarding- en lo que se refiere a; en cuanto a
in addition to – además de
waves- oleadas
take hold- establecerse; tomar fuerza
settlements - asentamientos
outposts – asentamientos; puestos avanzados
thirteen colonies- las primeras trece colonias que formaron la base de lo que luego sería EEUU
newly founded- recién fundado/a
loyalty- lealtad
amount - cantidad
several – varios/as
settlers - colonos
was ceded- fue cedido/a
but- sino (también “pero”)
broke their ties- rompieron sus vínculos/lazos
by means of – por medio de
closer – más cercano, más íntimo
who else but – quién va a ser si no es
versus- a diferencia de
borrowed- prestado/a