вторник, 10 января 2012 г.

Where Ye To?

By Jennifer Quist

The Canadian dialect of English... seems roughly to be the result of applying British syntax to an American vocabulary.
~Lister Sinclair

I sat with my little family in a roadside restaurant within view of a towering metal statue bent and welded into the form of an enormous corn stalk. We were on the lower edge of Canada's Great Plains, in southern Alberta. I leaned forward in my seat, toward my beautiful little son, and started chattering to him in baby talk.

"You some cute," I told him in my happiest mommy voice.

That was when the woman from the table next to ours caught my eye, smiled, and politely asked if I was originally from the east coast. It took a moment for me to figure out why a stranger would ask me such a thing. She wasn't exactly wrong about me. But I certainly didn't recognize her from anywhere and I hadn't lived in the east since I was a teenager. And I wasn't exactly sitting there in rural Alberta wrapped in the Nova Scotia flag.

Then I knew what had given me away. It was my choice of adjective for my baby. For most people on this side of Canadian Shield, the word "some" is not used as a superlative. Those of us who do use words like "some" and "right" where most English speakers would use "really" or "very" usually have some connection to Atlantic Canada.

In the new world mobility of the twenty-first century, it's not uncommon to hear Canada's regional accents spoken in every quarter of the country. And they're not just collecting in the big metropolitan areas like Toronto, Vancouver, and Calgary. Canada's northern boomtowns -- like Fort McMurray and Yellowknife -- are also great places to learn about the dozens of accents and dialects that make up Canadian speech.

Personally, I think this little diaspora of accents is fantastic. And I was always touched every time the nice Newfoundlander ladies who work at the grocery stores in Fort McMurray, Alberta, addressed me as "my love" while they totalled up my order.

Maybe I like this outpouring of regional accents because my own regional identity is fairly muddled. When I was a child in my parents' home, my dad worked for the federal government. Every promotion meant a move. In all, I attended eleven different schools before graduating from high school. Some were on the west coast, others on the east, and many were in between. On bad days, I feel like nowhere in Canada is my home. And on good days, I feel like everywhere in Canada is my home.

Despite the Maritime accent that seems to have crept into my baby talk, I wasn't born in the east. I arrived there as a kid when I was still linguistically pliable and, within one summer, I had made the Nova Scotian accent my own. My western Canadian born siblings and I were all merrily pronouncing "out" like "oat" and "pants" like "pay-ants" while my parents shook their heads and wondered what was going on.

Of course, it's important to recognize that there is no single, monolithic Atlantic Canadian accent. It doesn't take a very practiced ear to hear the clear differences between accents from places like Newfoundland, Cape Breton, the Miramichi, North Preston, and Prince Edward Island. There is even a little influence from New England accents that sneak over the border, mostly through American network television affiliates, to infiltrate Maritime speech.


In my late teen years, my family moved west again. We arrived in Alberta with all the high vocal energy of our Maritime accents -- talking quickly and loudly. Even though we had lived here as small children, it was like we were hearing the western Canadian accent for the first time. To us, it sounded long and drawly -- almost American. People were wearing cowboy boots and hats on a daily basis, not just on Halloween. And all the guys who would have been called "buddy" back east were known as "dude" instead.

The differences in my accent were obvious in my high school French classes too. I hadn't known it before our move west, but I had been taught to speak French with an Acadian accent. It was nothing like the throaty Continental chit-chat of my Alberta French teachers.

Once I left my parents' home, my days of annual moves were over. I settled down with my lifelong Albertan husband and hardly noticed my manner of speech being assimilated back into a western accent. It's now my natural speaking voice -- most of the time. But as soon as I say hello to an Atlantic Canadian, my old accent comes rushing back. All of a sudden, I'm calling inanimate objects "she" and making sure to inhale instead of exhale when I say "yeah." And for a little while, it's as if the last twenty years -- and those five thousand kilometres -- didn't matter at all.

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