Distinct Canadianisms are unique Canadian expressions created by a mashup of history and languages. In 1967, The Dictionary of Canadianisms was first published for Canada’s centennial. It is not the standard Oxford Canadian Dictionary.
For more than ten years, linguistics scholars at the University of British Columbia have been working to update the dictionary for Canada’s 150th birthday.
From A to Zed with a French accent
From “admiral” to “zed”, the second edition of The Dictionary of Canadianisms is free to access online. It explains the origins of words, and how meanings change over time.
With Canada’s history, it is no surprise French words permeate and influence Canadian English. Maybe this is why many believe all Canadians are bilingual. The dictionary is a window into Canadian culture. It shows how English and French words can cohabitate.
H is for hockey; h is for a distinct French society:
The dictionary shows how a capital letter changes everything. Browse under the letter ‘H’ and find ‘habitant‘. The French word is used in English to describe a Quebec farmer, or anyone from la belle province. Its origins comes from land grants given by seigneurs to early settlers of New France from 1627 until 1854.
When capitalized, ‘Habitants’ are Canadiens with very different occupation. Habitants are members of the Montreal Canadiens professional hockey team. Les Canadiens (spelled the French way) or the Habs, all means the same thing to generations of hockey fans of the club founded in 1909. That was even before the NHL began–the Habs are one of the original six. Alas, unlike the Ottawa Senators, this season is over for the Habs, so some players will be back on the farm, or golf course.
A Cultural Export
Besides French and English, a mix of many other languages have produced a people who speak using distinct Canadianisms.
Newfoundlandisms account for a stunning 40% of all regional terms – Stefan Dollinger, Gšteborgs Universitet & University of British Columbia, and chief editor of the Dictionary of Canadiansms project.
No wonder comedians such as Rick Mercer and Shaun Majumder have long played up their regionally distinctive English language to hilarious effect. Many of these talented Canadian comedians are among Canada’s top cultural exports. In this clip, Majumder uses language to mock the national past time of Canadians: distinguishing themselves from Americans.
A Canadian is undefinable, Eh?
Funny or not, Majumder adds to the endless effort by many to define: What is Canadian? English has been in Canada for over four centuries. The language will continue to evolve to reflect what Canada becomes in the future. It is clear UBC scholars will have to continually update their work long past Canada 150.
Maybe being undefinable is who we really are. Quirky, historic and nuanced, language makes Canadians, Canadian. Eh?
Contribute a Canadianism
Are you a word nerd? You can participate in this ongoing scholarly exercise. You can submit a word, expression or meaning that might qualify as a Canadianism, i.e. originated in the country or is “distinctively characteristic” of Canada
Editor’s note: when composing this post, the American-English spell checker underlined the words habitant and Habitant highlighting an error, whether capitalized or not. Technology we use daily shows the influence of our southern neighbour – ah, there is another error message.