English-speaking Canadians talk a foreign language – to each other

If you can’t tell a bunkie from a bangbelly don’t worry: it’s all part of being a Canuck.

When you live in a country the size of Canada, different regions are going to develop unique ways of speaking about things relevant to their area, says Christine Schreyer, assistant professor of anthropology at UBC Okanagan. She and her students have just completed a survey to find out how Canada’s regional dialects are represented on the UBC Okanagan campus in Kelowna.

“There are many different English dialects in our country,” she says. “I thought it would be interesting to find out how many of them are being spoken on the UBC Okanagan campus, and what kind of role they play in our everyday language. So my sociolinguistics class conducted a study on campus that was designed to test the knowledge people had of words distinctive to certain regions across Canada.”

In preparing the survey, the class started with more than 100 words compiled from dictionaries, Canadian phrase books, online sources and personal experiences. They narrowed the list to two standard terms from each of seven Canadian geographical regions:

  • B.C. – felts and monkey trail
  • The Prairies – road apple and bumper shining
  • Ontario – parkette and bunkie
  • Quebec – tongue trooper and sugar shack
  • The Maritimes – hangashore and jigged
  • Newfoundland and Labrador – rubbers and bangbelly
  • The North – utilidor and outside

“A total of 187 students, faculty and staff participated in the survey, and the results suggested about three or four different Canadian dialects are spoken on the UBC Okanagan campus,” says Schreyer. “Geography and population played a large role in what regional words were most recognized.”

For instance, Schreyer explains, terms from Alberta – such as road apple – were more recognized by the UBC Okanagan community than terms from the Maritimes because the campus has a larger population of students from Alberta. The geographical location of that province has enabled a stronger relationship between the two regional populations, and consequently, the regional language is better understood by one another.

“We did find that although regional dialects don’t play a really large role on campus, they are present. Even more importantly, the survey raised awareness of the diversity of speech patterns found throughout Canada and within the UBC Okanagan campus,” says Schreyer. “It also showed how our words can change over time, and how a slang word can eventually become the preference for people over the traditional word.

“That’s the beauty of language – it’s always evolving.”

Dialect diversity

Surveying the UBC Okanagan campus community about Canadian regional English dialects revealed where the majority of people on campus are from. Not surprisingly, B.C. had the highest representation, with slightly more than half of the survey's participants. Alberta had the second highest number of participants with 20 per cent. Ontario was represented by 15 per cent of the participants, and Saskatchewan and Manitoba combining for 7 per cent of survey respondents.

The rest of the survey participants were from Quebec (3.3 per cent), the Maritime provinces (3.2 per cent), and the Yukon (0.5 per cent). And although no participants identified their home province or territory as the Northwest Territories or Nunavut, both had participants who had lived there in the past.

Test your knowledge with these Canadian expressions

  • Road apple - a frozen piece of horse or cow manure, typically used to play road hockey
  • Bumper shining - the practice, engaged in by children, of holding on to a car’s rear bumper on a snowy or icy road so as to be dragged along for the ride
  • Rubbers - long, waterproof boots worn especially by fishermen or sealers
  • Bangbelly - a dense cake made of cooked rice, flour, molasses, raisins, salt pork and spices
  • Utilidor - an enclosed insulated conduit running above ground and carrying water, sewerage, and electricity between houses in settlements built on permafrost
  • Outside - the rest of the world outside of the north or the territories of Canada, especially a more heavily populated or urban area
  • Parkette - a small park in a city, usually less than a block and containing a grassy area, small gardens, benches etc.
  • Bunkie - a small outbuilding on the property of a summer cottage or cabin providing extra sleeping accommodations for guests
  • Jigging - playing truant from school
  • Hangashore - a weak or sickly person, or a lazy person
  • Tongue trooper - a provincial government official responsible for enforcing Quebec’s language laws, especially by monitoring commercial signs in stores, restaurants, etc.
  • Sugar shack - a small establishment located in the woods serving food items flavoured with maple syrup
  • Felts - felt-tipped markers
  • Monkey trail - a narrow trail in a park, field, or along a river bank, made by the passage of walkers, cyclists, etc.

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