When British settlers colonized North America, they brought their accents and linguistic features with them. Over time, however, the way people in North America spoke English evolved into entirely new dialects, consisting of two primary categories based on a political border: American accents and Canadian accents.
Though these two versions of a North American accent might sound nearly identical at first, once you know what to look for, you begin to notice marked distinctions between the way words are pronounced by American and Canadian native speakers. With careful listening, here are some ways you can tell an American and a Canadian accent apart.
“Canadian Rising” Vowel Sounds
When people think about what makes a stereotypical Canadian accent distinct, “Canadian rising” vowel pronunciations is probably the first thing that comes to mind. This vowel pronunciation is known as “rising” because it occurs when certain vowel sounds, specifically “ou” (as in “about”), are pronounced with a higher tongue placement when compared to American accents.
Words like “mouth” or “about” are pronounced with a very low tongue placement in American accents, causing a longer vowel sound. Thus, “mouth” and “about” might end up sounding to non-Canadian listeners more like “moath” and “aboat” or even “mooth” and “aboot”.
Differences In “a” Sound
Another telling distinction between Canadian and American accents is the way certain “a” sounds are pronounced. People with American accents will pronounce words like “pasta,” and “salsa” with an “aw” sound, in a linguistic pattern more similar to British English. However, Canadians will pronounce these same words with a shorter “a” sound.
In short, a North American accent that pronounces the word pasta like “Paw-sta” is more likely to be American, while an accent that pronounces the same word with a short “a” is almost certainly Canadian.
Canadian Similarities to British English
In many ways, Canadian accents retained more features of a British English dialect. One of the most noticeable examples of this has to do with the pronunciation of words with “u” sound, for instance, “Student” or “Tuesday.” Canadians will often pronounce these words as if there is a “y” consonant before the vowel sound, a feature that is also found in British accents. So, these words will then sound like “styudent” or “Tyuesday.” In American English, in comparison, this “Y” sound is left out.
Americanized “o” Before “r” Sounds
In some American words, when the “o” vowel comes before the consonant “r,” the “o” is pronounced with a short “o” sound that sounds a little like “ah.” For instance, consider the words “sorry” or “tomorrow.” People with Canadian accents, in comparison, pronounce these words using a long “o” sound as you would hear in the word “oar.”
Which North American Accent Is Best to Learn?
The answer to this question depends entirely on your own personal and career goals, where you plan to live, and where you’d like to work in the future. There are, in fact, many regional American accents and many regional Canadian accents.
The good news is that all of these accents are very similar, so learning any one of them will help you communicate more clearly and professionally anywhere in North America. The key is to be understood by those around you.
If you want to develop a more North American accent, you can take the first step today by booking a session with a qualified Speech Language Pathologist in one of our online programs.