November 2009 | Home
The presence of chorus girls at a 1921 fraternity party revealed scandalous behavior by students and administrators alike.
As he approaches retirement, the athletic director will go down as one of U-M's most influential figures.
Geophysics professor Henry Pollack explains how scientists know that CO2 is at its highest level in 800,000 years, and what it means for the planet.
U-M alumni and Vietnam veterans Dale Throneberry and Bob Gould found their calling in the stories of fellow vets.
The director's latest film is brutally violent at the same time it joyfully recalls movies of the past.
Native speakers are increasingly proud of the "fizzy Canadian cocktail" that is their language.
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November 11, 2009
Some years ago I took a vanload of University of Michigan students to conduct some linguistic field work. Our project was to investigate the extent to which elementary school children in Sarnia, Ontario, and Marine City, Michigan, used English in distinctive ways. To our satisfaction, they spoke quite differently, even though the communities are just a few miles apart and watch and listen to the same broadcasters. There was no doubt that the Canadian children spoke one (of their two) national languages in a way that the American children didn't.
The Marine City children had different vowels in cot and caught. The Sarnia children had the same vowel in both. In Canada, house and hound had different vowels; in the United States, the vowels were the same. You can hear some of the distinctive Canadian sounds here.
For me, the highlight of the trip was a conversation I had with a fourth-grade teacher in Sarnia while her pupils were at play. Did she notice any differences in English on the other side of the Blue Water Bridge? "Oh, yes," she said. "My husband and I keep our boat at the marina over there so we hear a lot of them speaking English. It just grates on my ears."
She was too polite to say that my speech grated on her ears too since it would be a subtle listener who could distinguish my English from that of the good folk of Port Huron. The teacher was proud of Canadian English and dismissive of the American variety.
Canadians have an increasing pride in their English. It was not long ago that they imagined it to be a mishmash of American and British, but younger Canadians are different from both and they like it that way. A student of mine at the University of British Columbia admitted that he said lieutenant just the way I do but he liked the Canadian leftenant better even though he didn't use it.
Now comes a book that can fuel an Anglophone Canadian's linguistic ardor. The word Anglophone itself first gained currency in Canada: "It is because our fizzy Canadian cocktail has intoxicating qualities, because a dazzling future lies in wait for francophones and Anglophones ...that we should hold together, along with the valuable New Canadians." This patriotic statement came from the Toronto magazine Saturday Night in 1967.
The book is "Dictionary of Canadianisms" by Geordie Telfer (Edmonton: Folklore Publishing, 2009), and it is full of whimsy and pleasure. Its aim is to be helpful "in distinguishing Canadians from Americans (a moot point for most of the rest of the world, but one of fierce pride here at home)." This "fierce pride" is a relatively new ingredient for Canadians; not so long ago, it was assumed that anything distinctive was a mistake.
Americans may not care about the words that Canadians use, but Canadians increasingly care greatly. Ask an American what it means to "pay the hydro" and they undoubtedly (wrongly) think of the water bill. Offered a dish of fish and brewis on a menu, Americans might turn down a tasty meal because they've never heard of brewis. Ordering a double-double at Tim Horton's only makes sense north of the border. Canadians feel "a nostalgic fondness," says Telfer, for the now obsolete stubby, a shape of beer bottle in use from 1961-1986. The vending-machine industry thrives on a diet of loonies and toonies.
In 1967 there appeared the first "Dictionary of Canadianisms," a grand work of historical scholarship published to mark the centennial of Confederation (the union of the provinces that made Canada one). Now a new and ambitious expansion is underway at the University of British Columbia. Until it appears, Canadians (and others) will find much to enjoy in Telfer's book. You can track how the new work is doing by clicking here.