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Most Canadians live close the the border. If you cross to the American side of border, in a rural area, do Canadianisms (1) like "aboat" (2) suddenly become much less common?


Since this created controversy, allow me to quote the dictionaries:

(1)

Canadianism

noun

  1. a word, expression, or other language feature that is characteristically Canadian.
  2. the state of being Canadian, or the character and spirit characteristic of Canadians.

(2)

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  • 5
    That's not a Canadianism. There is a vowel change known as "Canadian Raising" which changes the allophone of /aw/ before voiceless consonants, and it's common in Canada and in parts of the northern US. Commented Feb 20, 2022 at 23:54
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    @JohnLawler "That's not a Canadianism" -- Why do you say that? "Canadianism" is defined as "a word, expression, or other language feature that is characteristically Canadian". If "characteristically Canadian" means P(X | speaker is Canadian) > P(X) (conditional and marginal probabilities, respectively), then it's a Canadianism.
    – MWB
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 0:08
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    First, it's not "aboot". No such word exists and that spelling doesn't represent Canadian speech. Second, the phenomenon you're referring to is not "Canadianism", but a variant diphthong -- a sound, not a word -- parallel to the odd way all North Americans pronounce diphthongs before voiceless consonants. Canadians are just consistent, in using the same rule for /aw/ that everybody uses for /ay/. For Americans and Canadians, the vowels in five and fife are different - listen and you'll hear it. For Canadians but not USAers, the same is true of loud and lout. Commented Feb 23, 2022 at 16:35
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    It's about. Pronounced the way Canadians say it. Spelling it different is like spelling with as widh when it's voiced, which is about half the time. Commented Feb 24, 2022 at 3:34
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    Why are people closing the most on-topic of on-topic ELU questions as opnion-based? This is a fact-based question. It is not asking for opinions. It may not be easy to -know- the answer but that doesn't it make it opinion based.
    – Mitch
    Commented Feb 25, 2022 at 17:58

3 Answers 3

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No, Canadian pronunciations of "about" (approximated as "aboat/aboot", IPA [ə.ˈbʌʊt] or [ə.ˈbɛʊt] in Southern Ontario) are not equally common on the American side of the border, adjacent to it.

Timothy Vance wrote about this question back in 1987 in his article "Canadian Raising" in Some Dialects of the Northern United States, where he looked at both /aɪ/ raised to [ʌɪ] (as in Canadian pronunciations of "knife") and /aʊ/ raised to [ʌʊ] (as in Canadian pronunciations of "about"). He found the latter to be rarer - though not absent - on the American side of the border.

As a Canadian linguist married to a woman from rural Western New York, I can confirm that this observation still holds true anecdotally in 2022. My wife's pronunciation and her family's pronunciation of "knife" are similar to mine, while their pronunciation of "about" is not. They're also very aware of this difference, even as non-linguists.

By the way, we have an authoritative resource on Canadianisms called A Dictionary of Canadianisms on Historical Principles. It covers words, expressions, and meanings characteristic of Canadian English.

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When I was in Minnesota I heard people saying what I thought was 'aboot', and a fellow outsider (from New York) told me it was the Yooper (UP - Upper Pensinsula) accent. Years later, I heard an approximation of it in a film, Fargo, set in Minnesota.

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  • What one hears a lot more in Fargo, is how they say Yeah.
    – Lambie
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 21:54
  • @Lambie - and they say 'eh' at the end of sentences, too, which my Ontario cousin said is more common 'down there' than where she is. Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 22:55
  • Juno Temple does a very good rendition of the Minnesota accent in the current Fargo TV series.
    – TimR
    Commented Mar 7 at 13:05
  • @TimR - A treat I am awaiting eagerly. It's all lined up and ready to go, now that True Detective has finished. Which, incidentally, I thought was brilliant, and I detected some 'northern' vowels. Commented Mar 7 at 13:08
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    @TimR - We have only 2 episodes left of the season. Juno Temple is our absolute favourite in the show, and we were totally surprised to find out she is British! Commented Apr 3 at 7:42
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Accent regions don't always conform with political borders. In the case of the so called "Canadian raising", there's some accents with it in the United States of America, most notably in the upper Midwest and parts of New England. Some upper Midwest and Canadian accents are so similar, that if you crossed a non-patrolled part of the border between the two countries, you would hardly be able to tell whether you were in the US or Canada just by hearing people talk, the main exception might be if they're discussing the weather, how far they live from where they are, etc (the Canadians will generally express those measurements in metric rather than imperial).

Outside the Midwest and New England, a few southern American accents also have the Canadian raising, at least in terms of the " ou" dipthong, the most notable of which is the "Tidewater" accent of Virginia.

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  • The border is porous for tourists, but a Canadian can't just come to the US and decide to reside here, legally.
    – MWB
    Commented Mar 7 at 15:26
  • The top answer cites sources from 1987 saying that the Canadian raising is rarer on the US side of the border. If there are "raisers" on both sides of the border, you won't be able to tell, reliably, which side the speaker is from.
    – MWB
    Commented Mar 7 at 15:34

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