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What are the differences between Canadian and American English spellings?

Reading Time: 3 minutes

While Canadians and Americans may be neighbours, their spelling and pronunciation of certain words vary. A popular idiom of Canadian English goes, “Canadians spell like the British, have an American accent, and sprinkle in just enough French words to throw everyone off.” Canadian English undoubtedly has some unique characteristics, so continue reading to dive into what makes this variation of English unique.

What makes Canadian English unique?

The differences in Canadian English pretty much all boils down to the vowels. Part of what makes Canadian English pronunciation unique is the cot-caught merger, which occurs when two separate vowel sounds are combined into a single sound. For example, words like “stock” and “stalk” are pronounced the same.

Historic reasoning behind Canadian English

The French influence on Canadian spelling is not just because of Canada’s French-speaking Provence of Quebec; it actually dates back to the 1066 Norman Conquest of England. During this time, French became the official language of government, and when the French heard English words, they wrote them according to the rules of French spelling, as English had no written standard at the time.

Throughout the centuries, several attempts were made to standardize English spelling as it was majorly influenced by where it was spoken and multiple ways of spelling the same word, but none of these were overly successful until the publication of Samuel Johnson’s 40,000-word dictionary, the spelling of many words found in the dictionary are still accurate today. The breakdown between British and American English started when Noah Webster released his Webster Dictionary in 1828 with the intention of reforming American English and spelling by making it simpler. He did this by dropping visuals like “u” from “colour” and the “k” from “musick” while changing the ending for words like “center” and “organize” to use “er” and “size.”

Due to the close proximity to America, Canadians eventually started to adapt some of the American spelling practises, until in 1890, Prime Minister Sir John A. Macdonald made the decision that British spelling should be upheld in all government documents. Despite this, over time some instance of American English have crept into Canadian English.

American vs. British vs. Canadian

Canadian English has a unique combination of both British and Amercian spelling rules with some unique domestic rules. For example, Canadian English retains the British spelling for French-derived words like “colour” and “favour”. In addition, Canadian English also retains the usage of double consonants when using suffixes, for example “travelled”.

For Greek-derived words though, such as “realize”, Canadian Engish is aligned with American English by spelling these words with the “ize”, whereas British English utilizes “ise” instead. For certain nouns Canadians also utilize the American spelling, for example “aluminum” and “curb”.

To make Canadian English even more unique, there are also unique rules for capitalization, hyphenation and punctuation. Luckily if you have any concerns about styling any writing for a Canadian audience, the Canadian government has a department for that called the Canadian Translation Bureau which has published a Canadian style guide.

Canadian terminology

Canadian vocabulary is also a mix of both American and British English, and the terms are often related to political, historical, social or trade factors. One example is the use of the terms “hood”, “highway” and “truck” instead of “bonnet”, “motorway” and “lorry” due to Canada’s close ties with the US with their automobile industry. However, Canadians tend to use British terms more often than not when it comes to professional designations.

That does not mean that Canada does not have its own unique terminology. One example of this is the term “humidex” which is short for humidity index. The term was created as a way to help describe Canadia’s unique weather, and is used by Canadian meteorologist to describe how hot the weather feels. The humidex is calculated by combining the effects of heat and humidity, usually when Canadians describe the weather temperature they will both state the actual temperature as well as the humidex.

Put your new skills to the test

Now that you know the differences between Canadian and American English, it is time to put your new skills to use. Apply to be a freelance writer for Words of Worth and try out your skills at writing for a Canadian audience. Just do not forget to double check you have used regionally appropriate terms and make sure you add in your “u” for colour and add in the double consonants for suffixes.

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