As a new immigrant to Canada, a few observations about this country have fascinated me. It’s the Canadian accent.
You have to hand it to the Americans. They have a way of conquering borders in a way few countries have. Their weapon? The great American drawl!
I can see quite a few arrows turning around to whisk off my head here but really, take Canada for example. The country was colonized by the British. It’s the British people who lived and ruled here for over a 100 years. They passed on their alphabets, married and multiplied, propagated their centuries old culture across the prairies, pine woods and great lakes of the country (carefully avoiding the French territories of course).Yet the accent that rules here is American!
Tell me, is there any excuse? How could the British spend over a 100 years in this country and not leave behind a trace of the Queen’s English?
Canada was under the British Empire from 1763 to 1867. Canada is still part of the Commonwealth. The Royal family picnics here often enough to remind the country of its heritage. But in came American Fast food chains, McDonalds and Dominos snatched the crown from the Queen and the British accent faded away, facing the gallows in silent defeat.
Blame it on the power of the Pizza, neighbourly bonding or just a furious firing of Hollywood and MTV from the other side of the Niagara! But America won, taking over Canadian franchises, dress code, food habits and the mother tongue.
Having said that, there is one legacy the British did manage to leave behind as the last word – the alphabet Z. Unlike the USA, here in Canada, it’s is a firm Zed, not Zee.
The distinct pronunciation is clearly the line of divide. Crossing to ‘Zee,’ gives you the American badge of honour. ‘Zed’ is the stamp of the regal maple leaf.
My kids who are bred on an American International education from South East Asia felt pretty much at one with the world here initially.
They happily rolled their r’, ignored their t’s, went heavy on their “cools” and “awwww’s” on the slightest situations that stirred their pizza-fed souls.
And then came the “zed” from an unwitting stranger one day, leaving them culturally displaced.
That ominous “zed” marked them as outsiders. It served to remind that much as they sounded close to the locals here, they were not. Their faces fell and they admitted with a sigh that they could never get used to “that word.”
Ironically, the same “zed” bonded us to our surrogate nation.
For my husband and me, brought up on a daily diet of “zed” in India, this was music to our ears. We danced to the symphony of that syllable, embracing the air of familiarity that came with it. It is indeed interesting to note how one single, simple word can make you feel at home…or out of it.
There are other interesting instances that divide the line between a local and a new immigrant like us. The word “biscuit” for example!
At no point did I imagine that such a mundane word could seclude me the way “zed” did with my children.
The incident occurred when I requested a friend for some biscuits to go with my evening tea. He stifled a giggle. “Didn’t know you had a dog”, he quipped.
“Huh?” I had no clue what he was talking about. He laughed at my confusion and explained “Here in Canada we say cookies, not biscuits. Biscuits are for dogs, cookies are what people have”.
Ooooops! How embarrassing! What more surprises in store? Here we presumed we were finally in a country that connected us to the local language! Yet we were unable to comprehend the simplest words.
In fact, the word ‘Toronto’ itself is a line divider. To-ron-to, with stress on the second ‘T’, marks you as an outsider! Locals say “Tronno”.
I just learnt that the original name came from the Mohawk word “Tkaronto”, referring to a narrow channel of water between Lake Simcoe and Lake Couchichin! More succinctly it means “where there are trees standing in the water.”
The tongue twisting Tkaronto eventually morphed into an easier “Taronto” through some linguistically challenged explorers.
About 1695, an Italian cartographer (“map man” to be precise) changed the spelling to Toronto, for whatever reason that suited him. Nobody challenged his mood swing and the name stuck since. Now the spelling remains the same but the pronunciation has morphed to “troh-nou” or “tronno”.
Yet, despite the heavy American influence even here, it’s the English who have the last laugh. American spellings are completely disregarded. Words in the English language in Canada are officially spelt the British way. So they keep the “u” in “colour, “honour”, “valour” and “flavour”. “Travelled” and “levelled” use the British double “l” and not the single variant like the Americans do. Canadians also root for the Metric system (meter and grams for length and weight) not Imperial way of the Americans (inches and pound).
Having said that, American spellings are allowed as an alternative and those who follow the old school still stick to the American ways! (It’s wise to keep your neighbours happy they say.)
What’s truly unique to Canada is the exclamation “eh”, following a sentence (It’s a sunny day, eh!” Almost like the ‘lah’ in Singapore and the “ay” in Australia. Also, a one-dollar coin is the “loonie”, the two dollar coin is the “toonie” and it’s common to hear of the “tuque” – a woolen cap or hat. Some swear the Canadian accent is also a bit more clipped than the American. But to be honest, I still can’t figure out the difference. What’s distinctly different is the accent in French speaking Quebec.
So what’s the last word on cultural influence? Here’s a surprise! Things are turning once again. Ethnic groups are on the rise with more and more new immigrants filtering in from Asia, Africa and South America.
Toronto is the cultural cauldron of Canada, currently ranking as one of the world’s most multicultural cities. Over 140 languages and dialects are spoken in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA) which includes the Peel region east of Toronto comprising Mississauga, Brampton and Caledon; York region in the North; Durham region and Halton on the western end of Toronto.
So back to the question, who is set to take over Canada next? The answer lies in the multiplex theatres.
Each time we go to downtown Toronto or Mississauga, we’re struck by the long queues. It’s not just the Hollywood hits that invite interest but Bollywood… and hold your breath…Punjabi blockbusters as well!
Not surprisingly, recent predictions swear that by 2020 it will be the minority ethnic groups that will grow to rule as the majority in Toronto.
Curious to see what that entails! Would be quite a sight to see our Poutine raised grandkids drawling “balley balley” Punjabi folk style or doing the Chinese Dragon Dance in celebration of Canada Day!
And what’s Poutine? Aaah…now that’s a whole new chapter! Look out for the next one. (Cheesy grin!)