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Linguist helps smooth way for conversation between urbanites and rural Ontarians

Sociolinguist Sali Tagliamonte found that while 'sofa' is the preferred term in urban centres in Ontario, 'chesterfield' is still preferred by speakers in rural areas. (©iStock | bowie15)

Sociolinguist Sali Tagliamonte found that while ‘sofa’ is the preferred term in urban centres in Ontario, ‘chesterfield’ is still preferred by speakers in rural areas. (©iStock | bowie15)

On your way to the cottage? You might want to brush up on your Northern Ontario English before you go so you don’t confuse your chesterfields with your sofas when you’re yaddering to your neighbours at the wingding.

Canada boasts a vast diversity of dialects and accents and U of T linguist Sali Tagliamonte’s Ontario Dialects Project, showcases how history, language and culture intersect in one province.

Usually, language changes happen in large urban areas and then slowly percolate outward to rural areas. As a result, the dialects spoken in rural areas are often decades behind those found in the cities. Isolated settlements in the Canadian North, for instance, retain English dialects imported by early fur traders.

“Canada offers new perspectives for a more general understanding of the nature of language evolution,” said Tagliamonte.  “Canada has changed – socially, culturally and economically – over the past century. And some of the changes in English language are unique to Canada.”

One example is the current sweeping use of have instead of the previous got, as in as I have a cat or the famous Canadian way of saying out and about which to others sounds like ‘oot’ and ‘aboot’.

Tagliamonte is undertaking a comprehensive understanding of the origins and development of Canadian English in a wide range of communities, regions, culture and social groups. She is exploring the differences in northern and southern Ontario dialects, the factors leading to continuity, change and innovation of dialects as well as what dialects reveal about Canadian history and development.

This summer, she’s near Swords, Ontario where her mother’s family originates, hearing lots of g’day, playing euchre, going to pie socials and relaxing, eh?

Tagliamonte shares her findings at ontariodialects.chass.utoronto.ca, and invites you to contribute words and expressions from your town. So study up so you can eke by without sounding all hoity-toity.