Watch the Gap: American Versus Canadian English
Just as British English and Canadian English differ (see Mind the Gap), American English and Canadian English differ also. Knowing the differences can help communicators reach their readers. The differences are NOT just about spellings. Diction, grammar, cultural references, and assumptions about common experiences and beliefs all can be different. And of course, neither Americans nor Canadians are homogenous.
A very few of the many American-Canadian differences:
- America—Americans tend to think of “America” as the United States of America; however, to a Canadian, “America” can mean “North America” (United States, Canada, and Mexico), thus Canadians live in America. Precision matters; think about the potential for confusion.
- check/cheque—American versus Canadian spelling. However, when we want to pay up at a restaurant, American ask for the “check”; Canadians ask for the “bill.”
- humor/humour—Another example in American versus Canadian spelling (with the –our ending hanging on from Canada’s British history). However, with the number of Canadian comedians working in the US, maybe …
- eh?—Yes, it’s a stereotype: Canadians might add “eh?” to the end of a sentence, but then many people in the United States and Canada “up talk” by ending their sentences in a rise as though asking a question.
- reservation/reserve—The United States created “Indian reservations”; in Canada, similar designated lands are called “reserves” and increasingly each distinct people is called a “First Nation.” American versus Canadian differences don’t end there, of course; for example, First Nations, Inuit, and Métis people are recognized as Aboriginal peoples in Canada.
- federal/state/provincial/territorial—yep, we differ. We differ in our laws, structures, official languages, elections, histories, holidays, and much more.
- college, university—Canadians and Americans have differences in post-secondary education, what certain degrees might be called, and so on. Even things such as fraternities, sororities, and how years are described (“frosh” is less used in Canada) can differ.
When writing is directed to an American, Canadian, or combined American-Canadian audience, writers and editors must bring their awareness of the differences to crafting the language. This process is sometimes called localization. Here are some resources to help with localization:
- Merriam Webster online dictionary
- Canadian Oxford Dictionary (now in its 2nd edition)
- Oxford Guide to Canadian English Usage
- NTC’s American Idioms Dictionary
- a language localization reference
- Garner’s Modern American Usage, 3rd edition, by Bryan A. Garner
And, of course, a professional communicator. If you’d like to learn more about my services, please contact me.