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Reviewed by:
  • The English language in Canada: Status, history and comparative analysis
  • Beau Brock
Charles Boberg. 2010. The English language in Canada: Status, history and comparative analysis. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Pp. 272. $118.95 (softcover).

The book under review contributes to the study of Canadian English by collecting and synthesizing previous studies on the language into one volume.1 The author also provides the results of two recent studies on Canadian vocabulary and phonetics, which update previous studies in those fields. The result is a book that provides an excellent introduction to the most important aspects of Standard Canadian English (SCE) and will serve as a starting point for those looking to examine other aspects of the language. Considering the wide scope of the book, this review will address only a few of the themes presented.

The book is divided into six chapters, which focus on different aspects of SCE. The first chapter examines the current status of the language in Canada, including where it is used, by whom, and in what capacity. The second chapter is a discussion of the history and possible origins of Canadian English, and draws upon immigration statistics from the 18th century to the present day.

The following three chapters describe the linguistic features that distinguish SCE from Standard American English (SAE) and Standard British English (SBE), namely its vocabulary, phonetic tendencies, and grammar. At the end of Chapter 3, the reader is introduced to previous studies on Canadian English, such as those in lexicography, regional dialect research, and sociolinguistics. Chapters 4 and 5 discuss studies conducted by the author on vocabulary and phonetics in SCE. The final chapter summarises the author’s findings, and includes suggestions for future research. It is also important to mention that the bibliography is substantial, containing texts from a wide variety of disciplines. It is an excellent companion to Avis and Kinloch’s Writings on Canadian English 1792–1975 (1978), significantly updating the latter with a wide variety of texts.

The author begins his study by examining the current status of SCE, particularly in relation to other languages, and its role in the media. A detailed account is given of the diminishing status of English in Quebec, where its use has been curtailed in [End Page 277] recent years. It is noted that although native English speakers form the majority in Canada (18 million speakers in 2006), there are also a large number of Canadians who speak English or French as a second language (6 million in 2006), a fact which could influence the future development of the language. The author also discusses the relatively limited influence of SCE in the media, which has been dominated almost entirely by the United States, with a few notable exceptions. It is therefore difficult for Canadian English to flourish within its own borders due to the ubiquity of American produced media.

The second chapter describes the history of English in Canada. The origins of SCE have been debated since the early 20th century (Bloomfield 1948, Avis 1954, to name only two). Though the author does not claim to resolve the debate in this book, he agrees with Chambers (2006), who stated that North American English originates from the language spoken by British settlers in the 17th and 18th centuries2 The language was then shaped by later settlers, including the American Loyalists in the late 18th century, as well as immigrants from the British Isles in the early 19th century. It is claimed that Canadian English was well established in the original four provinces by the 1860s3 and that further immigration did not change the local speech patterns. Much of this is supported by the numerous immigration statistics provided throughout the chapter. It is somewhat surprising that little mention is made of certain Anglo-Canadians’ attempt to maintain the British character of the language (spelling, lexicon, and grammar), as previously discussed in Chambers (2004).

In the third chapter, the author describes the principal features of SCE by comparing it to SAE and SBE in order to determine which features are uniquely Canadian. To this end, the author draws upon several dictionaries of Canadian English, as well as previous lexicographical and...


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