I came across an article about Canadian pronunciation and it was utterly fascinating to me, so much so that I’m going to pull some quotes from it for this post. We’ve all heard the whole “Canadians say ‘aboot’ and it’s hilarious” thing, and it’s always perplexed me a little, because as a Canadian with the requisite accent, I don’t say ‘aboot.’ I can tell I say something slightly different than my American friends and people on TV, but it’s not as harsh as ‘aboot.’ Saying ‘aboot’ actually has an uncomfortable, forced mouth-feel, if that makes sense. According to this article, Canadians use a certain vowel pronunciation in ‘about’ that American’s don’t even use at all – hence all the confusion.
“The Canadian diphthong in “about” starts with something closer to “eh,” and migrates to a blank space on the American linguistic map somewhere between “uh,” “oh,” and “ooh.” That transition is actually easier on the mouth than the American version; our vowels go from low to high, and theirs from mid to high… To say that Canadians are saying “aboot” is linguistically inaccurate; “ooh” is a monophthong and the proper Canadian dialect uses a diphthong. “A-boat” would actually be a bit closer, but still relies on a monophthong. Why can’t Americans get their heads around the Canadian “about”?
“What’s going on is a compound of pronunciation and perception,” says Dailey-O’Cain. “The Canadians do pronounce it differently. Americans hear this and they know it’s different—they’re hearing a difference but they don’t know exactly what that difference is.” Americans do not have the Canadian diphthong present in the word “about,” which makes it hard to understand. We know that the Canadians are doing something weird, but in fact it’s so unlike our own dialect that we can’t even really figure out what’s weird about it.”
I may or may not have said ‘about’ a whole bunch of times after this, trying to figure out exactly how I say it! (Fine, I did).
I have to share one last quote as well, because as a history nerd, I love the idea that the strange vowel sounds of a Canadian accent are a remnant from another time:
“Canadian Raised vowels are actually a preserved remnant of the Great Vowel Shift, an in-between vowel sound that was somehow stuck in amber in the Great White North… Canadians aren’t weird; they’re respecting the past.”