I was on the bus the other day, when a group of exchange students beside me started to ask each other about where they were going. They seemed a little lost, so I (being the kind, polite Canadian that I am) asked them where they were going and if they needed any help. Turns out I knew where they were headed, so I told them where they needed to get off, and what bus to catch next. Then the conversation went something like this:
Girl: Thank you so much! You saved us a lot of trouble.
Me: No problem. It’s a little tricky. I only figured it out for myself about a week ago. Where are you guys from, by the way?
Girl: California. What about you? Canada?
Me: …Um, yeah. How did you know?
Girl: Oh, your accent.
What?! I do NOT have an accent, thank you very much.
When I voiced my confusion, the girl proceeded to tell me how Canadians pronounce “ou” differently, so it was pretty obvious.
Don’t get me wrong, I’ve heard the stereotypes. Canadians supposedly say “aboot” instead of “about”, and we say “eh” a lot. And while I’ll freely admit to the latter, I’ve always been pretty adamant about the fact that the former is complete nonsense. Apparently I was wrong.
After this incident (yes, this totally qualifies as an “incident” in my books), I spent the next two weeks actively listening to myself speak, a little self-conscious whenever I said the words “about” or “out”.
The verdict? We (at least I) actually DO pronounce “about” differently compared to your typical American. And while it’s definitely not an obvious “aboot”, we do put less emphasis on the “out” part of the word. See, Americans tend to really emphasize the “out” sound so that the “ou” sounds like…someone shouting “Ow! Ow!” after they’ve stubbed a toe. Our “ou” is a little more subtle than that.
Well, would you look at that? 20 years, and I’ve finally figured out that I actually do have a slight accent. Cool, eh?
Speaking of which, I’d also just like to point out that when you’re away from Canada in a country where “eh” is not a common thing to say, you really start to notice how much you actually use it.
For me, it generally just slips out—it’s a really useful syllable, after all—and normally, I wouldn’t think anything of it. But after one of my friends here commented on it the first time she heard me say it, and then asked me to explain what it meant (side note: you try explaining what “eh” means. It was really hard!), I now notice every time it adds itself to the end of one of my sentences.
And as it turns out, it’s also a really cool way to pick out other Canadians in a crowd. A few weeks ago, I was at a university event, and heard someone behind me say “I know, eh?”. I immediately whipped my head around, and spotted the girl behind me.
And that’s how friends are made.
Until next week!