British Columbia

'Milk' versus 'melk': Have you noticed that the way we talk is changing? Linguists have

Linguists say we're going through what's called the Canadian Vowel Shift and young women are leading the way.

Young people are pronouncing things differently because of what linguists call the Canadian Vowel Shift

The younger generation is pronouncing vowels differently than the older generation of Canadians, according to linguists. (Shutterstock)

You may have noticed that the way Canadians speak is changing and the reason why words sound different these days is because linguists have confirmed we're going through the Canadian Vowel Shift.

"Milk" is being pronounced more like "melk."

The word "dress" is starting to sound like "drass."

When Canadians say "laugh" it's coming out more often as "loff."

"I haven't heard 'dawn' for 'Dan' but it's heading in that direction," said Paul De Decker, an assistant professor of linguistics at Memorial University who is studying this phenomenon.

Linguists are calling it the Canadian Vowel Shift as Canadian-born speakers are now pronouncing "i" like "e" and "o" like "aw." Meanwhile, "e" is sounding more like "a" and more commonly "a" is ending up as "ah."

Language always changing

Language is always changing, says De Decker, and he attributes this particular shift to the younger generation trying to differentiate themselves from their parents or grandparents. Younger females, he says, are leading the shift as they tend to be more innovative with language.

To determine that a change is happening, linguists have been analysing the speech patterns of people born in Canada across different age groups.

They listen by ear and also use acoustic analysis software to take measurements of vowel sounds. They're finding that the vowel shift seems to be happening pretty evenly across urban centres, But if you're in a rural area, you won't notice it as much. 

"These things don't happen over night," said De Decker. "They take generations or centuries to come to completion and by then, it will have a lasting effect on the vowel system.

"The first observations that have been reported in the literature were in the early 90s. We've been observing this for at least 20 to 25 years."

Local accents, he said, such as the differences in pronunciation between people living on the east coast versus the west coast, are not affected by the Canadian vowel shift. That's an entirely different phenomenon, according to De Decker.

The vowel shift is also happening in the U.S. but going in a different direction with the "ah" sounds changing the most, making words like "pop" sound like "pap."