Lost in translation: Study on Canadian slang draws strange dividing lines

English Canadians are not all speaking the same language, a new survey suggests.

He says runners, she says sneakers, let's call the whole thing ... English spiced with regional flavours

English Canadians are not all speaking the same language, a new survey suggests.

A national map created by the 10 and 3, an online publication dedicated to Canadian data, shows a surprising amount of diversity in vocabulary and pronunciations.

The online survey was done primarily on social media in June 2017. The researchers surveyed more than 9,500 people from coast to coast and only accepted responses from Canadians who still live in the regions where they grew up. 

The resulting map went viral last week and spurred heated debate at office water coolers and online message boards across the country.

Local dialects 

"Everyone knows about the characteristic English of Newfoundland," said the study authors. "And regions like Cape Breton, Lunenberg and the Ottawa Valley also have unique ways of speaking.

"But even in other places that have no obvious reason to talk differently, Canadians have developed strong regionalisms." 

Patriotic wordsmiths should not be surprised to learn that regional differences are pronounced, said Edmonton writer, poet and educator Tim Cusack.

"It's interesting to see how a word or a concept for a word becomes localized by region," Cusack said in an interview with CBC Radio's Edmonton AM. 

"Researchers suggest it's because of isolation, that over time, a certain word or product brand name comes to represent the concept." 

Bunnyhugs and soccer baseball 

Canadian slang creates clear dividing lines among the provinces.

For instance, if you wake up on the wrong side of the bed, are you cranky or crooked? 

Crooked is a term used almost exclusively by native Newfoundlanders to describe general grouchiness, the survey said. 

Chesterfield appears to be a relic of a bygone era, with only Newfoundlanders and Cape Bretoners still using the charming term with any regularity. 

The country is divided on the preferred terminology for evening meals, the study concluded. People in B.C. and southern Ontario are likely to describe their late-day feed as dinner, while the rest of Canada strongly prefers the term supper. Prairie-dwellers will know that sometimes dinner actually refers to lunch for those raised in the West.

Only one province has a notable word for hoodie. Saskatchewan was the only province on the map to describe these cozy garments as bunny hugs. 

It's just one more anomaly on the map, said Cusack.

"It's some of these concepts that you would take for granted," he said. "All Canadians agree that Kraft Dinner should be called Kraft Dinner, with one exception, Victoria and Vancouver, where it's mac and cheese.

'When in Rome'

Chances are that at some point you've done a double take when a friend or relative from another province uses a word you've never heard before, Cusack said.

As a New Brunswick native now living in Alberta, he has seen first-hand how Canadian language can get lost in translation. 

He remembers the way his first class of students outside the East Coast stared at him, awestruck, when he asked them to "put on your sneakers so we can go outside and play some soccer baseball." 

His students had no idea what he was talking about. 

To eastern Canadians, kickball is soccer baseball. Prairie dwellers call their running shoes runners, not sneakers.

Cusack said newcomers to a region often notice subtle changes in language, though after time people tend to adapt the local dialect.

"When in Rome, do as the Romans do," said Cusack. "I think people who migrate or come to this part of the world, they pick up on the vernacular, they want to learn the local expressions. 

"And they're more ready to adapt those because that's what Canada's all aboot, eh?" 

Listen to Edmonton AM with host Mark Connolly, weekday mornings at CBC Radio One, 93.9 FM in Edmonton. Follow the morning crew on twitter @EdmAMCBC