Atlantic Canadian English

Atlantic Canadian English is the class of related Canadian English dialects spoken in the Atlantic provinces of Canada and notably distinct from Standard Canadian English.[1] The set of dialects comprises Canadian Maritime English (or Maritimer English) as well as Newfoundland English. It is heavily influenced by British, Irish English, and Acadian French—especially in northern New Brunswick.


An example of typical Maritime English is the pronunciation of the letter t. The flapping of intervocalic /t/ and /d/ to alveolar tap [ɾ] between vowels, as well as pronouncing it as a glottal stop [ʔ], is less common in the Maritimes, so that "battery" is pronounced [ˈbætɹi] instead of with a glottal stop. The varied, but similar, Maritimer accents are influenced by an overwhelming majority of early Scottish and Irish immigration.

Like most varieties of Canadian English, Maritime English contains a feature known as Canadian raising: diphthongs /aɪ/ and /aʊ/ are raised to, respectively, [ʌɪ] and [ʌʊ] before the voiceless consonants /p/, /t/, /k/, /s/, /f/.

Although dialects vary from region to region, especially based on the rural/urban divide, there are some other commonalities. For example, there is heavy rhotacism on vowels preceding /r/. Also, low front vowels seem to be lengthened and sometimes tensed, which in some regions can result in raising, and even a very slight rounding of the higher vowels and diphthongs. These phonetic differences are not all systematic; some lexical items do not apply to these rules, so perhaps it the vowel system is in a process of shift, or there could be interference from other, more urban dialects and the media.

The interrogative "right?", raised to [ˈrʌɪt], is also used as an adverb, as in "It was right foggy today!". This sense may be influenced by Welsh word "reit" [ˈrəɪt], which means "very, rather, or considerably". "Right" is often, though less today than before, used with this meaning in the American South, too. "Some" is used as an adverb as well, especially in Nova Scotia, as in "This cake is some good!". Another example is "s'pose" or "s'poseda" for "suppose" or "supposed". Such expressions tend to be widely used in the rural Maritimes, but are less common in urban areas.

Terminal hard consonants are often dropped from pronunciation when found in sentences. "Ol'" rather than "old", "col'" rather than "cold", "tha'" rather than "that", "suppose'" rather than "supposed." (with the -s pronounced softly, rather than as a -z). When it is pronounced it is softly, almost imperceptibly.

Common in New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island and Nova Scotia, but also found in downeast Maine, is aspirated speech; i.e.,"Yeah" or "No", spoken while inhaling. (colloquial pronunciation). This speech pattern bears no particular significance, other than its unusual nature. Competitive aspirated speech has been observed, with the intensity of aspiration increasing as conversation passes from one person to the next. The speaker is generally unaware of using this technique, and will frequently deny using it, when confronted. This is often referred to as a "Gaelic Gasp."

Individual words and dialects may vary between provinces, and indeed, will vary between towns. On Prince Edward Island or Nova Scotia, "Mouth" may be pronounced "Mewth". In Newfoundland, "Mouth" may be pronounced as "Mout". Either province may also pronounce "Look" as simply "Luh", but only if the word was not used as part of a bigger sentence, such as pointing in a direction and saying "luh!", otherwise the letter "k" is pronounced, "Look here!". The phrase (for eating) "get it into you" is spoken quickly and almost as one word, "giggit-inta-ya". The phrase "Go away with you" (a phrase of disbelief) would be pronounced "go-way-with-ya" or "go-wee-witch-ya" spoken quickly as if all of one word. Having a big meal may be called "having a big feed" or "having a big scoff".

Terms of British origin are very much still a part of Maritime English, depending on dialects. Chesterfield, front room, gob, and parlour are examples of this. Another is the use of the somewhat vulgar "arse" in place of the American and central and western Canadian form, "ass". Other examples of British terms that may be heard in the rest of Canada, but less frequently than in the Maritimes, include "holiday" for vacation, "sweets" for candy, "Mum" for Mom and "cellar" for basement. Prince Edward Islanders often use more British terms than any other Maritimers, due to the overwhelming homogeneity of the province's Scottish and Irish ethnicity. Examples include referring to the hood of a car as an "engine bonnet" and a barn as a "byre." The latter is much more common amongst older speakers. The arse end of a car may also be referred to as the "boot". "Go to the arse end of the car, lift the bonnet, and check inside the boot. Luh! I found the tire iron! Right where it's s'poseda be!". Going for a "ramble" would refer to going for a long walk for pleasure. Oddly enough, calling someone "shitty-arse" can be, and often is, a term of endearment (light-hearted respect).

Truancy is often referred to as playing hookey, skipping, ditching, or jigging. Some Maritimers, particularly Prince Edward Islanders, will describe treacherous winter roads as "slippy" rather than "slippery". Some Maritimers will also add an /s/ to the end of "somewhere" and "anywhere", producing "somewheres" and "anywheres"

The names of meals are not always used in the same way as in other parts of the country: "dinner" may refer to the meal eaten at midday; "supper" is the evening meal; and occasionally, particularly with older speakers, "lunch" refers to a snack eaten outside of regular meal times (for example, a "bed lunch" is a bedtime snack). "Breakfast" is used for the morning meal, as it is elsewhere in Canada.

Many terms and phrases that are derived from the region's nautical background and are often shared with Britain, Ireland and New England. Examples of this include terms such as "reef" in place of "pull" and a deckhand on a boat being referred to as a "cork." A common way to describe drunkenness is to state that someone is "three sheets to the wind," which is a phrase used to describe a ship swaying in the wind due to loose sheets (ropes) in the rigging. A "jigger" can refer to any object, "I can't change the TV channel without the jigger!" The phrase "I like the cut of your jib" (a jib is a forward sail which cuts or draws into the wind) means to understand or agree what someone is talking about in a conversation, or to approve of ones actions. It is not uncommon to hear one use the word "downstream" to refer to any location being a distance or direction to head to; such as "Im heading downstream into town". The world "Landed" (a boat landing on shore) can refer to arriving at a location by any means; "I landed at my neighbours house last night".


  1. Labov, William; Sharon Ash; Charles Boberg (2006). The Atlas of North American English. Berlin: Mouton de Gruyter. pp. 141, 148.
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