Sali A. Tagliamonte

University of Toronto

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The Ontario Dialects Project: A Grassroots Perspective on History, Culture and Change

Why does language change, and how? Language-change tends to start in urban centres and spread out to rural locales (e.g. Chambers and Trudgill 1980). This means that changes underway in Toronto may not have yet reached outlying areas, particularly small Ontario towns that are far away. In this project we are documenting dialects in the hinterland of Ontario. We hope to discover understudied dialectical features and uncover the roots of Canadian English. I often devote summer research time to visiting communities, either on my own or with students. Recent destinations: North Bay (2009-10); Kirkland Lake, Temiskaming Shores, and South Porcupine (2011); Haliburton and Almonte (2012); Beaverton (2013); Wilno and Barry's Bay (2014); and Kapuskasing (2016).

The English language has been changing rapidly over the past century and the English spoken in Canada is no exception. My recent research attests to dramatic patterns of receding and innovating features. At least some of these changes are progressing in a unique way in Canada a finding which challenges the putative Americanization of Canadian English and world Englishes more generally. Although we have extensive information about changes underway in big cities like Toronto; what is the nature of these developments elsewhere in Ontario? A more informative picture of the origins and development of current change in Ontario requires the examination of a wider variety of communities, regions, and social groups.

The immense hinterland of Ontario presents a sociolinguistic situation antithetic to that of the urban centre of Toronto in the south.

First, from the beginning of the 19th century, immigrants from all over Northern England, Scotland, Northern Ireland and Europe were recruited into the mines, lumber camps and farm land making the population multi-ethnic from its founders rather than developing from Loyalist (British) migrants as in the South.

Second, due to the rich natural resources (mining, lumber, pulp, and paper), the economic base has had a strikingly different trajectory. The early resource boom economy has developed serious challenges of sustainability in the 20th century.

Third, small communities have a distinct social structure with dense, multiplex social networks and influential local agencies.

Fourth, the geographical distribution of the population across Ontario is scattered. Most towns and villages were built around rich farm lands, mineral deposits or lumber mills and so the populations have remained self-contained to the present day.

Importantly, Ontario communities have a strong and distinct local identity, perhaps instigated by the urban-centric industrial and affluent south.

Given the well-known sociolinguistic tenet that language encodes social relations, these factors together suggest that rural Ontario can be expected to be linguistically distinct from urban Ontario.

In sum, for academic as well as non-academic reasons, Ontario's many hinterlands presents an ideal context to explore Canada's dialects.

Check out our Ontario Dialects Page for an interactive exploration of dialectical words and expressions across Ontario!

I would be very interested in hearing from you about words or expressions in your community. Likewise, if you would like to suggest a place that I should visit next, please let me know!

Temiskaming Shores (2011)
Almonte (2012)

Haliburton (2012)
Wilno (2014)

Kapuskasing (2016)
Kapuskasing (2016)

Directions of Change in Canadian English

The Directions of Change (DoC) project seeks to collect and analyze new corpora of Canadian English and, in doing so, contribute new insights into language change. Two types of speech communities are being studied: 1) established populations in rural communities; and 2) Immigrant populations with in Toronto. The DoC project sits on the foundations of The Toronto English Corpus (Tagliamonte, 2003-2006), a collection of sociolinguistic interviews with 'old-line' Torontonians, and the largest corpus of Toronto English ever collected. The main focus will be comparative analysis of features known to be currently undergoing change in Toronto with this data.

The Toronto English Project

The Toronto English project explores how social and cultural changes are taking place in Toronto and in society more generally, and how these are reflected in the way people talk. To do this, we have created a corpus of 'old-line' Toronto English - a record of experiences, memories, and stories about living in Toronto from people who were born and raised here. Currently the corpus consists of 214 men and women between the ages of 8 and 92.

Our biggest problem has been finding people who were actually born and raised in the city. Where are they? There are only six areas in the city where non-immigrants represent a sizable part of the population. These are certain wards in the following neighbourhoods: The West End, The Annex, East York, Scarborough, Eglinton/Lawrence, and The Beaches. Our corpus currently contains a sample of speakers from each of these areas.

Check out some current findings from Toronto English!

Last updated: November 8, 2018

© 2014-18 Sali A. Tagliamonte