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The Toronto Accent(s)

KofK:

I agree with you - I once had a very strong Long Island accent and after living away from LI during most of the 90s lost some of it...

Even after that period - I still have enough of an accent that there is no doubt in my mind that I may never lose all of it no matter where I go...

Thinking of Canadian "Eh's" - I remember how contagious that they once were - after long visits to Toronto and Ontario primarily back in the 80s
I began saying this over the more common US "Uh's" that I was used to...I won't forget that...

LI MIKE
 
There is a distinct accent of Canadian English spoken West of Quebec (English in Quebec and through Atlantic Canada has many variants); it's a bit difficult for an untrained ear to distinguish it from "accentless" American English, but it's fairly easy to detect once you know what to listen for. Canadian raising is the big tip off - for a Canadian, the vowel sound in "lout" is different from the vowel sound in "loud," ditto "writer" and "rider." This is where the whole "aboot" thing comes from.

Accents aren't stable; they go through their own internal sound changes over time, their boundaries shift, some die out and others are born. The Southern US accent, for example, has changed dramatically over the past few generations. Almost every young person in the American South speaks with a rhotic accent these days, despite a lingering stereotype of a non-rhotic drawl. You're not going to hear the Southern accent if that's the cue you're looking for. If you're looking for the pin/pen merger (another distinctive feature of the Southern US accent), you'll hear it loud and clear. It's even spreading North, further and further into the formerly "neutral American" Midwest.

In Canada, we've seen the emergence of a distinct sound change over the past several decades called the Canadian Shift. From the research I've read on it (and research into Canadian English phonology is pretty scanty), it seems to have started in or near Toronto sometime in the first half of the 20th Century. Older men may not exhibit this vowel shift at all, while it is nearly universally complete in young women (at least in Toronto, the shift has been moving at different paces through Ontario and into Western Canada). In broad terms, this shift has seen some vowels move lower and further back. Our neighbours directly across the border in the Northern Cities have seen their vowels move in the opposite direction, so we're actually becoming more distinct from each other here. That said, a (likely) unrelated but similar shift has occurred in California, which is reflected in the popular culture we consume here; the American English we hear on TV and in the movies sounds more "like us" than what you'd hear on the streets of Buffalo or Rochester.

I think, out of necessity, Torontonians tend to filter out a lot of these small differences in everyday life. Most of the people who live here aren't from here (they're either immigrants or transplants from other parts of the country). We've all learned how to cut through a thick accent - we've all had to - and in the process we've lost our ear for detecting subtle cues and the like.

All of that said, I believe a distinct Toronto accent has begun to emerge in Millennials, but I wouldn't know exactly how to describe it. It seems to come out strongly in me when I've had a few drinks (I get "Where's your accent from?" fairly often when I'm at bars out of town, especially in the US). The people in this video kind of come close to what I'm talking about: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZvHn0UpA1XU
 
I think, out of necessity, Torontonians tend to filter out a lot of these small differences in everyday life. Most of the people who live here aren't from here (they're either immigrants or transplants from other parts of the country). We've all learned how to cut through a thick accent - we've all had to - and in the process we've lost our ear for detecting subtle cues and the like

That's true but to be fair, there are examples of other cities which are likewise heavily populated by immigrants (and their children) as well as recent transplants from within their countries, like New York City and London, that nonetheless have distinctive homegrown accents the locals and outsiders alike can pinpoint to as "from that city".
 
....a (likely) unrelated but similar shift has occurred in California, which is reflected in the popular culture we consume here; the American English we hear on TV and in the movies sounds more "like us" than what you'd hear on the streets of Buffalo or Rochester.

But there's definitely no "Canadian Raising" down there though.
 
At first when I moved to the US, I thought I sounded no different than generic Americans, but after many years of living stateside I think I have a better ear for both regional Canadian and American accents.

I must say however, I have been guilty of asking Americans who I thought "sounded like me" and pronounced words in what I thought were "Canadian" ways if they were Canadian too, only to get a reply that they have never even lived in or been to Canada.

There was even one time when I heard two strangers beside me converse in a South Asian language on a city bus (in the US) and though I did not understand the language they spoke, I thought I heard the word "Ontario" as well as English names of Canadian towns repeated in the conversation. I said "Excuse me, I didn't mean to interrupt, but are you guys Canadians by any chance?". It turned out they were international students from India who were not Canadian or residents of Canada but had friends there, and they really were just happening to talk about Ontario at the moment.
 
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When I was down in Washington, D.C. for a couple of years, I used to get teased about the way I cut off certain vowel sounds on occasion. Slightly drunk undergrads (particularly from the South) would be all, "Say that again! The way you say house is so funny..." To your average Virginian, house is 'hawwwse' with a long, drawn-out vowel.
 
Finally, listen to the interviews in this 1989 video. It really shows how our accent has changed in the past 20 years:


Actually I think this video best represents how I speak (or at least how I think I speak). The newscasters that is, not most of the people they interview.

I'm 32 by the way.
 
http://www.narcity.com/toronto/40-things-youll-hear-a-scarberian-say/

Some of this is ridiculous, the other half I hear and use everyday.

I love seeing this put into a list. I never really considered myself a heavy user of slang, and people have indeed commented on how "proper" my English is, yet I know I use many of the phrases on this list. Still, Truuuuuuuuu, Dun Kno, Reach, Live, From Time, Don’t cheese me, In a minute, Soft, Are u dumb, Extra, Scrap, Low-key.

Also, use of these phrases aren't limited to Scarborough at all. They're used all across the city, depending on the specific social circles. I grew up and went to school downtown and heard these all the time.
 
It's interesting that Scarborough almost has an analogue of "Multicultural London English" in the UK-- a lot of the influence from Jamaican Patois can be heard in both London and Toronto's "East ends" alike.

I'm very interested in MLE, since Multicultural Toronto English (lets call it that) seems to be taking a very similar path as London's. Local hip-hop/R&B artists are embracing it into their music more than ever before, and with the looming resurgence of Dancehall-ish music in the city, and the solidification of the Toronto's identity amongst young people, I'd expect the dialect to become even stronger in the coming years.

The dialect isn't exclusive to Scarborough. It's used by young people across the city to varying degrees, depending on their social circles.
 

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