Updated: Jan 16, 2019
I came across a set of linguistic maps on Facebook recently. They’re maps of Canada – there are 23 of them highlighting the regional variables in the words we use across the country. For example, a little-known fact is that while the entire country calls a sweatshirt with a hood a “hoodie,” in Saskatchewan, they call it a “bunny hug.” Apparently, they really do. I like the imagination of those two words – bunny hug.
So, what’s the difference between a language and a dialect? John McWhorter gives a pretty good explanation in this article from The Atlantic; in short, “in popular usage, a language is written in addition to being spoken, while a dialect is just spoken.” Throw in a strong accent and sometimes the regional dialect can be as hard to understand as a foreign language.
I grew up in an area of Ontario that was settled by the Irish. The influence of the Irish dialect was noticeable in some words, and I like to think there is a bit of a lilt in the way language is (or used to be) spoken there. Indeed, when I went to Ireland the first time, I was often asked which part of Ireland I was from. It could have been a legitimate question, but I suspect, really, they were just pulling my leg to give me a false sense of belonging.
I think it’s fun to explore language through a regional lens. So, what words differ in usage across Canada? Well, do you wear a toque or a hat (Nunavut and Newfoundland) in winter? Do you pay your hydro bill (Quebec and Ontario) or your electricity bill? What do you sit on – a chesterfield (Newfoundland) or a couch or sofa? Do your kids use pencil crayons (most of Canada), coloured pencils (Quebec) or leads (Newfoundland)?
I get my milk at a convenience store in Ontario, but in the Prairies, you buy milk in a corner store. In Quebec, it’s a depanneur. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to lay out the utensils (mostly Ontario and Quebec) – I made Kraft dinner (everywhere but a tiny bit of BC).