HOWTO sound Canadian

Writing for the OED, Stefan Dollinger (director of the Canadian English Lab, University of British Columbia at Vancouver) provides indispensable notes on talking Canadian:

We can find the linguistic expression of the Canadian east-west connection at all linguistic levels. Vowels, for instance, love to change but when they change in Canada they have been shown to rarely – for some changes never—to cross the Canada-US border. For example, the ‘Canadian shift’, first detected in the mid 1990s, affects the ‘short front vowels’, i.e. the three vowels exemplified in black, pen or tin. In Canada these vowels move in the opposite direction to the well-established ‘Northern Cities Shift’ in parts of the United States. So in Canada, the vowel in black, for instance, is pronounced farther back in the mouth. Canadian dialects are actually diverging from the American dialects that have experienced the shift, and this despite the high levels of interaction between the two countries.

Other features include ‘Canadian raising’, the most-widely known Canadian pronunciation feature. Canadian raising affects the diphthongs in words such as wife, price or life and house, about or shout. Canadian pronunciations, though far from universal, are often perceived as weef instead of wife and a boot instead of about by outsiders. There are also other, less well-known Canadian differences, such as the Canadian integration pattern of foreign sounds represented by<a>. In words like pasta, lava, plaza, and drama the foreign <a> sound acquires the vowel in father in American English and British English, but the vowel of cat in Canadian English.

Canadian English

(Image: Canada, a Creative Commons Attribution (2.0) image from alexindigo's photostream)