When Good Language Goes Bad: My Thoughts on Canadian English

Canadian English is an abomination. At first, I wholly rejected its infiltration into my writing. But I’m currently working on one essay for an American editor and another for a Canadian, and I can’t deny it any longer: I’m starting to lose my grip on superior orthography. These days, my finger twitches near the “s” when I type “analyze.”

I refuse to apologize for my pride in American English. After all, the U.S. doesn’t have a lot going for it these days, especially compared to Canada. Up until recently, I could only find three things that were unquestionably better in my home country: the American work ethic, our post office (you do not want to see the prices and reliability of a privatized mail system like Canada’s), and our version of English. Needless to say, the post office is fast dropping from the list. So now I’m just left with the work ethic—try getting any work done on your new home during the summer here, pandemic or no—and American English. And in my case, work and language are inextricably linked.

Canadian English is more or less British English, with just enough fluidity across the Atlantic to make things truly unbearable for anyone trying to school young people in its tending.

I have always found British English to be simultaneously fussy and vague. The omission of necessary commas strips sentences from well-demarcated gardens to abandoned yards. The extra “u” in its words offends efficiency. And as for the “z” versus “s” debate, well, maybe it’s just my Polish heritage, but a lexicon can never have too many “z’s.”

But the most detestable transgression—the sin, the sin—has to be starting a sentence with “as well.” When I first saw my Canadian students doing it, I assumed it was just a sign that they had more to learn about writing. Then I noticed my colleagues doing it in emails. Finally, I asked a co-worker who spent decades writing for newspapers whether Canadian English frowned on “as well” at the starter gate. He said it was acceptable. However, when I questioned my Canadian husband, who lived for fifteen years in the U.S., about whether a writer should start a sentence with “as well,” he promptly answered, “Only if you’re insane.” So it’s not just me.

I am grateful for certain terminology I’ve learned since I started living in Canada. Some of these words and phrases embody concepts new to me but very welcome, many related to reconciliation, such as “food sovereignty” and “land acknowledgements.” Others describe local delicacies: “Nanaimo Bars” (dessert as diabetes) or “Timbits.” A few are words no one ever needed to know, like “bonspiel.” Then there’s the habit of calling “grading” a paper “marking” here, which sets my mind off on a tangent that leads to a consideration of the stigmata. That one makes sense. Criticism of one’s writing can, I’ve found, feel like a crucifixion.

And yet . . . I’m a one-English girl. My heart will always belong to American English. As I spy the first cracks in its shield, I want to register, in writing, my undying loyalty.

As well, I just wanted to vent my frustrations.

Copyright © Cynthia Gralla, 2020