Ottawa Valley Twang

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The Ottawa Valley Twang is a linguistic enclave within Canada.[1] It extends along the Ottawa River, from northwest of Montreal through the city of Ottawa and north of Algonquin Park.

There are at least ten distinct varieties of English dialects spoken in the Ottawa Valley, this diversity largely due to the settlement history of the area.[2] Phonetically, the Ottawa Valley twang is characterized by the lack of Canadian raising and the cot–caught merger (low-back vowel merger), two common elements of Standard Canadian English.[3] In terms of syntax, the twang features the use of “for to” in place of the “to” initiative.[4] Additionally, various regions of the Ottawa Valley possess their own vocabularies and features of speech as well.

Also referred to as the Ottawa Valley Brogue, the Ottawa Valley twang dialect pocket differs noticeably from the Standard Canadian English spoken in the region’s neighbouring urban areas, including Ottawa itself.[5]

History[edit]

While the French were among the first to settle in the Ottawa Valley during the early 19th century fur trade, they were later joined by the Scottish and Irish as the major cultural groups in the region. Work and trade opportunities made settlement in the Ottawa Valley attractive, as well as access to cheap land.[6] The valley’s population peaked in the years following 1891.

Although joined by Belgian, Swiss, Italian, German, Polish, and American Loyalist settlers, these cultures managed to remain fairly distinct from one another.[7] Concentrating in certain areas and preserving heritage languages and religions, these cultural pockets were what eventually led to the formation of the valley’s townships. While the characteristics of the Ottawa Valley twang are evident throughout the Glengarry, Lanark, Renfrew, Carleton, Grenville, Dundas, Stormont, Prescott, and Russell Counties, for example, each area also has their unique vocabularies and phonological traits as well.[8]

Scottish Influence[edit]

Following the Napoleonic Wars, Scottish groups settled primarily in the Glengarry, Lanark, and Renfrew Counties. Soldiers that had served the British Crown during the wars were offered free land grants throughout Upper Canada, particularly in the area known today as the Ottawa Valley. Over-represented in the British armed forces, a great number of Scottish men and their families received these grants and ended up settling in the valley.[9]

Glengarry County[edit]

Those who settled in Glengarry County were mostly Gaelic speakers arriving from the Scottish Highlands. They eventually learned English from the neighbouring American Loyalists to the West and South. English in Glengarry features occasional borrowing from Gaelic words, an example being “gruamach” to describe a gloomy and overcast day. Some phonological features are also transferred from Gaelic dialect, such as the marked devoicing of final voiced consonants as well as the alteration of consonant clusters.[10]

Lanark County[edit]

Many residents of Lanark County originated from the Scottish Lowlands, bringing vocabulary elements of their heritage dialects as well. The term “ben”, for example, is used to refer to what most Canadians would call a “living room”, or what Ottawa Valley inhabitants would call a “parlour”. “Rones” is used in place of “eavestroughs” and “gutters”.[11]

Renfrew County[edit]

While Renfrew County was also a Scottish Highland settlement, many of its original settlers seemed to have been English speakers already upon their arrival. Phonologically, the English of Renfrew County is not only influenced by Polish speakers in the region, but also by a greater contact with Irish populations.[12]

Loyalist Influence[edit]

The north shore of the St. Lawrence Valley is home to American Loyalist dialect pockets. Here, a dominant trend is the absence of the low-back vowel merger.[13] Unlike speakers of Standard Canadian English, these speakers do not merge the vowels in “cot” and “caught”. As a result, these two words would actually be pronounced differently from one another, while in Standard Canadian English these are referred to as homophones.

Irish Influence[edit]

The distinct dialects and styles of Ottawa Valley English are a result of the diversity and relative autonomy of the cultures present in the regions. However, one cultural group has had a particularly important impact in this effect, and they were the Irish settlers. The Irish were undoubtedly the most significant group of settlers in the Ottawa Valley in terms of numbers. In some townships, as many as 95% of the population claimed to be of Irish ethnicity in 1941. While much of Irish immigration can be attributed to the Great Famine in the 19th century, the Irish were also drawn to the Ottawa Valley for work opportunities, examples being in the thriving timber industry at the time as well as infrastructure projects.[14]

“For To”[edit]

One of the biggest Irish influences on Ottawa Valley twang and Ottawa Valley English is the introduction of “for to”. This was a syntactic feature where “for” was added to the “to” infinitive before verbs. The use of “for to” is an important characteristic of Belfast English, a prominent English dialect spoken in Northern Ireland.[15] While this is Irish-influenced, there has also been evidence of its use in Early English. Up to around the 1600’s, citizens of the poorer and lower classes have been known to use “for to” in their speech and dialogues.[16]

For to” has some common uses in Ottawa Valley twang. It can be used in statements of purpose.

  • “I went to the shop for to get the cheese.”[17]

It can be used in exclamations.

  • For to tell her like that!”[18]

It can also be used in sentences where the infinitive is featured as the subject.

  • For to stay here would just be as expensive.”[19]

Current State[edit]

Although home to a large, diverse collection of heritages and cultures, the distinctive traits of the Ottawa Valley Twang are arguably in decline. Years ago in 1975, Chambers observed that “Little of this twang can be found today as most of the surrounding area and all the city have assimilated to General English.”[20] As a result, there is also a lack of literature in this subject. The study by Ian Pringle and Enoch Padolsky is among the only research entirely focused on Ottawa Valley and its linguistic features and characteristics.

Even though it is one of the most recognizable traits of the Ottawa Valley Twang, the data available in regards to the use of “for to” is limited and susceptible to skewing. While speakers have historically used this syntactic feature, many sentences containing the use of “for to” are considered grammatically incorrect in today’s Standard Canadian English. As a result, the use of “for to” may be underreported, or even further denounced by what is sometimes referred to as “negative over reporting”.[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Clarke, Sandra. (ed.) 1993. Focus On Canada. Philadelphia: John Benjamins Publishing Company, vii.
  2. ^ The Valley’s Diverse Cultures. http://www.ottawavalleyculture.ca/ottawa-valley-stories/culture-and-hertiage/the-valley-s-diverse-cultures-4337.html. (2014).
  3. ^ Trudgill, Peter. 2006. Dialect Mixture versus Monogenesis in Colonial Varieties: The Inevitability of Canadian English. The Canadian Journal of Linguistics 51, 280.
  4. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 279.
  5. ^ Padolsky, Enoch and Ian Pringle. 1983. The Linguistic Survey of the Ottawa Valley. American Speech 12, 325.
  6. ^ Vineberg, Robert. 2010. The Role of Immigration in Ottawa’s Historic Growth and Development: A Multi-City Comparative Analysis of Census and Immigration Data. Ontario: Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP), 9.
  7. ^ The Valley’s Diverse Cultures. http://www.ottawavalleyculture.ca/ottawa-valley-stories/culture-and-hertiage/the-valley-s-diverse-cultures-4337.html. (2014).
  8. ^ Padolsky, Enoch and Ian Pringle. 1983. The Linguistic Survey of the Ottawa Valley. American Speech 12, 325.
  9. ^ Vance, Michael E.. 2012. Imperial Immigrants : The Scottish Settlers in the Upper Ottawa Valley, 1815–1840. Toronto: Dundurn, 53.
  10. ^ Padolsky, Enoch and Ian Pringle. 1983. The Linguistic Survey of the Ottawa Valley. American Speech 12, 327.
  11. ^ Padolsky, Enoch and Ian Pringle. 1983. The Linguistic Survey of the Ottawa Valley. American Speech 12, 327.
  12. ^ Padolsky, Enoch and Ian Pringle. 1983. The Linguistic Survey of the Ottawa Valley. American Speech 12, 327.
  13. ^ Padolsky, Enoch and Ian Pringle. 1983. The Linguistic Survey of the Ottawa Valley. American Speech 12, 326.
  14. ^ Vineberg, Robert. 2010. The Role of Immigration in Ottawa’s Historic Growth and Development: A Multi-City Comparative Analysis of Census and Immigration Data. Ontario: Ottawa Local Immigration Partnership (OLIP), 9.
  15. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 279.
  16. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 281.
  17. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 280.
  18. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 282.
  19. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 283.
  20. ^ Chesire, Jenny. (ed.) 1991. English Around the World: Sociolinguistic Perspectives. New York: Cambridge University Press, 134.
  21. ^ Henry, Alison. 1992. Infinitives in a For-To Dialect. Natural Language & Linguistic Theory 2, 282.