University of Toronto Magazine University of Toronto Magazine

I’ll Rassle You for a Dozen Up!

Small-town Ontario English preserves older terms that have fallen out of use in the province’s larger cities

If you take your packsack to the game of shinny, before going out to party hardy, you likely grew up far from downtown Toronto, perhaps in a northern Ontario town.

New research by Sali Tagliamonte, a linguistics professor at U of T, reveals how remote towns and villages in the province tend to preserve older terms (such as “up” for “draft beer”) that have fallen out of common use in urban settings, such as Toronto, where newer words originate.

For her research, Tagliamonte and students Jingwei Chen, Julia Chin and Ruth Maddeaux conducted more than 100 interviews with residents of Temiskaming Shores and Kirkland Lake in Ontario about their experiences growing up. In preparation for the fieldwork, Tagliamonte arranged visits to schools, retirement homes and community centres so the students could identify interview candidates. Their visit bore some interesting results. “We found features of English that are indeed old,” says Tagliamonte.

The word “chesterfield,” for example, can be traced back to the U.K. and is more commonly used than the words “sofa” or “couch,” which are preferred by Toronto urbanites. “Northern Ontario offers a rich dialect heritage,” Tagliamonte says. “People don’t realize how much Canadiana is preserved intact in the north country.”

For their part, the students learned the importance of meticulous detail in linguistics research. “We spent a month transcribing the stories verbatim,” says Chen. “You include every ‘oh,’ ‘ah,’ false starts . . . everything. For every hour of interviewing, you spend 10 hours transcribing.”

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