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TV Stereotypes about exaggerated Canadian accents not withstanding, to me Canadian English sounds identical to standard U.S English. I can't tell English speaking Canadians from Americans with neutral accents unless the former actually identify themselves as such.

Why did the Canadian accent remain so close to the standard U.S accent, given how many very distinctive regional accents (Southern, Texas, Midwestern, Boston, NY/NJ, etc...) developed in the U.S that are very different from the neutral accent? Shouldn't have English speakers' accent in Canada diverged in a similar way as those regional examples I mentioned?

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There was a large amount of movement of people back and forth across the international border while the US and Canada were being settled. Such movement tends to homogenize the dialects. Evidence for this movement is this list I compiled of US places named for Canadian cities:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._places_named_for_non-U.S._places#Canada

(I'd compiled the same list for Canada, but it got deleted for reasons I still don't understand.)

Note that there's very few places in the list that are not in northern US states west of New England. The same states also dominate the Canadian list. Since the "neutral" US accent is found in those states, there was obviously a lot of interaction across the border which helped keep the two areas from developing radically different dialects.

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I have three possible reasons why you can't tell a "neutral" Canadian accent from a "neutral" American accent, which probably synergize.

The first is that urban centers speed up language evolution. So many people interacting, making and breaking social classes and other cliques, "necessitating" the need for new shibboleths every other month.

The second is dialect continuum. New York shares borders with Ontario, so it makes sense that an Ontarian would sound similar to an upstate New Yorker. The same could be said for British Columbians and Washingtonians or other state-province neighbors.

The third is dialect experience. If you have spent your formative years steeped in a dialect, you know all or most of it's shibboleths, at least subconsciously, which translates to being able to "just tell" where someone's from. If you can't, they all sound the same, unless there is a deliberate stereotype.

This is why (most) Britons don't sound like (most) Americans and where the South vs. North split comes from - both sides found stereotypes they use and abuse to purposefully distinguish themselves from each other

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  • Except for the loss of the contrast between Don and Dawn, British Columbian native English speakers are indistinguishable from Ontarians in terms of accent. Probably ethnic background and socioeconomic status are more relevant variables. Now that people are so mobile, the geographic notion of "dialect" is wobbly.
    – jlawler
    Jun 3, 2019 at 23:07
  • For the record, I'm a Virginian born in Connecticut whose father is a sailor from Washington and whose mother is a Korean vet from New York, and I went to the local NATO school for my elementary education. As a result, I speak the Military Standard Dialect and find it difficult to distinguish between dialects.
    – No Name
    Jun 3, 2019 at 23:16
  • I've spent significant amounts of time in NY, Boston, and Georgia. Grew up in Kansas and had a noticeable accent which I lost as an adult (after spending my 20s overseas). I've never been to Ontario, but I've heard English Speaking Canadians in Montreal. Currently live in Seattle and have been to BC several times. I can't tell the difference between people in Seattle, Vancouver, Victoria or English speakers in Montreal, and I don't notice an accent on any Canadian TV shows. (on the other hand, I speak fluent French and can notice Quebecois a mile away) Jun 3, 2019 at 23:16
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    "Would you be able to tell a Seattlite from a New Yorker?" Yes - instantly. I can also tell generic "redneck" (What my family speaks back in KS) from Deep South - which a lot of people can't seem to distinguish. Jun 3, 2019 at 23:29
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    To riff on this answer: People densely packed together tend to find ways to differentiate themselves. People scattered sparsely tend to find ways to unite. Hence the many dialects of London but the nearly identical BC and Toronto accents. The U.S. is much denser than Canada. Jun 4, 2019 at 2:12
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The North American accent is primarily an evolution from Scottish Irish accents. We hard roll our r’s—“carrrr”, “hearrrrt”—unlike the other colonial accents that don’t pronounce the r unless it hits another vowel.

It always made me wonder how they ever learn to spell words, as growing up in Canada we were always instructed to sound it out. Having said that, I can usually determine an American accent pretty quickly, but the U.S. rarely hear our accents as foreign. I also lived overseas and in Australia. I had another Canadian friend there that told me Aussies would regularly ask if he was Irish. I said “No way, they're mental… we do not sound Irish”.

To my disbelief when I first moved to Sydney, I got a job in a call centre for a telecom company, and to my surprise was asked quite a few times if I was Irish. Many take the hard r as Irish. Also to my great astonishment and surprise I had two or three ask if I was Canadian. “You're Canadian aren’t you?” always made me beam with pride. “Yes I am, I’m shocked you can clock my accent, most just think I’m a yank.” He said “No, mate it is subtle but there is a definite difference, once you are in fluid speech”. He said that we articulate more, he said that we do not use their “y’all” and those types of tells. He also remarked that cadence was a tell for him. The U.S. have regional tells in their speech. To unaware ears identical. To those that are fascinated by accents, it is easily picked out.

Anglophones in French Canada have a funny accent and use French expressions. For things like turning off the lights they will say “close the lights, and to a questionb like “Did you get your hair cut” they will answer “Yes, I got them cut”, a direct translation from French form.

BC, the West Coast, probably has the most generic of North American accents, but we have expressions that only British Columbians use, words like gonch for underwear. If I ever heard someone out east use the word gonch I would instantly know from BC. When I was working in Australia I had so many a-holes call me a dumb C Yank, “Why don’t ya f off back to America” (their mobile service disconnected). I would politely say “Actually sir, I’m Canadian, not American”. The reply was “Same f-in difference, ya dumb C”. Yes, never been called that word in my life, let alone on the telephone.

I eventually dumped my North American accent and assimilated. Australian is a very difficult one to mimic; not the country one that everyone makes fun of but a clean Oz accent. I loved not being asked if I was a tourist, or how long I was visiting for.

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    Your idea that "the North American accent is primarily an evolution from Scottish Irish accents" is simply flawed. There is a strong influence of historical Scots-Irish dialects on speech in the Southern US as well as limited influence in other places, but the main source of origin of modern North American English is widely agreed to be 17th-19th century accents from England.
    – Graham H.
    Dec 4, 2023 at 17:25
  • pronouncing r that is not pre-vocalic ("hard r") is not what rolling an r means. That term generally refers to a trill.
    – Tristan
    Dec 15, 2023 at 15:51

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