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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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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

  • 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 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 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) – Alex Kinman Jun 3 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. – Alex Kinman Jun 3 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. – Luke Sawczak Jun 4 at 2:12
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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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