What is Canadian English?

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Barry asks

What is the difference between Canadian English and US English?

There is no official Canadian English. In general, Canadian English follows British English in spelling, but American English in punctuation. However, on the spelling front, Canadian English is inconsistent. Canadian post-secondary education has a strong American influence because many Americans came to Canada in the 1960s and early 1970s to avoid fighting in the Vietnam War. Today, academics can easily cross the border for teaching positions because they are the type of job that can only be held by someone with particular qualifications. As a result, Canadian colleges and universities do not enforce British spelling rules consistently. In fact, my own degree, from Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, British Columbia, is “Honors English”, not “Honours English” as would be correct in British English.

Because of the great influence of American culture on Canada, and because of the slack standards in Canadian schools, I think the British spelling will fade away over time and Canadian English will become much more identical to US English.

Canadian English does follow American punctuation. In particular, this refers to how one places a period at the end of a sentence containing a quote. In British style, the period is only inside the quote if there is a period in the original. In US English, one places the period before the quotation mark at all times. Also, British English uses single quotation marks for most quotations, and only uses double quotation marks for a quote within a quote. American English is the opposite. There are also subtle differences with the use of dashes.

When I edit work for Canadian students, I usually follow their cue. If they are using American spelling, I keep the American spelling. However, if the paper uses both spellings, I edit it to be consistent with whichever spelling system is used more. As with all style issues, consistency is important.

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