Orthography, eh?

I missed writing this on Canada Day! Sorry, I have a few other things going on right now. But I figure it's Canada Day long weekend, smooshing into US Independence Day, so I'll still write what I planned to write.

I migrated here from the United States. As you might expect of someone who did such a thing, I have long been a Canadaphile. I was in love with Canada, French and English, land of all my ancestors, well before I realized I would live here. And one of the many things about Canada that I love is the way we spell.

Now, that's not an easy thing to love. Why? Because we can't always figure out what "Canadian spelling" actually is! It's somewhere between British and American, but sometimes it's also both.

We drive our cars on tires, not tyres, and parallel park at the curb, not the kerb. I am the organizer of a Meetup group. I'm supposed to organize events. Unlike in the UK, both spelled with a "z" (yes, that's "zed"). But I am a member of an organisation, spelled with an "s." There are lots of those. We can't figure out whether we analyse or analyze a situation, but those of us who are civilized live in a civilisation.

Just as in Britain, I have a driver's licence, and the federal government has a ministry of defence, but if we want a drink we hope a restaurant is licensed, and if challanged on something we might become defensive. It takes practice to get to Carnegie Hall (or maybe Roy Thomson Hall), so if we want to get there we'd better make the time to practise. I see those and words like them get messed up on both sides of the pond, some going with US spellings "to practice" and "driver's license" and others writing "over-correctly" about "piano practise." The rule is consistent though: if it's a verb or an adjective derived from a verb, use an "s"; if it's a noun, use a "c." I will leap to the defence of this spelling convention! To learn it, I just had to practise a bit.

The middle of something is the centre. I try to get more fibre in my diet. I am 176 centimetres tall (in bare feet). But if I were measuring how high an airplane is flying, I'd use an altimeter. We distinguish between "meter" (something for measuring) and "metre" (the basic Système Intérnational unit of length). Except when we don't. I believe we can blame Alberta for that one.

And then there is the one that everyone knows about. We use spellings such as "colour" and "honour," right? Well, maybe. If you consult the Canadian Press style guide, you use the shorter form. Apparently, use of the American spelling for those words has been around pretty much as long as Confederation. I remember when Maclean's magazine officially stopped using the CP guide and began to spell those words like "real Canadians." Because, indeed, the "ou" spellings do prevail. Just not always.

And in case you thought it was simple, it's not. A picture might be colourful, but a noble act is honorable. And even though I love glamour, I have to remember that the dress I bought (or didn't buy) is glamorous.

I learned to spell in more-or-less standard Canadian by deliberate effort. I can only imagine how difficult it is to learn when you're growing up. You get the correct spellings in school (hopefully), but US television, publications, and advertising flood across our border. And then even the newspaper of record, the Globe and Mail, sometimes gets it wrong.

I'm not giving up. I don't live in the UK or especially in the US, and I'm not going to spell as if I do. I earned my English degree in the United States, but as an adaptable pedant (is that an oxymoron?), I am now thoroughly Canadianized. But not Canadianised. I think.

1 comment:

Anji said...

I'm impressed at how you came up with so many excellent examples.
Language is fascinating - grammar and spelling.

I'm looking forward to your next post on the differences between French and Canadian French ;)