Camp or cottage? Researcher tracks how northern Ontarians speak

·2 min read
University of Toronto Prof. Sali Tagliamonte has managed to get words like 'keener' added to the Oxford English Dictionary. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC News - image credit)
University of Toronto Prof. Sali Tagliamonte has managed to get words like 'keener' added to the Oxford English Dictionary. (Tina Mackenzie/CBC News - image credit)

Is it a camp or a cottage?

Depending on where you live in Ontario, the answer could be very different.

Sali Tagliamonte, a linguistics professor from the University of Toronto who grew up in Kirkland Lake, Ont., has taken that question seriously.

Tagliamonte and her students track the province's different regional dialects through the Ontario Dialects Project. The website lists different words and their unique uses in different parts of the province.

She decided to document how Ontarians speak differently when she was telling her students in Toronto how she had a "soaker" — when you step in a rain puddle and get your feet wet — one day.

They had no idea what she was talking about.

"And I suddenly realized, 'Hey, let's leave the city and go up north where I come from.' Because I bet I can find some very interesting words and expressions and things to study up north," Tagliamonte said.

And to build their database, Tagliamonte and her students have spoken with people from different parts of the province and made note of how they speak, without prompting them to use certain regional words.

"We don't notice the words that are part of our own lexicon, that are part of our own ways of speaking," Tagliamonte said.

"And that's why it's so cool, because people don't know the words that are their words. They just use them."

Tagliamonte said she believes her work is important because how people speak helps tell the history and culture of a place.

By speaking with Ontarians she has even gotten some Canadian words added to the Oxford English Dictionary.

One example is the word "keener," which the dictionary added in June 2015.

"A new Canadian colloquial sense of keener n.2 refers to 'a person, esp. a student, who is extremely or excessively eager, zealous, or enthusiastic,'" said a blog post at the time by Oxford English Dictionary assistant editor Jonathan Dent.

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