UVic prof studies Victoria’s British accent

The professor has been contacted by a deluge of people eager to be interviewed or share details of their British heritage.

You say “to-may-to” and I say “to-mah-to.”

If you’re a native of Greater Victoria, Alexandra D’Arcy wants to hear from you.

The University of Victoria linguistics professor is on a mission to uncover just how much Victoria lives up to its reputation for being “More British than the British,” at least when it comes to the way we speak.

“We overtly recognize the British side to who we are,” said D’Arcy who recently put out a call for natives of Greater Victoria to participate in the language study.

“We have always had a very, very large substrate of people who have come to Victoria from the British Isles, and England in particular, and this continues to be the case right through to the present day. It would be strange if there wasn’t some kind of reflex of having ongoing British input to how we speak.”

From 1850 through 1920, 30 per cent of Victorians immigrated from the British Isles.

D’Arcy is currently combing through audio records at the Royal B.C. and the UVic archives in search of key words and phrases that distinguish British and North American speech in Victoria. Subtleties include the word “news.” Brits pronounce it as “nyooz,” whereas North Americans say “nooz.”

Other words on her radar include schedule – “shedule” versus “skedule” – and due, which, like news, tends to be pronounced “dyoo” or “do,” depending on which side of the pond you’re from.

“We don’t sound English – as in being from England – we sound Canadian, but we have this really strong sense of being very British,” said D’Arcy who hails from the Lower Mainland, but has a long family history in Greater Victoria.

D’Arcy’s study is the first of it’s kind in Canada and what she calls a “golden opportunity” to watch how a dialect of Canadian English has evolved. While she doesn’t expect to identify a Victoria-specific accent per se, early results have affirmed that there is a difference in the way language is used in Victoria compared to other Canadian cities – including as close as Vancouver.

“There’s a critical gap in what we know because Victoria and Vancouver are different on every level,” she said. “Our settlement history is different. We have completely different demographics and economies, so, on that basis alone, there’s no reason to believe Vancouver and Victoria are going to pattern in lockstep when it comes to how we use language.”

Since she initially put out the call for participants last week, the professor has been contacted by a deluge of people eager to be interviewed or share details of their British heritage. The goal of the study, aided by nine research assistants, is to create a detailed description of English as it’s used in Victoria that could be used for pedagogy, second language teaching, language assessment and treatment.

Any native Victorians who would like to participate, or anyone who has voice recordings of native Victorian they’d like to contribute, can email adarcy@uvic.ca or call 250-472-4579.

nnorth@saanichnews.com