book notice: New-Dialect Formation in Canada

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Sat Nov 29 17:32:03 UTC 2008

New-Dialect Formation in Canada

Announced at
AUTHOR: Stefan Dollinger
TITLE: New-Dialect Formation in Canada
SUBTITLE: Evidence from the English modal auxiliaries
SERIES: Studies in Language Companion Series 97
PUBLISHER: John Benjamins Publishing Company
YEAR: 2008

Graeme Davis, Faculty of Education and Language Study, Open University, UK

This volume is a systematic study of the modal auxiliaries of Canadian English
based on material from Ontario, with the results applied to the question of
new-dialect formation and the emergence of Canadian English.

The book has what is in effect two sections (chapters one to five, and chapters
six to ten) which will appeal to different readerships. The earlier chapters
present an overview of the history of Canadian English along with
of corpus and theoretical framework; the later chapters present the specific
development of modal auxiliaries which occur during the formation of a
new dialect.

The outline history of Canadian English is readily accessible to the general
reader with an interest in the topic. It reads well as a worthwhile narrative,
providing a near-comprehensive survey of the research which has previously been
carried out in the area. Dollinger moves on to offer succinct statements on the
distinct language systems of Canadian English under the headings lexis,
phonetics and phonology, and morphology and syntax. The book has a
special focus
on the dialect of Ontario, which is explored through a study of settlement
patterns of this province. Language influences are described, including First
Nation, English (including Scots English), French, Scottish Gaelic, Irish,
Welsh, Dutch and German, and the settlement patterns are well illustrated by
maps. Migration from the United States into Canada is considered, the impact of
religious groups, particularly the Quakers, and the issue of social class,
including the idea that the Scottish settlers were often middle class and
therefore tended to have a high status dialect. Dollinger introduces both his
data source and the theoretical framework in which he is working. He bases his
work on the pre-Confederation section of the _Corpus of Early Ontario English_
(CONTE), a University of Vienna project which takes texts from three genres:
diary entries, letters and local newspapers. The theoretical framework
both specific Canadian contributions (Morton Bloomfield, Matthew H Scargill)
along with processes for new-dialect formation as set out by Peter Trudgill,
whose concepts form a basis for much of the subsequent discussion.

The second part of the book, chapters six to ten, turns to the specific area of
the modal auxiliaries as they exemplify new dialect formation in Ontario
Canadian English. Eleven are analyzed: _can_, _could_, _may_, _might_, _must_,
_have to_, _shall_, _will_, _should_, _would_ and _ought to_. The analysis
offered is careful and thorough, and it is in these chapters that the
book makes
its new contribution. Using quantitative data Dollinger demonstrates the
formation of a new dialect in Canada in the late eighteenth and nineteenth
century. Occasionally the data are not sufficiently copious to yield
statistically significant results as established by chi-square analysis – this
an inevitable problem with a data sample that is less than ideal. The
process is
mapped against the theoretical three-stages of new-dialect formation
by Trudgill, and in doing so both confirms the validity of Trudgill's
theory and
establishes the need for extending the theory. An interesting final question is
posed in the date from which Canadian English as a distinct form may be said to
exist. Dollinger distinguishes urban and rural dates, with the rural areas
lagging behind in the process, and suggests a date of around 1850.

The whole field of Canadian English is one which is curiously
neglected. Many of
the earlier studies were little more than antiquarian miscellanies, while even
among the later works it is hard to identify a definitive history of Canadian
English. It would appear that there is not the level of interest within Canada
to support the sort of level of study and publishing output which is found for
other major national varieties of English – a curious situation. This present
book is based on research carried out at the University of Vienna and published
through a Dutch publishing house, a state of affairs which characterizes the
lack of a tradition in Canada for studying Canadian English. There is therefore
a clear need for this book.

The situation where there is such a lack of published work setting out the
history of Canadian has necessitated the approach adopted by Dollinger of
providing substantial background material in order to contextualize his primary
research. I do not see how this could have been avoided, yet its effect is
nonetheless to create what can seem like two books in one. It is a challenge to
hold together these two distinct strands to the book, though one which
performs remarkably well. Much background material does need to be
made explicit
for this primary study, and inevitably takes up much of the book.

The quality of the primary research is clearly rigorous, while the survey of
previous studies in Canadian English is extensive and careful. The book shows
the hall-mark of painstaking and extensive scholarship, and has the pleasing
characteristic of being written in an accessible and clear prose
style. The data
are limited to a database of 125,000 words (the pre-Confederation material from
CONTE), which would appear to be just adequate for the study undertaken, though
it is nonetheless a more limited corpus than would be ideal.

Inevitably more needs to be done – a larger corpus, a study of the dialect of
other provinces in Canada, more work in developing the theory of new-dialect
formation – but this is presumably for subsequent studies and another
of scholars. Dollinger does much which will help later workers in the
field. For
example appendices present additional material which will be of interest to
specialists, and there is a bibliography that must approach the status of
definitive for the field.

This is a book which establishes a bench-mark for the achievements of research
in the field to date. It is an indispensable starting point for subsequent
research, and will, I believe, come to be regarded as authoritative.

Dr Graeme Davis is presently lecturer in English language with the Open
University, UK, previously head of English Language and head of Modern
at Northumbria University, UK. A mediaeval linguist specializing in
the Germanic
languages he has published books on the syntax of Old English, Old
Icelandic and
Old High German. Recent work has included dialect dictionaries for Surrey
English, Home Counties English and West Country English, as well as an account
of Orkney and Shetland Norn within his _The Early English Settlement of Orkney
and Shetland_ (Birlinn, 2007).

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