Ottawa Valley English

By Sophie Shields

If you’ve been for a day trip near Ottawa this summer, you might have happened upon some new vocabulary or expressions – welcome to Ottawa Valley English! Spoken traditionally in towns near the Ottawa River (Arnprior, Almonte, Lanark County, Renfrew, Carleton Place, etc.), Ottawa Valley English (OVE) is a variety of General Canadian English influenced by the historically strong Irish and Scottish presence in the region.

The Irish, as the main settlers of this rural region, left their mark on the English spoken in these townships. They especially affected pronunciation and grammar, leading to the traditionally Irish devoicing of first and last consonants – “very” becomes “fery” – and the use of the singular “is” in plural contexts – “The eggs is cracked” (OVE and Belfast English). Following the Napoleonic Wars, OVE was also strongly influenced by the surge of Scottish immigrants in the area, especially in Lanark and Renfrew counties.

The history of the Ottawa Valley has left behind a rich Scottish and Irish-influenced vocabulary. Indeed, many Gaelic and Scottish words have found their way into OVE: “gruamach” to describe a gloomy and overcast day, “ben” for living room, “rone” for eavestrough.

One of the most remarkable Irish influences in the Ottawa Valley is the popular use of “for to,” used in Northern Ireland English, instead of simply “to” – “I was at Dow’s Lake for to see the tulips.” It’s also a characteristic of some Newfoundland dialects. There are also many regional expressions with unknown origins, such as “by the liftin’” (Oh my goodness!), “Mind the time when” (Remember when) and “Fair to middlin’” (I’m not my best).

Nowadays, General Canadian English has become widespread but OVE, while endangered, is yet to disappear. So, next time you are out on a day trip near Ottawa, take a moment to listen to the people around you – could it be Ottawa Valley English?

Sophie Shields is a Carleton student studying global literature and a proud Franco-Ukrainian who is currently in Germany learning German. She is the social media coordinator for the Glebe Report.

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