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Cape Breton accent

The Cape Breton accent describes variants of Canadian English spoken on Cape Breton Island, a large island on the north-eastern coast of the province of Nova Scotia in Canada, comprising about one-fifth of the province's area as well as population. Most of the inhabitants of European ancestry descend from people long resident on the island, and the community has had time to develop a local dialect. Many on the Island are descended from Highland Scottish settlers fleeing the Highland Clearances. But there has long been a French-Acadian element on the island, as well as Irish.[1]

The accents can be divided into three categories: the Western or Scottish Gaelic accent (Inverness, Judique, Mabou, the Margarees), the Industrial accent (Sydney, Glace Bay) and the French Acadian (communities surrounding Cheticamp, L'Ardoise and Isle Madame). There are also influences of the Irish Gaelic accent that can be heard in numerous communities throughout the Island.

Western accent

The primary influences on the accent are Scottish Gaelic and Scots. The rhythm of speech is generally quick-paced, with unstressed syllables often completely elided. Examples can be found with the speaking voices of performance artists The Rankins, Ashley MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster, or the comedy duo Hughie and Allan.

Some characteristics:

  • the s sound can be overstressed, almost approaching a soft th sound.
  • the a sound can be shortened- the name John Allan can be pronounced junall'n.
  • the a sound resembles the broad a type, similar to some English dialects

Industrial accent

This speech is heavily influenced by Irish settlers and is often the accent referred to as the Cape Breton accent. This accent has been popularized by comedians coming out of the Rise and Follies theatre/recording series and Maynard Morrison.

Some characteristics:

  • the long a sound is often pronounced like the a sound in the word baa as in Baa, Baa, black sheep
  • the oo can resemble a short u sound.
  • the d and t sounds can be dropped from some words where they appear in the middle, ie/ metal sounds like me el, bottle like baa el. The t sound is even dropped from Cape Breton.
  • the r is trilled resembling dialects of Scotland and Ireland.

French Acadian accent

This speech stems from the influence of Acadian settlers residing in French communities throughout Cape Breton, resulting in many loanwords.

Some characteristics:

  • Voiced th, as in "that", is usually replaced by a d sound, and voiceless th, as in "thin," is usually replaced by a t sound. For example, "three" can be pronounced as tree and "that" as dat. This can be seen in the stereotypical phrase "Dis, dat and de udder ting" (This, that and the other thing).

In other areas this also is the result of Gaelic influences where the sound "th" does not exist in the language and in some communities there is a notable mixture of both the Gaelic and French Acadian accents, particularly in the Richmond County area.

Other characteristics

Cape Breton speech also has some idiosyncratic expressions.

One feature of Cape Breton dialect is common use of the term "boy", but is given the spelling "b'y" and pronounced "bye" as in 'good-bye', to address a person to whom one is speaking in lieu of use of the person's name or a more common term such as "sir", "ma'am", "man", "my son" or "mate", originally when the addressee is male but now is used to refer to both genders. A plural form "b'ys" is used to address numerous people. The terms can also be used to refer to a person or people not being addressed. This feature of Cape Breton vernacular is also characteristic of Newfoundland English.


  1. ^ Ashe, Robert (2005), Halifax Champion: Black Power in Gloves / Robert Ashe, Formac Publishing Company, ISBN 978-0-88780-677-3