Please download a font to view these pages properly.

The Sounds of Southern Urban Ontario English

In the phonetics section and elsewhere on this site, English pronunciations are occasionally given. In each case – unless otherwise noted – the English dialect is assumed to be that spoken in the urbanised areas of south-central Ontario: i.e. Toronto, Hamilton. Even still, different people within this area will have different pronunciations depending on age, ethnicity, educational and economic backgrounds, and personal habits. Below are the ipa equivalents of this dialect in general.

English Consonants

(with standard English symbol in between /slashes/ where it differs from ipa)

  bilabial labio-dental interdental alveolar palato-alveolar retroflex palatal velar glottal
voiceless stop
voiced stop
voiceless fricative
voiced fricative
(see velar)
ɫ /l/
ɹ /r/
j /y/


  • Both /ʧ/ and /ʤ/ are affricates, not stops
  • The lateral /l/ [ɫ] is a velarised alveolar lateral, and could be placed either under the alveolar or velar column. But as the sound more often then not has no alveolar contact whatsoever, I classify the sound as a velar lateral.
  • [kʷ] as in ‹quick› is not classified as a separate consonant.
  • The alveolar sounds /t/, /d/, /l/, /n/, and /r/ plus a stressed vowel /ju/ delete the “y” onset of the diphthong: so ‹tune› is pronounced /tun/, not /tjun/. There may be some variation between /nju/ and /nu/ for ‹new›, with the latter being more common in connected speech.
  • /s/ and /z/ do not usually change to /ʃ/ and /ʒ/ before stressed /ju/ and the “y” sound is lost, as in ‘super’ [supɹ̩]. A word like ‘sure’ would have the underlying form [ʃɹ̩].
  • The alveolar sounds /t/, /d/, /s/, and /z/ are usually transformed into /ʧ/, /ʤ/, /ʃ/, and /ʒ/ before /jɹ̩/ and unstressed /ju/ or /jǝ/; the “y” sound is sometimes deleted. An example is /mǝʧɹ̩/ for ‹mature›, /ɛʤuket/ for ‹educate›, and /eʒə/ for ‹asia›. But /ǝndjɹ̩/ for ‹endure›, and /ɩʃju/ for ‹issue›.
  • The sounds /t/ and /d/ become the alveolar flap [ɾ] following a stressed syllable. ‘Pretty’ is pronounced [pɹɩɾi] and ‘tidy’ is [tɑiɾi].
  • Both voiceless and voiced stops are unreleased at the end of a word – and sometimes at the end of a syllable. This means that there is no puff of air after the /k/ sound in /bæk/ ‹back›. The result is that voiceless-voiced pairs become nearly identical: as in ‹luck› and ‹lug›. The words are primarily differentiated by the length of the vowel (see below), written phonetically as [ɫʌk¬] and [ɫʌːɡ¬].
  • English Vowels

    English Vowels


    Is Canadian Raising becoming Phonemic?

    The short answer is, I think so!

    Canadian Raising is a phenomenon which affects the vowels /au/ and /ai/. Typically, the onset of these vowels is quite low: [au] and [ɑi] respectively. But if one of these vowels occurs before a voiceless consonant, the onset is raised to [ɛu] and [əi]. Words like ‘Eyes’ and ‘Ice’ have significantly differenty vowel sounds, qualitatively: [ɑiz] and [əis].

    The above rule holds true. Before any voiceless consonant, the vowel is raised. This rule must precede the rule which states that /d/ and /t/ become [ɾ] after a stressed vowel. Thus, ‹writer› and ‹rider› are pronounced differently, [ɹǝ͡iɾɹ̩] and [ɹa͡iɾɹ̩] respectively, even though the resulting [ɾ] is voiced.

    Things get interesting with words like ‘spider’. We would expect [spɑiɾɹ̩] with the [ɑi] allophone because the [ɾ] originated from a /d/. However, many people, including myself, pronounce this word [spəiɾɹ̩]. In casual speech, ‘Dispite her’ and ‘This spider’ are identical. Other words with anomolous raising are ‘tiger’ [təigɹ̩] and ‘fire’ [fəi͡ɹ].

    The great majority of words follow the cannonical Canadian raising rule, but it seems like a couple of new vowels are on there way in. I’d like to thank the contributors of this forum page for pointing this out to me.

    The values of [ɑi]~[əi] are pretty much identical across central and western Canada. However, there are significant differences between realisations of /au/.

    • In most phonetic literature, the raised value of /au/ is [əu] or [ʌu], as in ‘house’ [hʌus]. This pronunciation is current throughout the prairies and the north: Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Northern Ontario, inland British Columbia, and the Territories. Older or more rural speakers in Southern Ontario and Quebec will also typically use [ʌu].
    • In Southern Ontario, Quebec, and British Columbia, /au/ has been fronted to [ɛu]. This is pervasive among younger people living in urban areas. It seems to be spreading from the cities to outlying areas. I have heard pronunciations for ‘out’ reaching as high as [eut] or [ɩut] from some speakers.
    • Some Southern Ontario speakers do not include /au/ in Canadian raising, showing [au] for both ‘lout’ and ‘loud’ (although a difference in vowel length is retained). Although this was the realisation of /au/ I grew up speaking, many in my generation (including myself) seemed to make the switch to [ɛu] during our late teens.


    • The phonetic symbols represent those typically used in English phonology. The location of the symbols indicates the pronunciation. RP refers to Received Pronunciation, the somewhat artificial dialect of English which comes closest to a standard in England.
    • The circle around /u/ means it is rounded, as is the target for /ou/ and /au/. All other sounds are unrounded. Very often, the /u/ is only slightly rounded, or not rounded at all. In coastal British Columbia especially, /u/ can be centralised [ÿ].
    • I have included the diphthong /ju/ as a separate vowel sound instead of /j/ + /u/.
    • The red lines are diphthongs heading in the direction of the arrow. In closed syllables, /ei/ and /ou/ tend to be monophthongal [e] and [o].
    • Blue lines show the diphthongs /ai/ and /au/ with two starting points. The higher starting point version is used before voiceless consonants: Canadian Raising.
    • /æ/ is [ɛ̃] before /n/ and /m/, [ẽ] before [ŋ]. /au/ is [ɛ̃u] before /n/. /ɩ/ is [ĩ] before /ŋ/ and [i] at the end of a word.
    • This dialect neutralises many vowel distinctions before /r/, so that there are no vowel + /r/ combinations that are not diphthongs. RP English “orange” [ɒɹɩnʤ] is [ɔ͡ɹɩnʤ]; or RP “merry” [mɛɹɩ], “marry” [mæɹɩ], “Mary” [mɛəɹɩ] are all [me͡ɹi] in this dialect. The following /r/ based diphthongs exist.
      • [ɑ͡ɹ], [e͡ɹ], [i͡ɹ], [ɑi͡ɹ], [ɔ͡ɹ], [ʉ͡ɹ], [j͡ɹ̩], [æ͡uɹ], and [ɹ̩]. As in car, care, fear, fire, for, poor, pure, power, and purr.
      • [ɫ̩], like [ɹ̩] also behaves as a vowel.
    • Vowels are generally short before voiceless consonants, and long before voiced consonants. Reduced vowels become /ǝ/, which can be variously realised as /ɩ/, /ʌ/, or /ǝ/


    Previous Page

    Last Update: August 21, 2008