COLUMN: This ain’t just any research project

George Mathewson

Sarnia’s Michael Iannozzi is a graduate student studying language and dialect at Western University whose keen ear for speech was triggered by his grandparents.

They use words in interesting ways. The other day, for example, his grandpa asked, ‘Where was you?”

Or his grandma will say, “He learned you” instead of “He taught you.”

Why is that, he wondered?

Iannozzi, 27, is recording and cataloguing the way we speak for a major research project called SWORE, or SouthWestern Ontario Regional English. It’s the first in-depth linguistic study ever done of people south and west of Toronto.

“When people think of Canadian English they think of people on the East coast, and then there’s everyone else,” he said. “In reality, it’s a lot more nuanced than that.”

According to his working hypothesis, our subtle differences aren’t so much regional as they are rural versus urban.

In large, diverse cities like Toronto the dialect tends to level out, he said. The English spoken in the rural Southwest, he’s finding, contains features common to rural Appalachian states, like Georgia and Kentucky.

Take the word ‘anymore,’ for example. Most Canadians use it in a negative, as in, “You don’t see that anymore.”

But the average Sarnian hears nothing unusual in its positive use, as in, “That’s all you see anymore” or “Anymore, that’s all you see.”

“To me that sounds fine,” said the St. Christopher grad. “But my supervisor in London – which is not that far away and he’s been a professor there for 20 years – it still hits his ear every time.”

Then there’s ‘ain’t,’ a word that can mean isn’t, didn’t or haven’t.

It’s not uncommon in rural Lambton to hear two of its three uses, such as, “He ain’t here” instead of “He isn’t here.”

Iannozzi has completed about 30 of the 120 interviews he hopes to conduct in the five counties west of London: Sarnia-Lambton, Middlesex, Essex, Chatham-Kent and Elgin.

The interviews are simple conversations held wherever participants feel most comfortable.

“The point of the research isn’t to correct, it’s to say it’s cool the way these people speak. It’s valued and reasonable,” he said.

Anyone who would like to help can contact Michael Iannozzi at 519-868-0509 or miannozz@uwo.ca