Two Canadians, an Australian and an American walk into a linguistics conference… what is this? A crossover episode? Transcript

MEGAN: Welcome to the Vocal Fries podcast, the podcast about linguistic discrimination.

CARRIE: I’m Carrie Gillon.

MEGAN: And I’m Megan Figueroa.

CARRIE: Today we have a few housekeeping items before we begin. The first thing is, we recorded this episode during the Linguistic Society of America, or the LSA, conference this year, and so it was in a hotel room. So the sound quality might be a little off.

MEGAN: Yes. We were sitting around a table in a hotel room and it was freezing outside.

CARRIE: Actually that day it was not yet freezing. Later it did freeze, it did snow, which is exciting for those of us who live in the desert.

MEGAN: Yeah and who didn’t have altitude sickness and was stuck in a hotel room the whole day. Anyway.

CARRIE: Yeah, so this episode’s gonna be more like what our bonus episodes are gonna be like. And that gives us the opportunity to talk about our Patreon!

MEGAN: Yes, so we joined Patreon, and we already have a few subscribers.

CARRIE: Yes! Thank you Ann, Daniel, Lingthusiasm, and Suzanne.

MEGAN: Yes, thank you so much

CARRIE: There are three levels, if you are able to support us we would love to have you as supporters. We have a $1 level; we just thank you for supporting us. We have a $3 level where you get a sticker and your name is announced on the air. And then we also have a $5 level where you get the sticker, your name announced, and also you get access to the bonus episodes. So this episode is kind of in the vein of what those bonus episodes are going to be like, and we are going to record a real bonus episode this month about Word Of The Year, which was part of the LSA as well.

MEGAN: Yes and the sticker that you get features the adorable fries. It’s very cute. I think we -we tweeted it out, right? A picture of the fries? of the sticker?

CARRIE: I think we did, if we didn’t: shame on us.

MEGAN: Yes. It’s very cute.

CARRIE: This episode we had a chance to interview the Lingthusiasm hosts, Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne. Which we all pronounce incorrectly because we don’t have the correct vowel.

MEGAN: Yeah. But she’s nice and says it’s ok to pronounce it like “gone” as in “Gone Girl”.

CARRIE: We also want to tell everybody that most of our episodes are on YouTube now. So if you prefer to access episodes that way, or if you know people who prefer to watch a video as opposed to listen, you can do that. And we’re also slowly adding transcripts for our episodes. We don’t have a paid transcriptionist, so we’re just doing it ourselves, and so it will take a long time. But we are slowly adding them. And our first one is up.

MEGAN: Yeah and we’re very excited about doing that because we are of course really trying to make this as accessible as possible. And ultimately I think a Patreon goal of ours is to pay someone to do it.

CARRIE: Right. Yes.

MEGAN: Yeah so bear with us. Carrie did the first one, thank you so much Carrie. But yeah. It’s definitely a goal.

CARRIE: Right. And we also want to remind people of our email address Okay so now we have an interview with Gretchen McCulloch and Lauren Gawne of Lingthusiasm.

MEGAN: Today is really exciting. We are sitting in a hotel room with the Lingthusiasts.

CARRIE: The Lingthusiasms?

MEGAN: I don’t know. Do you –

GRETCHEN: The co-hosts of Lingthusiasm?

MEGAN: Ah, but that’s too long!

LAUREN: I like Lingthusiasts.

GRETCHEN: We call our listeners the Lingthusiasts too. But that’s good.

MEGAN: Can you and your listeners be the same name?

GRETCHEN: I don’t know.

MEGAN: I think it’s okay. I mean we’re all on the same level. We’re all people.

CARRIE: We’re all friends here.

LAUREN: We’re all enthusiastic about linguistics and that’s all that matters.

MEGAN: Exactly. So we have Gretchen McCulloch…

GRETCHEN: Yes, hello.


GRETCHEN: You weren’t enthusiastic about that.

MEGAN: Well it’s because I was staring at you to see if I said your name right.

GRETCHEN: Yeah I say McCulloch [məkʌlɪk].

MEGAN: Okay, cuz other people, there are other –

GRETCHEN: Other people say McCulloch [məkʌlə] but I don’t know. It’s complicated.

MEGAN: Yeah. And then we have Lauren grai….?


LAUREN: For such a short name, my name is complicated. It’s Lauren Gawne [gɔn].

GRETCHEN: I don’t have that vowel.

MEGAN: I was never gonna get there.

LAUREN: You can say, like homophonous with g-o-n-e is fine as well.

MEGAN: Like “Gone Girl”? Like Ben Affleck?

LAUREN: That is me.

GRETCHEN: I say Lauren Gone and she says that’s ok.

MEGAN: Lauren Gone. But it’s the sound in like, what?

CARRIE: It’s the open o [ɔ].

MEGAN: Okay.

CARRIE: Which we talked about before.

MEGAN: We have talked it about before.

CARRIE: And none of us, except for Lauren have that one, so.

MEGAN: And she’s Australian.

LAUREN: Yes. So Gawne and gone – Lauren Gawne watched “Gone Girl” – they’re two different vowels for me.

MEGAN: For you, but not for us.

LAUREN: Yes. But I make it easy for you.


LAUREN: That’s fine.

GRETCHEN: I can’t unmerge just for you.

LAUREN: Unmerge on that one word only.

CARRIE: Yeah. So today we’re gonna talk about American and British hegemony?

LAUREN: Sure. Well we were actually just gonna suggest that we talk about Australian and Canadian English, because they’re the Englishes we speak and have the most experience with.

CARRIE: Wow the American is outnumbered this time.

MEGAN: Yes. I mean as we should be.


MEGAN: I mean, we’re really fucking things up.


GRETCHEN: I forgot to ask if this podcast had swearing.

CARRIE: Oh yes. We have the explicit rating. It’s all good.

MEGAN: I mean our tag line is Don’t Be An Asshole.


MEGAN: Even just with that, we need the rating.

GRETCHEN: Well yes, there is that.

MEGAN: Like all of our other episodes, I will probably learn the most here.


CARRIE: This time definitely I think. Alright, so where did you guys want to begin?

LAUREN: I think we want to begin with keyboards. Because that’s where a lot of our frustration manifests. So when you have to select in a spell checker on a document, it’s almost always “do you want British or American English” as though they are the two. And even if you choose something like Canadian or Australian English, often it’s like it was made by someone who has never actually spoken to a Canadian or an Australian. Some of it is orthographic convention stuff, so it’s the we both use ISE, instead of IZE.

GRETCHEN: Oh I use IZE a fair bit.


LAUREN: Yeah I mean there’s this whole other diglossia thing we can get into.

GRETCHEN: Canadians use Zed, but in terms of words like realize or analyze, I would tend to use IZE, but when I choose Canadian English from a spell checker, it will try to correct me too ISE on those words, but you get the opposite right?

LAUREN: Yeah so Australian English follows British conventions in this regard, but on a lot of spell checkers, if you tick Australian English, they’ll tell you that it should be IZE and it’s like “no”.

CARRIE: Interesting. I didn’t realize THAT.

GRETCHEN: So there’s like this kind of delocalization problem where they’re if you pick Canadian English it just maps you onto British English instead, or vice versa for Australian English.

MEGAN: Wait and that’s gonna be widespread in Australia that you use the S.


MEGAN: Okay, so they’re not people that some of them use Z.

LAUREN: No. Unless I’m writing for an American publication, and then I will tailor it. So we become very good – and I’ve noticed that’s the thing Canadians do as well – is flipping back and forth between.

GRETCHEN: Yeah, I would use both, depending on who I’m talking to and what I’m feeling like. I feel like spellcheckers don’t reflect that stylistic choice. They’re like “you must pick a thing and do it”. Some words I’m more likely to use ISE on, and some words I’m more likely to use IZE on. I’m okay with that.

LAUREN: Or it should just figure out, in this document, I’m clearly writing for an American audience and it’s gonna be IZE throughout.

GRETCHEN: Yeah. We run into this problem – so we also have a podcast, as you all know – and we do transcriptions for the podcast, and we do that by uploading our episodes to YouTube and having YouTube’s autocaptioner figure out what we’re saying in a very bad version, and then we have a human go in and edit that, rather than have a human try to do it all. So it’s faster that way. But we have to pick a language that it thinks the talk is in.

CARRIE: Right.

GRETCHEN: And our choices, along with a couple other languages, French and so on, we can pick between British English and American English. A show that’s hosted by a Canadian and an Australian. And what we’d really like to be able to do is say a) there are two speakers here, one of us has r’s and the other one doesn’t.

LAUREN: Two speakers of two very different dialects of English.

GRETCHEN: Of two very different dialects and, if they could detect two different voices, because our voices sound fairly different, and then also say, you should be mapping us onto two different standards. Because for me, and I think American English is mostly okay, but for you, you’re going to get a better job with British English, because it doesn’t expect you to have r’s.

LAUREN: Yeah. And I should point out, we both speak highly standardized, highly educated varieties of the English that we speak, and in terms of the scale of linguistic discrimination, we are not really complaining about IZE over ISE, it’s not really the kind of discrimination that a lot of people face and is really bad, but it’s really frustrating to be invisible in global English and you see – if we can’t even get people talking about more than British and American English, how are we going to get people to talk about kind of lower status varieties of British English or varieties of American English that are negatively stereotyped, if we can’t get people to think more broadly about the varieties of English there are.

CARRIE: Or Indian English or Singapore English.

GRETCHEN: South African English is a whole other –

CARRIE: I love it. Sith Ifrican.

GRETCHEN: There’s lots of Englishes and other languages are also also multipluricentric. This is a problem that comes up with French in particular, because I live in Montreal, and French has this very high prestige associated with especially Parisian French, European French. Montreal kids, Quebec kids get taught in schools European French, because that’s the “better” French. Kids in a lot of the former French colonies get taught France French even if the French that’s spoken there is a very different variety. English is double – has two centers, and THAT’s a problem. French only has one, and that’s ALSO a problem. Spanish is very different in very different countries. A lot of the languages that we think of as major world languages are actually more – have more complexity than we think.

CARRIE: Yeah, it’s interesting: two things have already come up that we’ve talked about before. The AI automatic speech recognition stuff, so we talked about that with Rachael Tatman, and what she was looking at with the YouTube comments was just gender and how women’s voices are less well transcribed. And then we also talked about Canadian French in our last episode.

GRETCHEN: Oh yeah! With Nicole! She’s so great.

CARRIE: She is.

MEGAN: Well this reminds me that I guess it wasn’t too long ago that Microsoft Word added grammar as one of the things that it’ll underline for you.

CARRIE: Wait. That’s not new.

MEGAN: It’s not new?




MEGAN: In the last ten years.

CARRIE: No the whole time I’ve been using Word it’s had it.

LAUREN: It’s just that you automatically disable it because it’s so terrible.

CARRIE: It used to be worse. Now it’s-

MEGAN: So maybe I got a new computer and then I had it again.


MEGAN: Okay. Well we solved that mystery. But okay. So if we’re thinking about the grammar, what if you use double negatives, or what if use the passive! Cuz I think it would mark double negatives.

CARRIE: Of course it would yeah. It’s very standard.

GRETCHEN: It marks the passive, even like – so I was reading this book by Anne Curzon who’s also here at the LSA Annual Meeting, and she’s got this book about the history of standardizing English – “Fixing English”, I think it’s called – about the history of English standardization. And one of her chapters is about questioning the authority of Microsoft Word to underline your words. By what right and by whose rules do you get to underline this.


GRETCHEN: And people who think a lot about – she surveyed her colleagues in the English department and even though they have advanced English degrees they’ve never thought about where does Microsoft get its ideas. And what kind of outdated, and never correct in the first place, grammar stereotypes is it perpetuating.

CARRIE: Very good. We should read that. We should talk to her too.

LAUREN: You should just talk to her anyway.

MEGAN: I know.

CARRIE: She’s on the list.

MEGAN: She’s definitely on the list.

GRETCHEN: But yeah, it’s something that interests me as a as an Internet linguist, I guess, because looking at Twitter data, what are people saying on Twitter, and how are people using creative respellings to represent their speech more closely than a standardized representation does, which people definitely do.

LAUREN: It’s like a new era of early Old English manuscripts, where you could trace them to the region that were from because of the accent. It just makes me so happy to read something and feel connected to that person because they are doing a great kind of I dialect impression of Australian English. So good.

MEGAN: Well it makes me think of how I used to teach quote/unquote developmental English at a community college and many of my students were African American English speakers, and they would take the G off of words that – you know the “ing”, which is very typical pattern in African American English. But I was expected to mark that as something that was incorrect.

LAUREN: Apparently that used to be an affluent form of British English, to g-drop in Southern [England] English, which just shows how arbitrary the social values we impose on particular sounds.

GRETCHEN: and there’s another one too, because apparently – so English used to have two “ings”, two things that have now become the modern “ing” ending, one of which was a gerund and one of which was a noun, so the one in “thing” and stuff like that. And even people who have – I don’t think anybody says “thin” for “thing”.



GRETCHEN: Even people who are really, really robust quote/unquote g-droppers never quote unquote drop it there.

CARRIE: Right.

GRETCHEN: So there’s a thing that’s going on that’s grammatical about that, and one of the endings – and I don’t remember this exact story, but – one of the endings was originally “ende”. And so the “in” ending kind of reflects this historical ending that didn’t have a g in it in the first place.

CARRIE: Interesting.

GRETCHEN: And so what people are doing has really old roots in many dialects of English, and just became stigmatized when the orthography switched to g, and there was this idea that “oh it should have this g, because the g’s there in the orthography”.

CARRIE: Huh. That also reminds me of the ask/aks thing because the aks is older than ask.


GRETCHEN: Yeah and I have this idea that English was like – that older varieties of English were just one thing, because that’s what was written down, but it was always multiple ways of talking.

CARRIE: As soon as you have more than one person.

LAUREN: And this dialect anxiety is – there’s this pronounced discourse in Australia of “American English is ruining Australian English” and “Australian English is becoming less Australian and more American”, and the examples people point out are often things that were really transitory and didn’t actually stick around, and no one ever points out that – so for example we don’t refer to “lorries” for trucks. So there are things that we’ve – we refer to trousers as “trousers” and underwear as “underwear” and pants are a form of trousers, rather than a form of underwear, whereas in British English they’re pants. So don’t do what someone I know did once as an Australian and email your British employer and ask if there’s a particular color of pants they want you to wear.


LAUREN: Because they’ll be very confused about why you want a uniform for your underwear. But it speaks to this fact that we DO have a lot of things that we have in common with American English that we’ve never had in common with British English, really, and no one ever points to those as “American English is ruining Australian English”.

CARRIE: Why is it always American English that’s ruining English?

LAUREN: Well I mean this is this thing, right, is this anxiety that we have about the cultural hegemony and we do have a lot more exposure to American English than Americans have to us, which is why –

CARRIE: That’s true.

LAUREN: Australian actors can go to work in America and do a tolerable job of an American accent, and Americans just have vowels all over the place, because suddenly you have to unmerge all this stuff that you never knew was different anyway. You can pick a bad Australian accent so far away, it’s great.

GRETCHEN: Yeah. Canadian actors have to learn how to do an American accent and there’s dialect coaches and stuff like that, but nobody even tries to learn a Canadian accent properly because it’s close enough.

CARRIE: No, they just fake a North Dakotan accent.

GRETCHEN: And they get Canadian raising wrong. And it drives me bananas.

CARRIE: Yeah. It’s not that hard, guys.

GRETCHEN: Well it is if you don’t have the phonemes probably.

LAUREN: And you don’t have the thousands hours of exposure.

CARRIE: Well, they do, right?

GRETCHEN: Well they don’t have the diphthongs. The “about” they have uh [ʌ] and they have the I, but they don’t have that as a diphthong. And I don’t know how to describe that to somebody who doesn’t have it.

CARRIE: Yeah I guess that’s true. But some Americans have the ‘I’ [ʌɪ] one and not the ‘ow’ [ʌʊ] one. And no American ever points out the ‘I’ [ʌɪ] one actually. They never hear “mice” as funny, but they hear “about” as funny. I always thought that was interesting, but I think it’s because some Americans have they have the raising with the ‘I’ and not the ‘ow’.

GRETCHEN: Yeah I think it’s acquired like a stereotype.

CARRIE: (TO MEGAN) You have it too, I think. ‘mice’ [mʌɪs] as opposed to ‘mice’ [maɪs].

MEGAN: Oh no.

GRETCHEN: I learned surprisingly late in life that ‘I scream for ice cream’ supposed to be ‘I scream for ice cream’ [aɪ skɹim fɚ aɪs kɹim] and not ‘I scream for ice cream’ [aɪ skɹim fɚ ʌɪs kɹim]. It was created by someone for whom those are the same vowel. But because I have Canadian Raising in ice-

LAUREN: Hang on, can you do it again, because they sound like the same vowel to me.

GRETCHEN: That’s cuz you don’t have Canadian Raising.

LAUREN: But you do it, Canadian-

GRETCHEN: I scream for ice cream [aɪ skɹim fɚ ʌɪs kɹim]


GRETCHEN: It’s slightly shorter and higher.

LAUREN: Right. I’m just gonna have to believe you on that.


CARRIE: We could show you the spectrogram.

LAUREN: That would be great.

GRETCHEN: I even have ‘high school’ [hʌɪ skul] – ‘high school’ [haɪ skul].

LAUREN: Australian English has pretty high high vowels anyway. So ‘high school’ [haɪ skul] is already pretty high.

GRETCHEN: No it’s not high.

CARRIE: No, it’s not as high as ours.

GRETCHEN: How would you say the ice cream thing.

LAUREN: I scream for ice cream [aɪ skɹim fɚ aɪs kɹim].

CARRIE: Yeah, it’s almost the same.

GRETCHEN: It’s almost the same. Yeah: ‘I scream for ice cream’ [aɪ skɹim fɚ ʌɪs kɹim], those are two different vowels.

MEGAN: I scream for ice cream [aɪ skɹim fɚ ʌɪs kɹim]?

GRETCHEN: Yeah, you have raising.

CARRIE: They’re different.

GRETCHEN: Dear Vocal Fries listeners. Please say ‘I scream for ice cream’.

MEGAN: This is what linguists do when they get together.

CARRIE: So nerdy, it’s insane.

LAUREN: Yeah, you get four accents in a room and-

MEGAN: That’s the beginning of a terrible joke.

LAUREN: Hours of entertainment.

GRETCHEN: I’m sorry, I’m trying to pay attention to what you said, but I got distracted by your vowels.


CARRIE: It’s what we do.

MEGAN: Yeah, don’t go on dates with linguists.


GRETCHEN: Or do, if you like that.

CARRIE: If you’re already a linguist, maybe not.

LAUREN: Would you date someone for their accent?

CARRIE: Oh yeah, totally.

MEGAN: Ohhh yeah.

LAUREN: I feel like it’s such a deep linguist thing saying “oh yeah”. That is definitely a different thing to people being like “I think French accents are sexy”. Linguists are like “ ah yeah, guess what, he’s got some quality Canadian raising”.

GRETCHEN: “You merge these two vowels and I’ve never seen someone merge that way before.”

MEGAN: Exactly. Literally everything is data.

CARRIE: It’s true.

GRETCHEN: You need to keep your friends and family naive linguistically, because then when your grammaticality intuitions get shot, because you’ve been thinking about something too long, you’ll be able to go ask your roommate or something like, “hey, can you say this? For me? Just to make sure if it sounds right to you?”

LAUREN: Having lived now in the last four years, we’ve lived in Singapore, southern England, and Australia, and then working all the time as I do with you as a Canadian and a bunch of American colleagues, especially lexical intuitions, I have no intuitions about words anymore. I can’t remember where I use that or if it’s normal.

CARRIE: Yeah, the dialect surveys where they’re like, “how do you pronounce this word?” Is it leisure [liʒɚ] or leisure [lɛʒɚ]. I’m like –

LAUREN: Depends on who I’m talking to.

CARRIE: Both sound okay to me now! I don’t even know in that case. I think it’s leisure [liʒɚ]?

EDDIE IZZARD: You say aluminum we say aluminium. You say centrifugal [sɛn’tɹɪfʊgəl] we say centrifugal [sɛntɹɪ’fjugəl]. You say leisure [liʒɚ] we say layzhuraia.

GRETCHEN: A lot of stuff that I think of as a change in progress is actually “I just moved to a different region”. Or vice versa. I go to different region and it’s actually a change in progress. I grew up in Nova Scotia and then I moved to Ontario for undergrad and then I moved to Montreal for grad school. In Montreal, I don’t have a lot of pressures on my English, because most of the English speakers that I interact with are from a variety of locations and have moved to Montreal. The Montreal English is also a bit pluricentric, but Montreal French, my French has gotten very Quebec since I moved to Montreal, which is great. I’ve been trying to make it more Quebec, because why should I speak European anyway. It’s because of the French cultural hegemony. Maybe I should speak Quebec French.


CARRIE: Yeah, damnit!


MEGAN: Thanks to Nicole Rosen, I know there’s a difference.

GRETCHEN: Do you know what the difference is?


GRETCHEN: So now I say, instead of saying like – oh fuck. I wasn’t expecting to be saying French. If I’m saying tu sais I have [tse], I have frication on the high vowels, which is really fun. I can’t even do it and not fricate it now. I used to do them not fricated but I can’t do it now.

LAUREN: It’s been really great working with you and discovering – I did, just to bring my own biases in here, I definitely had this view that American English was all of North American English, and I do tend to forget that you are also part of the Commonwealth. Like a surprise I go and same person’s on the money. Which is problematic in other ways, but I’ve learnt so much about Canadian English and just how different it is.

GRETCHEN: And a lot of Canadians orient towards a more British standard as a way of not seeming American.

LAUREN: Oh my gosh, can you tell – cuz we talked about this in our – well we didn’t talk about it in the color episode, but we did an episode about the semantics of different color terms, and then when it came – I was like “oh no Gretchen, we have to write the episode description and whose color spelling are we going to use?” because I c-o-l-o-u-r, which is definitely spelled correctly just then –

GRETCHEN: And I was like, “no I have o-u-r”, labour and colour and favourite

LAUREN: And I did not know that about Canadian English, but it’s a thing that-

GRETCHEN: So we’ve decided for the podcast all our descriptions are – our house style is Canadian/Australian, which is basically whatever we think it is, because we don’t have adequate spellchecks for it, and so just whoever’s writing it writes it the way they want to, and that’s how we do it. And we ran into some controversy about this, because we made t-shirts and mugs and with “not judging your grammar, just analysing it” and on them, because this is a common linguist sentiment that we have to correct.

LAUREN: And I didn’t even think about it when we did it, but we obviously spell analyse with an s.

GRETCHEN: And since then, we’ve gotten a bunch of people, Americans, being like but do you have one with a zed or with a zee on it and we’re like, “no? Doesn’t have to be about you?”


GRETCHEN: If you can’t wear a shirt with an s on it, you don’t deserve to wear this shirt.

LAUREN: Especially that shirt, of all shirts. If you can’t be non-judgey on a mug

GRETCHEN/LAUREN: that says you’re not judgey

LAUREN: then you don’t get the mug.

GRETCHEN: You’ve missed the entire point of this exercise. And I think we would have faced a lot less flack if we had done the zed spelling.

CARRIE: Oh yeah. Sure.

GRETCHEN: Because people who aren’t Americans are more used to the world not caring.

MEGAN: I was gonna say: Americans expect things to be the way that we want them to be.

CARRIE: Well also in this case, I would spell this with a zed as well.

GRETCHEN: I would have spelled it with a zed too, but Lauren had made it with the s and I was like, “I’m not changing it”.


GRETCHEN: That’s fine. Yeah no, I would have filled it with a zed but I was like, yeah I’m amused by this.

LAUREN: Yeah, it’s one of the times I didn’t think about it.

GRETCHEN: Yeah no, and I think it would be an interesting conversation piece, and those people were like, “you could make both versions” and I was like, “I don’t think you see the point of, here’s our house style. It is whatever we say it is.” And maybe it’s not your style, but you’re wearing this as a way of participating in a particular type of thing, and we’re trying to not make the podcast too American in a world where a lot of media is centered around the US.

LAUREN: We love you, American listeners.


GRETCHEN: We say this IN the US, we love our American listeners, but we want to expose them to things outside of their-

MEGAN: We have the advantage where I AM an American, so we can just say it and the listeners can assume that I don’t really mean everything I say.

GRETCHEN: It’s very easy, because, especially as a Canadian, I go to a lot of American conferences, I have a lot of American colleagues who I like very much, but it’s very easy to start getting in that bad patterning of everything’s –

CARRIE: Yeah, even when I was in elementary school, we were allowed to spell words the Canadian way or the American way.

LAUREN: Yeah. Was it you telling me the anecdote about zed and zee? And flipping?

GRETCHEN: Yeah! There’s a thing that happens that Jack Chambers, who’s a Canadian linguist, has documented, where Canadian children will generally sing the alphabet song with zee at the end.

CARRIE: Ah! I never did.

GRETCHEN: Like a lot of them. I should have done a test run on it for you, anyway. Like “Carrie, how did you sing the alphabet song?” Canadian children will often sing the alphabet song with zee at the end, and they’ll often say zee at the end when they were citing the alphabet, up until around the age of like 10 to 16, and then they switch to zed. Which is a weirdly late age for acquisition stuff.

LAUREN: It must look like change, like it’s changed.

GRETCHEN: It looks like it’s change in progress. It looks like the kids are becoming Americanized, and watching Sesame Street, and adopting this thing. Except you can keep doing it a decade later, or two decades later, and still little kids are using zee, but the 20-somethings, who were your teenagers or your little kids, have now switched to zed. My mum, when she was a kid, I asked her, she would have said zee, and now she says zed. When I was a kid I sang the alphabet song with zee and then I switch to zed.

CARRIE: Okay. I know why I didn’t. My mother would have yelled at me.


GRETCHEN: Yeah so once people acquire it as an identity token they switched to zed, and they’re very adamant about it. I almost wouldn’t admit that I had ever used zee, because that’s this thing that –

CARRIE: It’s a shibboleth.

GRETCHEN: distinguishes us from those people to the south.

LAUREN: Sometimes language contact can drive change apart, as well as change towards.

GRETCHEN: Yeah. They did this study on – I think it was Buffalo and Windsor, Ontario? Buffalo, uh … where is Buffalo?

CARRIE: New York.

GRETCHEN: No, that’s not next to Windsor. Anyway.

LAUREN: Two places.

GRETCHEN: Two cities –

CARRIE: Oh, Niagara?

GRETCHEN: Niagara, St. Catherine’s, no.

CARRIE: Yeah, St. Catherine’s is right there.

GRETCHEN: What’s on the US side then?

CARRIE: Buffalo is right at the border.

GRETCHEN: Oh, so it is Buffalo.

LAUREN: None of this means anything to me.

GRETCHEN: Buffalo buffalo buffalo buffalo.

CARRIE: I hate that sentence!

GRETCHEN: So those two cities, they’ve done linguistic dialects surveys in them, and people – they actually talk more differently from each other than people who are further in from the border. Because people really want to identify where they’re from.

CARRIE: That’s interesting.

MEGAN: And I guess I should be the American and ask what the fuck zed is.


BRUCE WILLIS: Zed’s dead baby. Zed’s dead

CARRIE: It’s just zee.

LAUREN: It’s the last letter of the alphabet.

MEGAN: So it’s a synonym.

CARRIE: It’s just our name for it versus your name for it.

MEGAN: Okay.

GRETCHEN: It’s like, I don’t know, like pop versus soda.

MEGAN: Okay.

GRETCHEN: It’s just other other names for it. Most of the letters of the alphabet only have the one name, but this one, it has two.

MEGAN: Alright. Cuz I heard you say zed, and I was like, “that’s just how you say zee so that everyone understands you’re saying zee”.

GRETCHEN: You have it as a disambiguation, like International Phonetic Alphabet, no, like the NATO alphabet thing.

CARRIE: Ohhhh.

GRETCHEN: I’ve never encountered that use, that’s interesting.

CARRIE: Me either!

LAUREN: It’s like saying zero instead of oh on the phone or something for you.

MEGAN: Yeah.

GRETCHEN: Or Alpha Bravo Charlie Delta. M as in Michael type thing.

MEGAN: Yeah, that’s what I thought it was.

GRETCHEN: Huh. I didn’t realize anybody did that.

LAUREN: The zed of the NATO phonetic alphabet is Zulu, just if you’re curious.

GRETCHEN: Yeah so they don’t have zed. They could have zeta or something there, but I don’t know. They don’t. Cuz zed comes from Greek zeta.

CARRIE: Got changed over time.

GRETCHEN: Anyway. I think more of our letters should have real names for them, rather than just like sound followed by ee. Because then we wouldn’t have this phone problem in the first place but.

CARRIE: It’s true. But it is kind of fun to have this code.

GRETCHEN: It does make it easy for the alphabet song to rhyme. I tried to write an alphabet song in IPA once, and it did not go well, because nothing rhymed. Also the stress was very difficult.

CARRIE: Oh yeah.

MEGAN: Yeah.

GRETCHEN: It was like, “p, b, t, d, k, g … glottal stop!”


GRETCHEN: Do you say the name of the sound, or do you say the sound itself. The symbol? Some of the stuff, even linguists using a p will generally just say “pee”. But glottal stop doesn’t have a name other than “global stop”. So it did not go well.

CARRIE: No. I can imagine.

MEGAN: I just got worried for you guys. Are you going to the thing?

GRETCHEN: The Word Of The Year? Yeah.

CARRIE: Do we have a last thing that you wanna-

LAUREN: Thing we wanna-

CARRIE: What do you want to tell our listeners?


MEGAN: While you’re thinking about that, I’m gonna say that: I’m an American so I didn’t think about these as issues. So sorry. The keyboard and the spellcheck works for me. Never thought about how it wouldn’t work for other dialects. Even American English.

GRETCHEN: You succeeded in not being an asshole.

MEGAN: Thank you.


MEGAN: I was being an asshole before.

LAUREN: That’s the thing. I don’t necessarily want to ensure that everyone does spell things a certain way, although obviously it would be preferable. It’s just one of the things. In Australia, life goes on even though I did read a bunch of books that had American spellings and even lexical items. I still don’t really know what “pumps” are or “bangs” are, but they were in the Baby-Sitters Club books. We just got on with lexical variation and those things are actually really common things, but I don’t really have a visual for them in my head, but I do – it’s a very specific Baby-Sitters Club aesthetic, and I think allowing more people to have more of that exposure then makes them more open-minded about – we get exposed to a lot of American and British accents on television, and a little lexical variation, and I think when Australians travel they do a better job of adapting to that variation they’re exposed to. I think just exposing –

GRETCHEN: I had a difficult time with your vowels, because I don’t have any Australian tv that I’ve been exposed to since a young age.

LAUREN: You should’ve watched more Neighbours, Gretchen.

CARRIE: I didn’t watch Neighbors, but I watched Home & Away a lot.

GRETCHEN: I watched Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries.

LAUREN: Good one. That’s good.

CARRIE: That’s pretty good, but that was much later.

GRETCHEN: Yeah. I’m just thinking, because we’re gonna be heading to the Word Of The Year vote, there is no one declares a Canadian word of the year at the moment.

CARRIE: No… yeah.

GRETCHEN: Yeah. So that’s something that has been kind of on my radar, because we did a Word Of The Year episode last year, and I was like, the Australian National Dictionary had done that, and I thought geez no one –

LAUREN: We have the Australian National Dictionary and Macquarie. We have two.

GRETCHEN: Oh they each declare a Word Of The Year?

LAUREN: They do, yeah.

GRETCHEN: Oh, good for them. So there are two Australian Word Of The Years, there’s a bunch of American ones-

CARRIE: No Canadian.

GRETCHEN: And there’s no Canadian Word Of The Year. We’ve gotta get somebody on that, Carrie, lets do this.

CARRIE: Let’s do it!

LAUREN: And the British of course have the Oxford Dictionary, which just presumes to name the Word Of The Year for everyone.

MEGAN: As they do.


LAUREN: So it’s not necessarily about changing YOUR English, or the way you spell, or the way you use words, but just being open to exposing yourself to podcasts by people who don’t speak the same accent as you, and it is a bit harder at the start, but it’s really worthwhile.

CARRIE: Agreed.

GRETCHEN: And something that more languages can be pluricentric, and standardization isn’t an inherit good when it comes to language.

CARRIE: It’s definitely not.

GRETCHEN: It’s, in fact, terrible.

MEGAN: yeah think that’s what Americans should take away, as I’m hearing y’all, that we should think about how so much of the media we can see – we don’t have to worry about fitting in when it comes to that.

LAUREN: Well standardizing, just accepting that Harry Potter was written in British English.

MEGAN: They switched things!

LAUREN: Yeah they did.

GRETCHEN: We got the British versions, so I had deal with “trainers”, and I didn’t know what trainers were. I guess there’s just things that Harry Potter wears, I was like, “oh you mean sneakers, okay”.

CARRIE: Oh we killed them “runners” where I grew up.

LAUREN: Oh I’m a “runners” person as well! Nice!

CARRIE: Commonwealth, represent!

GRETCHEN: But I’m a sneakers person, cuz I’m from the Maritimes. There’s all this stuff – and I think having space for multiple different varieties of speaking, even within something that we call a language is something that there isn’t enough attention to.

CARRIE: Agreed! Well I think that’s a good place to end.

MEGAN: it sounds like a great place to end.

CARRIE: So thanks for being our guests!

LAUREN: Thanks for having us on!

GRETCHEN: Yeah, thanks for having us!

MEGAN: We HAD to take this opportunity.

CARRIE: Alright, and thanks again, and

CARRIE/MEGAN: Don’t be an asshole!

EDDIE IZZARD: And you say basil [beɪsəl], we say basil [bæsəl]. You say herbs [ɚbz] and we say herbs [hɚbz], because there’s a fucking h in it. [Applause] But you spell through t-h-r-u, and I’m with you on that, as we spell it thruff, and that’s trying to cheat at Scrabble. How can we get that ‘oo’ sound. Well a u will work. What about an o as well. No, we don’t need it, we’re fine. No I think I an o in. Alright. And a g as well. What?! Yes a g would be good. Yes. Yes, we need a silent guh, just in the background in case of any accidents or something. Well alright. And an h as well. Fuckin hang on. An h in case some herbs come along. And a q, and p, an a zed. Look it’s a word in Scrabble that’s 480 points.

CARRIE: The Vocal Fries Podcast is produced by Chris Ayers for Halftone Audio. Music by Nick Granum. You can find us on Tumblr, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @vocalfriespod. You can email us at


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