UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

The Western Canadian dictionary and the making of the Canadian West Doherty, Alexandra


The Western Canadian Dictionary and Phrase-Book (WCD) was written in 1912 as a guide for British immigrants who were encountering a variety of English that was “more resistant to British linguistic norms than the conservative Anglophone heartland of Ontario” (Considine 2003: 252). Though the dictionary has been researched in terms of its lexicographical value, relatively little research has examined the historical and cultural reasons as to why a dictionary of western Canadian English was viable at the time it was written. This thesis examines the connections between the WCD and the Canadian Government’s pre-World War I immigration campaign. This includes connections between the writer of the dictionary, John Sandilands, and the Canadian Government through Sandilands position as a proofreader of pamphlets intended to advertise the West that were produced by the Department of the Interior. The thesis also examines how the dictionary participates in a network of literature produced at the time to reproduce a “Promised Land” (Francis 1989) narrative of the Canadian West which became “the dominant perception of the region during the formative years of agricultural settlement” (Francis & Kitzan 2007: IX). This network of literature includes stories by Nellie McClung and poetry by Robert J. C. Stead, who both employ Promised Land narratives in their work. Within these narratives a western Canadian dialect, marked by slang found in the WCD, becomes associated with a heightened morality of its speakers, and is used as a shorthand for values of hard work and honesty. Ultimately, it is argued that the dictionary reflects a dominant, settler, narrative of the West that was pushed by the Canadian Government to ‘sell’ the West.

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