Canada Day: Sorry!

« previous post | next post »

Apparently it's a stereotype that Canadians are always apologizing. Thus Jordan Rane, "10 things Canada does better than anywhere else", CNN 7/1/2014:

In Canada, apologies happen constantly — "sorries" flying in from all sides like swarms of affable killer bees.

Apologies are issued not just for some negligible mishap, but for actually having the gall to be on the receiving end of one.

A Queen's University poll titled "Sorry … I'm Canadian," found that 90% of Canadians aged 18-25 will immediately apologize if a stranger bumps into them.

And in honor of Canada Day July 1, several serial comics took note. Questionable Content:

And Something Positive:

I haven't noticed this feature in the Canadians that I know — but I tend have this problem with stereotypes turning out to be not actually, like, true.  It's a failing of mine, a sort of myl-specific Observer's Paradox. Still, I'd thought I'd  look into this one further– after all, sometimes the facts support the stereotype. Maybe it'll turn out that Canadians do say "sorry" unusually often:

And as it happens, there's some published data that suggests a Breakfast Experiment™ testing the hypothesis that Canadians say "sorry" more than other nationalities do.

The HCRC Map Task Corpus is a set of 128 task-oriented dialogues involving 64 Glasgow University undergraduates, following a procedure documented here:

The Map Task is a cooperative task involving two participants. The two speakers sit opposite one another and each has a map which the other cannot see. One speaker — designated the Instruction Giver — has a route marked on her map; the other speaker — the Instruction Follower — has no route. The speakers are told that their goal is to reproduce the Instruction Giver's route on the Instruction Follower's map. The maps are not identical and the speakers are told this explicitly at the beginning of their first session. It is, however, up to them to discover how the two maps differ.

I used the transcripts included in the version published by the LDC in 1993, and according to my tokenization, the 128 dialogues comprised 1,370,592 words, of which 1,215 were "sorry", for an overall rate of 1000000*1215/1370592 ≈ 886 per million words.

In 1995, the Defence and Civil Institute of Environmental Medicine (DCIEM) in Ontario, Canada, joined with researchers from the Human Communications Research Centre (HCRC) at the Universities of Edinburgh and Glasgow to collect a new set of Map Task dialogues. The design of the Ontario collection was identical to the Glasgow collection, except that the subjects were 35 Canadian military reservists who volunteered for an experiment on the effects of sleep deprivation and the use of the drug Modafinil. According to Ellen Bard et al., "The DCIEM Map Task Corpus: Spontaneous Dialogue under Sleep Deprivation and Drug Treatment", ICSLP 1996:

The design permits comparisons within speakers for sleep deprivation (baseline, deprived, post-recovery), and between speakers for drug condition (placebo, d-amphetamine, Modafinil) and number of conversational partners encountered (1, 2).

OK, so there are some other issues here — we're comparing Scottish undergraduates, who were presumably no more drugged or sleep-deprived than undergraduates normally are, against variously sleep-deprived and drugged Canadian soldiers. On the other hand,  Bard et al. assert that "Effects of sleep-deprivation and drug condition are less severe than those found in simpler tasks", so I'm going to pretend for current purposes that this is a fair comparison of Canadians against Scots.

Processing the DCIEM Map Task transcripts using exactly the same programs that I used for the HCRC Map Task transcripts, I find 2,850,341 words, of which 1,768 are "sorry", for an overall rate of 1000000*1768/2850341 ≈ 620 per million words.

So the Scottish Map Taskers used "sorry" about 43% more often than the  Canadian Map Taskers did (886/620 ≈ 1.429).

Like I said, stereotypes mostly don't work out for me. Sorry!

Here's the source of the poll mentioned in the CNN feature – Carrie Barr and Jackie Gillberry, "'Sorry … I'm Canadian': An analysis of when Canadians use the word 'sorry'", Strathy Undergraduate Working Papers on Canadian English, 2010. The authors note that

After receiving our completed surveys, we found that we were lacking non-Canadian participants. This made it very difficult to distinguish between the way in which Canadians use the word "sorry‖"and the way in which non-Canadians use "sorry." Since there were so few non-Canadian results, we found the data insignificant. We decided to analyze the use of the word ―sorry‖ across different age groups of Canadians rather than across nationalities.

But the authors provide the text of their questionnaire, and so it would be easy for some enterprising students at an American (or British, or Australian, or …) university to replicate the study for comparative purposes. They might well confirm the stereotype — as long as I'm not involved in the process.



  1. richardelguru said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 6:00 am

    Sorry to bring this up, but… I'm English (sorry, I mean sort of ex-ish English) living in Texas (where as far as I can tell no one ever says 'sorry') and I have often been joshed about my tendency to say 'sorry', or otherwise apologise, especially when being bumped into.
    Maybe I should have settled much further north?

  2. NSWainwright said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 6:25 am

    Canadians say "sorry" more than Americans do–but that may be true of all other nationalities. Though in the US we do ( perhaps) say "excuse me" a lot, with the same range of meaning.

  3. Jen said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 6:36 am

    The saying sorry when other people bump into you is definitely also a Scottish – if not British – thing, so maybe we're just even worse! :)

  4. EndlessWaves said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 7:24 am

    Yes, given CNN, QC and Something Positive are all American I think this is an American stereotype of the Canadians.

    Also, I'd imagine ex-army people are among the least uncertain of Canadians so probably aren't a good representative sample in the sorry stakes.

  5. Brian T said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 7:32 am

    When I was in New Brunswick last month, I bought snacks at a gas station. The cashier said "That'll be $3.50, please. … Wait, they're on special, so that's $2.50. Sorry!" The use of "sorry" where I might have said "lucky you!" struck me as odd, but at the time I didn't recognize it as supporting a stereotype.

  6. Joseph F Foster said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 7:42 am

    It won't however do to be too assertive with that "Sorry.". Shouldn't it be "Sorry, eh?"?

  7. Shalom Lappin said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 7:54 am

    Sorry for having a universal public health system that delivers superb medical care to the entire population at a fraction of the cost incurred by the American private "system". Sorry for having restrictive gun control laws that prevent hand guns and automatic assault rifles from being freely purchased and used. Sorry for investing in decent public transportation in our cities. Sorry for having a comprehensive network of very good public universities with low cost tuition. Sorry for sustaining a reasonably generous welfare state to prevent large scale poverty. Sorry for winning the Olympic hockey tournament in February.

  8. j said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 8:02 am

    This is funny– when I moved to the US from the Netherlands, I had a hard time getting used to how often Americans apologize.

    When you bump into someone in the Netherlands, you just ignore it and move on with your life–not so much out of rudeness as out of a mutual acknowledgement that it wasn't intentional and that expecting or offering an apology would just blow the whole incident out of proportions. I always found it super awkward when people apologized for non-existent "wrongdoings"! Responding to those was as hard as responding to "how are you" that meant no more than "hello".

  9. Darryl Shpak said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 8:11 am

    @Brian T: As a Canadian (Manitoban), that usage of "sorry" seems perfectly normal to me. I'd read it as an apology for making a mistake — in particular, for nearly overcharging you.

    And regarding the stereotype, it seems to me that it is indeed something always said by Americans of Canadians. I could invent several plausible-sounding reasons that Breakfast Experiment does not invalidate the stereotype, but it would be interesting to have a good corpus of Americans and Canadians in similar contexts to see what the actual results are…and better yet, various non-North-American native English speakers.

  10. Michael Becker said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 8:37 am

    I bet the Canadian sorry stands out to American not due to its frequency, but due to its wrong vowel. Sorry to point out the obvious.

  11. Simon P said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 8:40 am

    Surely this is just Americocentrism? It's not that Canadians say "sorry" a lot, it's that Americans rarely say it. The Canadians are much like Europeans here, which is why you can't compare them with Scottish people to find out.

  12. Lazar said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 8:52 am

    Don't forget the correct pronunciation: "soary". It's one of those little shibboleths that give away Canadian actors.

  13. Mark Liberman said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:04 am

    j: This is funny– when I moved to the US from the Netherlands, I had a hard time getting used to how often Americans apologize.

    Simon P: Surely this is just Americocentrism? It's not that Canadians say "sorry" a lot, it's that Americans rarely say it. The Canadians are much like Europeans here, which is why you can't compare them with Scottish people to find out.

    We need an apology-stereotypes survey, covering the full cross-product of nationalities, to settle the question of whether the graph of stereotypical apology-frequency is symmetrical, has cycles, etc. . . .

  14. KevinM said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:09 am

    "You brush against a stranger and you both apologize"
    "Down to You," by Joni Mitchell, noted Canadian.

  15. Svafa said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:19 am

    We get a good amount of "sorry" where I'm from (southern US), with a fair number of "excuse me" covering the same general meaning. I still pick on Canadian friends about the sorry thing, but I've never noticed them apologizing more than usual.

    Another culture I've often seen similarly stereotyped is Japanese with sumimasen (primarily), which tends to cover similar ranges of meaning.

    An aside, the Something Positive comic also irks me for the "passive aggressive" bit, as if the "sorry" or "excuse me" is intended to shame the other party. Reminds me of once when someone I knew commented that southern hospitality boiled down to inviting someone over to dinner to show off your yacht. Yeah, no. Both interpretations seem more likely to be attempts at imposing personal cultural expectations on another culture.

  16. Curtana said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:21 am

    As a Canadian working in the US, I've been roundly mocked by my American coworkers and friends for dialogues like this exchange in a restaurant:

    Me: Could I get the chocolate cake?
    Waiter: We're all out of it.
    Me: Oh, sorry. I'll get the apple pie instead.

    Possibly it's not that I say 'sorry' that much more often than they do, but that I say it in contexts that aren't typical for Americans to say 'sorry' in (such as when something has gone awry but it's not my fault).

  17. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:33 am

    But "sorry" is often used only as a semi-apology or perhaps even a quarter-apology.

    When Monty Python first appeared on television in the U.S., I was struck by how often they used "Sorry" when a character thought he had misheard something (actually, it was because the statement he heard was so absurd that he thought he must have misheard it).

    Similarly, if an American doesn't quite hear or doesn't quite get what someone has said, he's likely to say "What's that?" or, more courteously, "Pardon me?"

    Based on a few Canadians whom I know and on Monty Python, I suspect that Canadians and Britons are far more likely to say "Sorry" in that circumstance. It is an apology, in a sense, a short form of "I'm sorry I didn't hear what you said," but I doubt that it's actually perceived as an apology by either the speaker or the hearer.

  18. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:35 am

    A belated P.S. to my previous comment: I was taught in junior high school (early 1950s in Wisconsin) to say "Pardon me?" rather than "What?" when I didn't hear what someone else had said. I wonder if Brits and Canadians are similarly taught to say "Sorry" in that situation?

  19. FM said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:36 am

    My favorite Canadian "sorry" stereotype comic comes from noted Canadian Kate Beaton:

    But yeah, it might be that the wrong vowel makes Canadian "sorries" especially salient to Americans.

  20. Toma said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 9:55 am

    @Shalom Lappin
    "Sorry for winning the Olympic hockey tournament in February."
    I was with you until that last item. =)

  21. Nancy Friedman said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 10:29 am

    The dialogue in the excellent Canadian TV series "Slings and Arrows" (2003-2006) is studded with sorrys. TV Tropes says of lead character Ellen Fanshaw: "If you take a shot every time she insincerely says 'sorry,' you'll be dead before the end of the episode."

  22. Aelfric said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 10:34 am

    I am a bit of an atypical hyper-polite American (New York) in a long-term relationship with a Canadian (Alberta). We agree that I tend to apologize more than she does, but she claims this makes me "more Canadian" than her–so it's a shared stereotype. I was more fascinated that she was completely unaware of the "girlfriend in Canada" trope (meaning an imaginary girlfriend), and furthermore, couldn't think of anything complementary in Canadian culture.

  23. Rod Johnson said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 11:08 am

    Wow, that Something Positive comic is (typically) terrible. Assembling some stereotypes into a rant ≠ funny.

  24. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 11:35 am

    The study cited simply proves that Glaswegians are extremely polite.

    I went to school in Glasgow and all those who know me will, I'm sure, gladly confirm their positive experience of Glaswegian social savoir-faire.

    Oddly, this scientifically proven fact seems not to have affected the stereotypical image of Glaswegian behaviour found among our less privileged neighbours. People are strange.

  25. GeorgeW said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 12:46 pm

    "The study cited simply proves that Glaswegians are extremely polite."

    This, and some other comments, suggest that there is some universal standard of politeness that Glaswegians, Canadians, et al. conform to where other cultures do not. I don't think we can apply one cultural norm to all others in a hierarchy of politeness. Politeness norms simply differ from culture to culture. What seems polite to one, may seem rude or patronizing to another.

  26. Riikka said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 12:53 pm

    Aelfric: Maybe everybody hasn't seen Avenue Q yet? I assume you have played her the song!

    Sorry, yes, it was about sorry. I live in Finland, and here nobody says sorry. When you bump into someone you say "Oho!" (=Oops!) and continue. Alternatively, if you're feeling international and nice, you can use the local variant of sorry, namely "sori". It sounds better than "oho", although the meaning is no different.

  27. quixote said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 2:33 pm

    Can it be that nobody has mentioned Sorry!? Perhaps the best serial apologizing the world has ever seen. Ronnie Corbett, Barbara Lott. Perfect.

  28. Jon said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 2:56 pm

    @Ralph Hickok: When Monty Python first appeared on television in the U.S., I was struck by how often they used "Sorry" when a character thought he had misheard…

    Oddly enough, John Cleese once wrote a rant complaining about British people saying sorry too much. The example he gave was someone at the dinner table saying "Sorry, could you pass the salt?".

    I thought his complaint daft. The 'sorry' there means "sorry to trouble you", identical in meaning to "excuse me". It's an attention getter, a polite way to start a request.

  29. hector said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 3:31 pm

    "Don't forget the correct pronunciation: "soary". It's one of those little shibboleths that give away Canadian actors."

    – myl, perhaps you could do a post on American stereotypes of Canadian pronunciations? And, you know, the fact that there are regional pronunciations in Canada, just like in other countries?

  30. Alyssa said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 4:33 pm

    I agree with Michael Becker that this stereotype probably comes from the "soary" pronunciation – Canadians don't say sorry any more often, Americans just notice it more when they do because of the unexpected pronunciation.

    It just seems unlikely to be a coincidence that "sorry" is one of the few common words that's pronounced differently in standard american vs standard canadian.

  31. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 4:45 pm


    My comments re Glaswegian politeness may possibly have assumed more background cultural knowledge than it is reasonable to expect in the present context. UK folk will understand.

    Personally I've always found *Americans* (in general) strikingly more polite than Brits (in general), though my sample is certainly unrepresentative as I've never visited the USA.

    Perhaps the common thread is that one tends to *notice* politeness more when it takes less familiar forms than one is used to.

  32. David Eddyshaw said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 4:56 pm

    @Jon, @Ralph Hickok:

    Aspiring middle-class young Britons indeed used to be admonished specifically that it was lower-class to say "pardon?" when failing to hear something, and one should say "sorry?" instead.

    "Eh?" and "what?" are of course inconceivable. Nanny would have had conniptions.

  33. Margaret S. said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 5:04 pm

    The "wrong" vowel? Sorry, but Americans pronounce it "sarry", and there is no reason why that should be so.

  34. Erik said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 5:47 pm

    Perhaps, this is even less scientific than what Mark did, but it was so easy to do that I figured "why not?" According to GLOWBE, the frequency per million words of the word "sorry" is:
    US: 110.25
    CA: 63.04
    GB: 104.44

    Not looking good for the stereotype.

  35. Michael Briggs said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 6:09 pm

    @Margaret S.: in Wisconsin we don't say "sarry," assuming you mean a pronuncation that rhymes with "marry," "merry" and "Mary." (Yup, all three of those sound the same here. We use a short "o," like the one in "hot."

  36. Brett said,

    July 3, 2014 @ 6:27 pm

    My subjective impression is that both Brits and Canadians say "sorry" more than Americans like myself. For me, "sorry" is largely reserved for situations in which I feel that I was actually at fault. So saying, "Sorry to disturb you, but…" does not work at a dinner table (where everyone sitting there has incurred the social obligation of passing the salt to somebody else who needs it; it's not my fault if I can't reach the salt shaker from where I'm sitting). There are other things to say when there's no actual fault involved, like, "Excuse me," or, "Pardon me." Ultimately, which polite phrases are appropriate in which situations is arbitrary in a culturally-dependent way. "I beg your pardon," would be extremely formal to an American, but it's traditionally considered quite low class in Britain.

  37. Simon P said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 12:12 am

    By the way, how come "sorry" is considered an apology but "excuse me" is not?

  38. postageincluded said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 12:27 am

    Sorry, but in British English although "Pardon?" as a single word replacement for "What?" is considered "quite low class", in my experience the quaint American "Pardon me" has a rustic gentility that plain common "Pardon?" never has.

    "I beg your pardon" is generally used as a jocular exaggeration here (in England at least) – it's now too formal or too archaic to be used seriously.

  39. Martin J Ball said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 12:57 am

    What struck me about American use of "excuse me" was the tendency (In Louisiana at least) for people in supermarkets to say "excuse me" when they passed you in an aisle, even though there was a good six foot (2 metres) between you and them…. As a Brit, I'd only use "excuse me" if I had to brush passed someone! I;ve now moved to Sweden where such circumstances seem to require no verbalization at all.

  40. PeterL said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 1:39 am

    Canadian "sorry" is outdone by Japanese sumimasen, shitsurei shimashita, gomen nasai, etc. (Of course, in Japanese sumimasen can also be used where "thank-you" would be used in English.)

    In California, the response to "thank-you" is usually a grunt or nothing; in Canada, it's rude to not reply with "you're welcome" or similar. When I go back to Vancouver from California, I notice how rude I've become.

  41. Vanya said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 2:52 am

    At one point in the last 10 years did Anglo-Canadians decide they could appropriate poutine as a "Canadian" dish? I remember people in Toronto scoffing at poutine as a ridiculous uncouth Quebecois concoction, and it was almost impossible to find in Ontario anyway. I've never seen poutine in the maritimes either. But lately there seems to be an effort to claim poutine as "Canadian". Is poutine now widely available outside Quebec? Americans don't go around claiming poboys or jambalaya are archetypal "USA" food.

    [(myl) I sense some ambivalence.]

  42. Chas Belov said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 3:35 am

    @PeterL "In California, the response to "thank-you" is usually a grunt or nothing."

    Sorry? The typical response I get to "thank you" in the SF Bay Area, California, is "No problem."

  43. Simon P said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 5:47 am

    Swedes don't say "sorry" very much at all, when I think about it. We do, however, say "Thank you" a lot. Usually in the supermarket, the conversation goes like this:
    A: "Hello"
    B: "Hello"
    A: "Thank you"
    B: "Thank you"
    A: "Thank you"
    B: "Thank you"

  44. Ralph Hickok said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 7:05 am

    @Martin J Ball:
    I was taught to say "Excuse me" when 1. a person is in my way and I need that person to move a bit to make way for me or 2. I am about to pass in front of a person, thereby blocking their view. I do tend to say "Excuse me" quite a lot in supermarkets because someone is scanning a shelf, trying to find something. I may be a considerable distance away, but I am still intruding, so to speak.

    BTW, when I saw "I was taught," I do mean that I learned it in school. In seventh- or eighth-grade social studies, we were actually taught manners, how to write letters (including the correct forms or address), how to set a table, and so forth. I wonder if schools still teach such niceties?

  45. George said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 9:31 am

    Simon P asked 'By the way, how come "sorry" is considered an apology but "excuse me" is not?'

    I think the thing is that 'sorry' isn't necessarily apologetic at all. I'm Irish and we use 'sorry' quite a lot too in all sorts of non-apologetic situations.

    For example, it's not uncommon for people to say 'sorry' to get a waiter's attention in a restaurant. Nothing else seems to be readily available to do the job. 'Please' in isolation (which is how some languages deal with the issue) sounds weird.

    'Sorry' can also be used quite aggressively (and I don't mean passive-aggressively). A well-turned 'sorry' can express the whole of 'What the f**k do you think you're doing?" in just one word…

  46. Brett said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 10:48 am

    @Simon P: There is no discernible reason why "sorry" generally indicates an actual apology in American English, which "excuse me" does not. It's simple a contingent fact of they way the usages developed. Either one could have gone either way; as has been pointed out, the same distinction does not need to exist in other varieties of English.

  47. Dan H said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 11:14 am

    @Brian T: As a Canadian (Manitoban), that usage of "sorry" seems perfectly normal to me. I'd read it as an apology for making a mistake — in particular, for nearly overcharging you.

    As a Brit it sounds perfectly normal to me as well. Although I think I'd be inclined to parse it as one of the many non-apologetic uses of "sorry". I don't read it as literally apologising for the mistake so much as highlighting that a mistake has been made.

    It is, after all, a lot quicker to say "sorry" than to say "wait, I have made an error and now need to recalculate."

  48. Pcv said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 11:32 am

    Saying sorry to get a waiter's attention would be very weird where I come from (California). I think if you said that, the waiter would look around trying to figure out what you had done wrong that you were apologizing for. It is much more common to say excuse me. My mother, who is Jamaican, always says "hello" to get waiters' attention. My siblings and I have been telling her that that sounds rude to Californians for at least 20 years but she doesn't seem to have any intention of changing her habit.

  49. bratschegirl said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 3:38 pm

    Darn, Chas Belov beat me to it. I'm a lifelong (Northern) Californian, and I've never encountered what PeterL describes. "No problem" is the nearly universal response here. I always say "you're welcome," but that makes me a definite outlier.

  50. Levantine said,

    July 4, 2014 @ 4:12 pm

    postageincluded, when did "pardon?" for "what?" become low class in BrE? As a reasonably well-spoken Londoner, I was always taught that it was the polite thing to say, though I myself use "sorry?". I did once read somewhere that certain posh people considered "pardon?" to be pseudo-genteel overkill for plain old "what?", but I didn't realise that this reflected a more generally held view.

    As for "I beg your pardon", I agree that you don't really hear this in BrE other than as a jocular or rhetorical exclamation (as, for example, when someone says something you find unacceptable or surprising). There's also the abbreviated "beg pardon?" that you hear spoken by servant types in programmes like Downton Abbey, which I suppose might help to answer my own question concerning standalone "pardon?".

  51. Zizoz said,

    July 5, 2014 @ 2:46 am

    @Michael Briggs: I'm assuming Margaret S. meant a pronunciation rhyming with "tarry", in the sense "of, like, or covered in tar". Assuming you have the father-bother merger, a pronunciation with the "hot" vowel would fit that description.

    I'm wondering, though — under the theory that Americans think Canadians say "sorry" a lot because they pronounce it differently, why doesn't it also happen in reverse?

  52. Ellen Gurman Bard said,

    July 5, 2014 @ 4:01 pm

    We're always delighted when a new use is found for the good ol' Map Task Corpus, but I'm not quite sure how 64 cooperative Glasgow undergrads, only one of whom was American, got to be a control group for a comparison between Canadians' behaviour and Americans' expectations for the frequency of 'sorry'. Perhaps because they were there?
    I don't know of a US English replication, but there is a Japanese version collected at Chiba University (, which Mika Ito has used to look for politeness markers, so that anyone who wants to compare stereotypes can have fun with the Glesga 64 and the Chiba 64.
    There is another dimension to the speakers' politeness in the HCRC/Chiba-DCIEM comparison, however. With the Scottish and Japanese versions, every speaker worked with someone they knew and someone they'd just met. We had the impression that some of the 'unfamiliar' dialogues were dressed to impress in terms of politeness, including that wonderful British custom of taking responsibility for another's apparent incompetence. On the other hand, the Canadians were all army reservists cooped up in a windowless lab for a 6-day stint of physical and mental tests. Give or take sleep deprivation (some were on alertness drugs), they'd have had a chance to get to know one another pretty well. So you can have fun with 'sorry' and familiarity, too.
    Come to think of it, our part of the DCIEM study showed only that the lucky groups on Modafinil weren't very good at learning from their errors or asking follow up questions. Does the use of 'Sorry' have anything to do with 'giving a damn'?

  53. Megan said,

    July 7, 2014 @ 9:40 pm

    I am an Australian with a stepson who has emigrated to Canada (Vancouver) and married a Canadian. My experience of travelling to Canada is that the general standard of politeness is higher than it is in Australia. Not so sure about the specific use of the word "sorry" – whether it's used more frequently in Canada than in Australia. But I do find that after several weeks in Canada, I have to really concentrate on being as polite as the locals and that upon my return to Australia, Australians seem very rude! My stepson often mutters apologies/explanations for my behaviour to his wife/friends – that is, he explains that I'm not trying to be rude, I'm just behaving like an Australian. This is especially the case with the use of sarcasm, which apparently doesn't translate all that well.

  54. Alan Palmer said,

    July 8, 2014 @ 5:24 am

    @ Levantine: when did "pardon?" for "what?" become low class in BrE?

    It goes back to (at least) the 1950s and 'U and non-U English' See the table on its Wikipedia page. 'What?' is U and 'Pardon?' is non-U.

  55. Levantine said,

    July 9, 2014 @ 3:25 am

    Alan Palmer, thanks! The list makes for interesting (and amusing) reading. I'm not sure anyone, no matter how posh, would prefer "looking glass" to "mirror" these days.

RSS feed for comments on this post · TrackBack URI

Leave a Comment