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The Cape Breton accent is a group of variants of Canadian English spoken on Cape Breton Island, a large island on the north-eastern coast of the province of Nova Scotia in Canada, comprising about one-fifth of the province's area and about one-seventh of the population. Most of the inhabitants of European ancestry descend from people long resident on the island, and the community has had time to develop a local dialect. Many on the Island are descended from Highland Scottish settlers fleeing the Highland Clearances. But there has long been a French-Acadian element on the island, as well as Irish.
The accents can be divided into three categories: the Western or Scottish Gaelic accent (Inverness, Judique, Mabou, the Margarees), the Industrial accent (Sydney, Glace Bay) and the Acadian French (communities surrounding Cheticamp, L'Ardoise and Isle Madame). There are also influences of the Irish Gaelic accent that can be heard in numerous communities throughout the Island.
The primary influences on the accent are Scottish Gaelic and Scots. The rhythm of speech is generally quick-paced, with unstressed syllables often completely elided. Examples can be found with the speaking voices of performance artists The Rankins, Ashley MacIsaac, Natalie MacMaster, or the comedy duo Hughie and Allan.
This speech is heavily influenced by Irish settlers and is often the accent referred to as the Cape Breton accent. This accent has been popularized by comedians coming out of the Rise and Follies theatre/recording series and Maynard Morrison.
This speech stems from the influence of Acadian settlers residing in French communities throughout Cape Breton, resulting in many loanwords.
In other areas this also is the result of Gaelic influences where the sound "th" does not exist in the language and in some communities there is a notable mixture of both the Gaelic and French Acadian accents, particularly in the Richmond County area.
Cape Breton speech also has some idiosyncratic expressions.
One feature of Cape Breton dialect is common use of the term "boy", but is given the spelling "b'y" and pronounced "bye" as in 'good-bye', to address a person to whom one is speaking in lieu of use of the person's name or a more common term such as "sir", "ma'am", "man", "my son" or "mate", originally when the addressee is male but now is used to refer to both genders. A plural form "b'ys" is used to address numerous people. The terms can also be used to refer to a person or people not being addressed. This feature of Cape Breton vernacular is also characteristic of Newfoundland English.