The bright side of the border

January 21, 2016
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 2 minutes

By: Saad Ejaz

Are Canadians more polite than Americans? A new study conducted by two McMaster researchers claims that there is some truth to the stereotype.

The study analyzed over three million geo-tagged tweets in Canada and the United States between February and October 2015. Removing words such as “a”, “the” and “to”, the researchers sorted the remaining words into word clouds, with the words that are more commonly used in the middle in larger text, while less commonly used words on the sides in smaller text.

Based on the word cloud, the most common words in Canada’s word cloud include “great”, “amazing”, “beautiful” and “favourite.” Other prevalent but less commonly used words include “awesome”, “nice”, “praise”, “congrats” and “enjoy.” There were no offensive or questionable terms in Canada’s word cloud.

Meanwhile, the American word cloud was the complete opposite. Negative words such as “hate”, “hell” and “damn” were favoured more by Americans, along with other profanities and racial slurs that have been blurred out in the graphic. Other less commonly and mildly negative words used include “tired”, “annoying”, “hurt”, “bored” and “dumb.”

The two Ph.D. candidates Daniel Schmidtke and Bryor Snefjella explained that their interest started with the question of border regions. “We thought that this was very interesting to study linguistically […] you have two places that are very close together and you have language differences at a border,” said Schmidtke.

The pair began their work by compiling a large amount of raw text and used different linguistics and computer science techniques to cut out words.

“Nicely, one reason we get such a nice crisp result is that this particular statistic we are using is good at both correcting the relative proportions — there are more Americans than Canadians — and helping with some of the tricky things such as word frequency distributions,” said Snefjella.

Schmidtke and Snefjella have both analyzed a number of different border regions. These include East and West Germany, Scotland and England, Netherlands and Belgium, the U.S. and Canada. They mentioned that they have not seen such a distinct difference in language as between the U.S. and Canada. “I think what’s most interesting is that we evaluated a number of different border regions … and you only see this divide in positivity in the language with Canada and the US in this particular way,” said Snefjella.

“You only see this divide in positivity in the language with Canada and the US.”


The study gained worldwide attention almost overnight, which was a huge surprise to Schmidtke and Snefjella. “I think it just seems to hit a nerve in general. I knew it would be of interest to people but not of such huge public interest,” said Schmidtke.

Schmidtke and Snefjella work in linguist Victor Kuperman’s lab and the Sherman Centre for Digital Scholarship at McMaster University.

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