If you follow enough Canadians on Twitter, you’re more likely to read cheerful words – thanks, amazing, please -- and see an unusual number of smiley emoticons cross your screen.
Americans, on the other hand, tend to tweet more emojis, swear words and expressions of negative emotions like hatred and anger.
That’s according to analysis of 37 million tweets from both sides of the border by linguistic experts from McMaster University. And while the findings appear to reinforce the stereotype of Canadians as friendly and Americans as brash, researchers say there’s more to the story.
The study, published Wednesday in the journal PLOS ONE, suggests that the language used in tweets reflects the overarching national stereotypes about Canadians and Americans.
“The most distinctive word choices of Americans and Canadians on Twitter paint a very accurate and familiar picture of the stereotypes we associate with people from these nations,” said Daniel Schmidtke, co-author of the study and a post-doctoral researcher at McMaster, in a statement.
Researchers combed through millions of tweets and looked for words that were over-represented from each country.
In Canada, those words included great, new, well, good, coffee, shawn, drinking and winter. Several sports-related words made the list, including game, habs, jays, leafs, hockey, playoffs, flames.
Tweets from the U.S. leaned heavily on online slang (lol, lmao, smh), swear words, and words used to express negative feelings (hate, damn, mad, ugly).
Researchers pointed out the obvious pattern: based on word choice, Canadians appear happier.
That may be true. According to the World Happiness Report, which measures self-reported happiness levels, Canada consistently ranks higher than the U.S. From 2015 to 2017, Canada ranked 7th out of 156 countries. The U.S. ranked 18th.
Researchers write that “the stereotype of a happy Canadian is grounded in the reality of Canadians feeling more happy than their southern neighbors, and these differing levels of happiness also emerge in lexical preferences of the two countries.”
Happiness may be apparent in the words we use. But researchers are less convinced that the tweets confirm broader stereotypes – namely, that Canadians are nicer.
To date, there is simply not enough evidence to prove this belief. Self-reports of personality profiles of Canadians and Americans have yet to prove that that there is any measurable difference between the two groups.
If there is a difference, researchers say, it’s in the way we express our feelings to others. And the expression of those feelings may reinforce the stereotypes that we’ve come to believe about our two cultures.
Just because our words reflect the stereotypes of the “nice” Canadian does not mean our behaviours follow the same pattern.
“What we show is that when the linguistic choices of the individuals that make up a nation are added up, they do not match aggregated self-reports of personality profiles of that population. Rather what emerges is consistent with the national character stereotype,” researchers wrote.
“In other words, thinking that individual Canadians are quiet and nice, or individual Americans are brash and outgoing because their combined behaviors point to those traits, might be an ecological fallacy.”
Researchers suggest that future studies look into the questions such as “where do stereotypes come from” and “where do distinctive linguistic behaviors come from.”
Until then, the words of Nigerian author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who has given lectures about the problem with stereotypes, ring true.
“The problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. They make one story become the only story.”