The stereotype might actually be true. A newly published study suggests Canadians are more polite than Americans—but only on Twitter.
Researchers at McMaster University analyzed 40 million tweets from English speakers both north and south of the 49th parallel. They discovered that words used disproportionately by Canadians or Americans on the social media platform match commonly held national stereotypes. Words over-represented in Canadian tweets tended to be more positive, while those over-represented in American tweets include negative language and profanity.
Though prior studies reveal no difference between American and Canadian personalities, the perception of that difference continues to exist. The authors argue it could be that national stereotypes are grounded instead in language.
“So, the stereotypes are true, but you have to be very careful about what they are true of,” the work’s lead author, Bryor Snefjella, tells Quartz. “They do not seem to be true of differences in personality traits between nations. They seem to be true of the language choices that Canadians and Americans make online.”
As part of their work, the researchers determined the most over-represented words in the tweets of Americans and Canadians. The vast majority of word usage did not differ between the nations; however, it was the words with extreme differences in relative use that mirrored stereotypes.
Over-represented American language included significantly more emojis, and a relative preference toward profanity and racial slurs.
Canadian tweets, on the other hand, included relatively few emojis, and a much greater representation of positive sentiment.
Though Snefjella is excited about the fresh perspective their findings bring to the conversation about the origin of stereotypes, he is quick to emphasize that the study does not say the stereotypes are intrinsic to individuals.
“We are not saying ‘Canadians talk nice because they are nice’ or ‘Americans talk rudely because they’re rude’,” stresses Snefjella. “It seems rather than there being a Canadian or American “essence” being Canadian or American is something we do, and we seem to do it through our language choices as nations.”