Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Canadian Place Names

This weekend I was at a conference where a large number of the speakers happened to be Canadian. It struck me that a large number of Canadian toponyms have different pronunciations in Canadian English and American. Some examples:

Canadian M/ʌ/ntreal vs. U.S. M/ɑ/ntreal
Canadian Newfoundland vs. U.S. Newfoundland
Canadian Tronto [or even "Chronno" - thanks, mzn!] vs. U.S. T/ɚ/onto

I think that the pseudo-French pronunciation of Quebec as /kebek/ in Canada is a different, and later phenomenon, a sort of particularly Canadian political correctness. But the others are simply place names for which separate American and Canadian pronunciations exist, each of which are the only legitmate option for Anglophones of the respective countries. For instance, though I'm American, I've started saying M/ʌ/ntreal, which is an affectation, and I'm annoyed with myself for it. Perhaps my excuse is that I'm a quarter Canadian (my Grandmother was Canadian). No, that's no excuse.

I tried to think of other examples of this phenomenon of different pronunciations of toponyms within a language (aside from ones you can explain with reference to dialect differences), but I could only think of a few. For instance, Oregonians get huffy any time they hear "Oregon" with secondary stress on the last syllable and no vowel reduction. Little do they know that the only people who say Oreg̚n are from there (or those like me who have lived there and had the mainstream pronunciation beaten out of them.


mzn said...

I grew up in Toronto and I think there are actually many ways of pronouncing it. Some Canadians barely pronounce the second T at all, so it sounds something like "Tron-O." Some also pronounce the initial T almost like a ch. No one in Toronto pronounces the first O as in the Spanish way of saying Toledo, but many do pronounce it like the first O in Montreal. And of course, French Canadians pronounce it quite differently, never skipping the first vowel.

Ben said...

Oh yeah, now that you mention it I've certainly heard "Chronno" - thanks for pointing that out.

So you grew up in Canada - that explains why positive "anymore" is foreign to you.

On some blogs commenters try and make up definitions for the word verification words, and I've got a doozy right now.

"Yovzhle" - an adjective in Yiddish meaning "messy to a depression-inducing degree."

בײַ מיר אין שטוב איז נעבעך יאָװזשלע

argotnaut said...

I grew up in a small town not too far from Ottawa, Illinois. We pronounced the last syllable with a schwa, not the clear "ah" that I heard during a recent visit to Toronto.

Ben said...

Good point, and not only do we Illinoisans pronounce Ottawa IL that way, we pronounce the capital of Canada that way too. In fact, because of weird constraints I don't understand having to do with vowel reduction, I have trouble even saying /Ottawah/ the Canadian way; the closest I can come is /Ottawaugh/, and even then I have to stress the last syllable a bit too much.

You've touched on a related matter of American towns named after well-known cities elsewhere, though their pronunciations differ. In Illinois, for instance, we have Cairo, which is pronounced differently from Cairo, Egypt.

Ben said...

p.s. I'm extremely jealous of you for coming up with "argotnaut." As a Classics rofessor of mine used to say, mega kudos!

argotnaut said...

Clearly you don't have the low back merger!

Mega kudos? Hmmm, that sounds a bit like something you wouldn't want ... "I got me the mega kudos real bad!" But thanks. :)

Ben said...

Yup, no low-back merger at all. You "cot" me! How 'bout you? Incidentally, I'd never heard of Ottawa, although my grandfather o"h (who would have turned 100 this St. Patrick's day) grew up in Watseka and Kankakee.

Good luck with those megakudos. They say the cure is worse than the disease...

argotnaut said...

I remain unmerged and unbowed. My husband suggests that calling it the "haughty/hottie" merger might get more press than "caught/cot."