I've noticed over the years that many non-locals have a tendency to mispronounce the name of our city — well, at least the proper anglophone Canadian way to pronounce "Montreal."
Say you're catching your fave American artist at the Bell Centre, or hear a Hollywood actor lead namedrop the 514 in a film, you'll often notice they say "MAWN-tree-all" (IPA: /mɔntriˈɔl/) instead of the more common way to say it, which is "MUHN-tree-all" similarly to how we'd say "Monday" (IPA: /mʌnˌdeɪ/), or "money" (IPA: /mʌni/), right?
Of course, we're well aware that the French pronunciation is favoured by francophones, people from bilingual households and some anglophones — who, admit it, are showing off.
So, this linguistic phenomenon got me thinking… why does our city's name get butchered so often? Well, there's an answer to that.
MTL Blog spoke with Dr. Charles Boberg, an associate professor at McGill University's Department of Linguistics, who says that it comes down to the complexities of the English language.
Professor Boberg pointed out that there are a number of English words that include the letter "o" that also make the short-o sound such as lot, ponder, hot, monitor, and modern, to name a few.
"When English speakers see a foreign word like 'Montreal' they have a choice of native pronunciations: mahn-tree-AWL and muhn-tree-AWL," says Dr. Boberg — both of which make sense linguistically.
Turns out, there are dozens of examples of local names that are often pronounced differently by non-locals, which the expert in language variation and change describes as a "fairly regular phenomenon in regional linguistic variation."
"Local pronunciations often exhibit a more natural pronunciation, typical of words that are used frequently, whereas non-local pronunciations, treating the words as a novelty, pronounce it more conservatively."
So, what gives with Montreal? Well, Dr. Boberg indicates states that pronouncing "Montreal" like "money" "treats it as a native word, whereas Americans who are less familiar with it, perhaps aware it's really a French word, give the first vowel the default English value of short-o heard in 'lot'," he said.
A few other places that experience a similar linguistic dilemma include Nevada, Colorado, Calgary, Saskatchewan, New Orleans and, of course, Quebec.
"'Quebec is perhaps an even more interesting example, having at least three attested variants: kwuh-BECK (IPA: /kwəˈbɛk/), kuh-BECK ((IPA: /kəˈbɛk/), and kay-BECK ((IPA: /keˈbɛk/)," Dr. Boberg added.
This article's cover image was used for illustrative purposes only.