This week’s Weekly Writing Challenge: A Manner of Speaking may have been devised with Montréal in mind. Montréal is the largest city in the Canadian province of Québec, and a hotbed of mispronounced words, words borrowed from one language to another and local slang. If you ask the federal government about official languages they’ll tell you Canada is officially a bilingual country; English and French. Ask the same question of the provincial government and you’ll be told Québec has but one official language, French. But that’s a topic for another post at another time.
… locals call it Muntreal, never Mawntreal
Throw into the mix a whole bunch of immigrants from all over the world and you have a real linguistic mishmash. Although Montréal is a predominantly French-speaking city, a large portion of the population functions in English. There is an influence, albeit not as strong as it once was, from the English-speaking early settlers of the city. As the municipal flag indicates, there were four founding groups: The English (rose), Irish (shamrock), Scottish (Thistle) and French (fleur-de-lis). Of course as part of North America English has, and always will, play a major role in the city.
The first linguistic twist you encounter here is the pronunciation of the city’s name in English; locals call it Mun-tree-all, never Mawntreal. By all means say it in French, Mon-royAL but the half-way, drawing-out of the letter o will peg you as an outsider right off the bat. I understand people from Missouri say Missoura, and Cincinnati say Cincinnata and I gather residents of Baltimore are fond of Bal’more. So this civic slang isn’t unique to Montréal, but it is an excellent indicator of who is a native, and who is visiting or a newly arrived resident.
… if you ask someone where the subway is they will probably point you in the direction of a restaurant specializing in long sandwiches
There was a time, about a generation ago (maybe two), when many things were anglicized. Now that most people are at least comfortable with the French pronunciations things are different. However, I have relatives who, years ago, lived on a street called de L’Epee which was always called de leppy. My mother was born on rue de saint-vallier which was known by most as Decent Valley Street. A manner of speaking indeed, the pronunciation of these streets was purely phonetic to an English ear. Back when these bastardizations were in vogue even French-speaking locals used them when they were speaking English, as though the street had two names.
In Montréal, whether you’re English- or French-speaking, the underground transit system is called the Métro, never the subway. If you ask someone where the subway is they will probably point you in the direction of a restaurant specializing in long sandwiches. We don’t have corner convenience stores or 7-Elevens here, well we do, but they are referred to as dépanneurs, or deps for short, by most people regardless of language.
Mind you it works both ways; an English-speaking person looking for a place to leave their car may ask for stationnment. While a French-speaking person will ask for le parking.
But it’s all part of what makes Montréal tick; a little Europe in North America. The evolution of two languages living cheek-by-jowl and influencing each other.