Canada, History, Humor, Montreal, Weekly Writing Challenge

Don’t ask for the subway in Mun-tree-all unless you’re hungry


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

Historical language make-upFlag_of_Montreal.svg

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.

Local pronunciation

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.

Borrowed words

Depanneur-ville-emardIn 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.

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10 thoughts on “Don’t ask for the subway in Mun-tree-all unless you’re hungry

  1. Pingback: I Speak In Song Titles | Cheri Speak

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  4. Montreal is such a beautiful city and I so enjoyed this post, reminding me of the corner store thing and how much the languages mix together there. I loved the style of the women (so much better than here in Toronto), just seems so natural to them. Would have loved that natural grace.
    Thanks for pointing me to the article. Was a great read.

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