Dead Giveaways: How To Pronounce Things The Winnipeg Way

December 14th, 2012 by Emma Durand-Wood

I laughed out loud reading Citizen Sourpuss’s recent post, You’re Not From Around These Here Parts: Winnipeg Edition, where she describes being mocked about her mispronunciation of Pembina, Keewatin, and Tec Voc. She says, despite having lived here for more than 2 years, “I still get outed as being an import when I open my fool mouth and talk about streets and locations.” Poor Tia! I know she’s not alone!

There are plenty of Winnipeg street and place names that just aren’t pronounced the way you’d expect. The ones I notice tend to be the French names:

  • Having grown up with parents who lived here years ago, I knew that Portage is not pronounced the French way (“Por-tahj”), but that’s a common mistake newbies and out-of-towners make. The Winnipeg way is “Por-didge”.
  • Des Meurons can go either way. I cringe because most people say “Dez mu-rahns”, although it should be pronounced closer to “Day Meu-rohn”. Hopefully you won’t get sideways looks if you say it the right way!
  • Lagimodiere. “La-zjih-moe-dee-yay” is the Anglicized version. “Lah-zji-mod-ee-air” is closer to the correct French pronunciation. (If you are a giant nerd like me, you may be interested in an upcoming Skywalk lecture, “Fun with French Historical Phonetics: Why Winnipeggers Rhyme Lagimodière with Gauthier“, with Glenn Moulaison, UWinnipeg Languages & Literatures.) Either way, it’s a bit of a mouthful, and to get out of having to say it either way, locals often shorten it in print and out loud to “Lag”, pronounced something like ‘Lazh”.

Comments on Tia’s post suggested that these unexpected pronunciations are “Pegcentricities”, which I adore. Every city has them! I always get a kick out of outsiders calling Lethbridge’s Whoop-Up Drive “wup up”. It’s WhOOp! There are two Os! And I distinctly remember, when I was new to Vancouver, having a long discussion about how to pronounce Arbutus Street. Ar-butt-us? Arb-you-tus? It’s the latter, but you can see how it might be confusing it you didn’t grow up in a place where Arbutus trees grow.

I would love to hear other people’s observations on what Winnipeg street names or places aren’t pronounced quite as you’d expect, or are confusing for newbies and out-out-towners!

13 Responses to “Dead Giveaways: How To Pronounce Things The Winnipeg Way”

  1. Mike says:

    One that springs readily to mind is St. Vital – pronounced Vih-TAL, not vital as in vital signs. One of my friends had neighbours from Ontario who refused to accept this. Tache is another that I’ve often encountered when speaking to out of town tech-support types who rhyme it with attach. Both completely understandable, particularly Tache which usually gets written without the proper accent on the e.
    When I lived in Calgary the way to tell the out of towners was whether they pronounced the city’s name “Cal-Gary” like the outsiders do, or “Cal-guhry” like Calgarians do.

  2. Emma says:

    Great ones, Mike! And yes – I’m not even from Calgary, but Cal-GARY drives me crazy!

  3. Carley says:

    The inner geek in me loved this post!

  4. Prairie Jill says:

    Great post! How about Corydon? I’m still not sure I’ve got it right (hey, I’ve only been here since May!), but the local pronunciation seems to be more like “corr-ih-din” not “cor-ree-don”.

  5. Katie says:

    This is so interesting and timely… the SO and I are contemplating a move from Southern Ontario to Winnipeg in 2013 (great work opportunity for him) and are coming out in January to get the lay of the land. I will certainly store these away for future reference, and look forward to reading the rest of your blog! 🙂

  6. Emma says:

    @Carley – Thanks!
    @Prairie Jill – You got it, Corr-ih-dun (or -din) is how it’s said!
    @Katie – I’m sure there are dozens more – please be sure to let me know if you discover any during your trip. And of course, hope your move works out!

  7. Great post! I can’t think of any directly in Winnipeg that you haven’t mentioned but the town of La Rivière is one that I mess up. I always want to pronounce it the french way but have been corrected by locals.

    Halifax has some great ones too – Agricola Street, Robie Street off the top of my head.

  8. Emma says:

    @Little Gray Bird – oh yeah! My cousins used to live in La Riviere and I remember thinking, as a young French Immersion student, how ridiculous the accepted pronunciation was!

    And now I’m curious – how do you pronounce Agricola? I’d guess like “agriculture” but replace the “culture” with “cola” like pop?? Pretty street name!

  9. ConcernedAboutWinnipeg says:

    I was once on the phone with Canadian Tire’s customer service (based somewhere else), and they told me the item I wanted was in stock at the Cuh-NASS-ton store. Despite having grown up in Winnipeg, I figured maybe there was a “Canaston Street” and an entire Canadian Tire store that I was completely unaware of… and then I realized she was talking about the store on Kenaston.

    I also love the fact that in Winnipeg we Anglos differentiate our Notre Dames: the major street that leads northwestward away from downtown is “note-er dayme”, while the quiet residential street in St. Boniface is “NAW-truh dam”. I guess we figure that because it’s in St. B we should at least make a half-hearted attempt to get it right?

  10. Vangirl says:

    How about Cockburn st. Just off of Corydon. Now, one would assume it was pronounced the way it is spelled. However, it is pronounced ‘coh- burn’ Since when is the ck silent in the english language? lol

  11. CaptainCanoe says:

    Having lived by Cockburn st. for many years people will insist it be called Co-Burn but I never understood how the ck is silent in it. I personally believe it was originally called how it’s spelled but people realized how bad it sounds and started calling it Co-burn to try and stop the embarrassment of living on the street lol

  12. Ianthe says:

    I was so glad to find your blog post. I teach newcomers and was asked about whether Portage was pronounced in French. I didn’t think so but I wasn’t sure. It was great to have you mention Lagimodiere and Des Meurons, I realize that, as with most times when there are two ways to pronounce English words (British or American), Canadians do both, it would appear the same approach is taken to words that come from French. There is the common pronunciation and then there is another one. I remember early in my career using the Anglicized pronunciation of Des Meurons and having my French Canadian boss respond in horror. It made me realize what I was doing and that the French pronunciation was much more pleasing so I have used that ever since. I am sure I only use the English pronunciation of Portage Avenue. Great thought provoking blog post. I also like the title Winnipeg of My Heart.

  13. Delilah says:

    I really need an audio file or link teach how to pronounce these worlds the Winnipeg locals way.

    Anyone can make one, post on youtube or anything?

    Thank you.

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