Street Wise in NOLA

Rue de Chartres (Times-Picayune-Nola)

I just came across this very interesting series that The Listening Post & The Times Picayune-NOLA have started putting together; about pronunciation of street names in New Orleans, Louisiana.  They ask people on the streets how to pronounce the word they’ve just spelled and then they have a linguist, from Tulane University’s Anthropology Department, tell you how it’s pronounced in New Orleans, as well as how it would have originally been pronounced.  But I feel like their linguist missed a little on two of the streets.

Chartres: This was the first one I listened to.  A lot of street signs in New Orleans, mainly in the Quarter, are Rue de _______, whatever the name is.  It simply means __________ Street.  So, this would be Chartres Street.  But, it did make me cringe a bit that the people on the streets were saying “roooo day”.  I don’t have audio capability on here, so this is a bit difficult, but the Rue is pronounced roo, but clipped, instead of drawn out (though I’ll accept it & not cringe… too much).  De is never ‘day’, ever; it is a clipped ‘do’.  Also, the guy who pronounces the S at the end, as in ‘shartreys’.  S’s are never pronounced at the end of words in French.  It’s like Corps, as in Marine Corps.  That is a French word and is still pronounced similarly in English; with no S (or no p, but I couldn’t think of another S ending word off-hand besides that one).  Core vs a body of a dead person/corps.

As far as Chartres, it’s Char-ters, as per New Orleans.  The Linguist, I feel clips her French ending a tad too short; just a tad.  In French it is Shar-truh, but the way she pronounces it, it appears to be SHAR-t.  The ‘truh’ is certainly clipped in French & barely there, but it is a little more there than hers.

Burgundy: In New Orleans it is ‘bur-GUN-dee’.  I find that it makes perfect sense that people from New Orleans would pronounce it this way as it is very close to the French, in a way, but I feel the linguist missed the opportunity to explain that.  Yes, she’s correct that the region in France named Burgundy is not pronounced as in English.  Because it is Bourgogne, but it’s pronounced ‘boor-gun-yuh’ & the linguist is missing the ‘yuh’, unless she’s simply over-clipping again.  But New Orleans people are French people who learned to speak English, for the most part.  When French people say burgundy in the English way, they pronounce it ‘behr-gun-DEE’, which is extremely similar to the New Orleans of ‘bur-GUN-dee’.  There is no ‘bur-gen-dee’ as in English.  It is a deep and genuine ‘gun’ in both instances.   As for you proper English speakers, you may be saying ‘gun’, but it is very shallow and more of a gen/gin, as compared to the French or the New Orleans way. That, to me, is a far better explanation than, “Burgundy comes from the French region ‘boor-gun’ (where’s the yuh?) whether that stress on the second syllable in English comes from the French stress pattern or whether it’s something that comes from another dialect of English, we’re not sure.”

Tchoupitoulas: This one I can never spell, but I’m not sure most people can accurately.  There are varied ways to say this in New Orleans, but I think the most common is ‘Chop-uh-too-lus’.  I always figured it was an Indigenous word that the French heard and wrote down the French way.  The linguist comfirms that theory, so that was cool.  If one were to say it the French way it would be ‘chtoo-pih-too-lah’, which is also what I figured.

Melpomene: To my knowledge, I have never driven down Melpomene, but hearing them say it, it does sound familiar.  In New Orleans, as well as originally, it is ‘Mel-po-meen’.  Most people in American pronounce it ‘Mel-paw-muh-nee’, which to me seems like it’s switched, I would think that would be more New Orleans, but oh well.  It was interesting to hear that it’s a Greek Muse and that some people (in New Orleans) pronounce it with a ‘ph’ sound and insist it originally had an ‘H’ in it.

Though I’m writing this blog post, I am in no ways an expert.  I am not from New Orleans, nor have I ever lived in New Orleans.  I am, however, close enough to it that it has been my stomping grounds all of my life.  Though I know to a New Orleanians this doesn’t mean a thing.

I also am not of French heritage (sadly, as that would be spectacular, I think), nor have I ever lived in France.  I do, however, have five years of the French language under my belt so to speak.  I’m on a children’s conversation level, at best, but have remarkable recalling capabilities when reading.  So, that’s always nice, I think.  I’ve also been told by many peoples of many different nations that I have superb pronunciation skills.  I like that.  I do, I think it’s awesome.  I’m not tooting my own horn, I’m just trying to say, I do have an inkling about what I’m talking about here.

And as with other posts I’ve made, I make mention of growing up around French history and ways.  Because of my close proximity and large amounts of time spent in New Orleans, as well as the fact that my region was owned by France.  I’m part of France’s baby in the New World.

Though to note, New Orleans is no longer New France.  They, and their surrounding area’s, are all their own after so many years.  They have become their own version of what it means to have former ties to France.  They have Acadians who came down from the north, old world French, Haitian, & new world French or Creoles.

They also have ties to Spain, as Spain once owned the region as well.  As well as a myriad of other people and cultures that makes New Orleans and the surrounding parishes and area’s its own varied and wonderful entity.

Though the French had a large hand in shaping New Orleans, one can never truly say that it was all the French.  The cuisine is inspired by France, slaves from the Caribbean, and the Spanish.  While the style of housing in the Quarter is very French, the wrought iron railings and courtyards are courtesy of the Spanish.

The Creole language is a mix of French, Indigenous, & African; sometimes with some Spanish.  It is more of a pidgin language.  The Cajun language is what was used by French soldiers and settlers before the Acadians arrived, but is also a mixed with Spanish, English, Indigenous, & African.  Nothing is ever just French there.

Try to relate a sentence or something “French” from New Orleans to a French person and they will have no idea what you are talking about.

I love New Orleans, though it is not my home.  I am rather protective and fond of it, as I am my own home state and town.  It does not bother me that a tourist will go to Bourbon Street.  However, it does bother me when a tourist only visits Bourbon Street, trashes all of southern Louisiana (or Mississippi or the south in general) and exclaim how much they love that city though they’ve not even seen it yet.  Those tourists are abhorrent.  Don’t be that tourist.

I adore the Quarter, because I adore history.  The Quarter is lovely and charming and quirky.  New Orleans people will chide you for even visiting the Quarter.  I understand where they are coming from.  It’s all people ever want to see, but there is more to the city than that one location.  There are lots of places to go and things to do and see in that entire city.  I have not traversed all of it because I have Wal-Mart and petrol stations in my own town.  I’m not going to go out-of-the-way for something so every day.  But I have gone to out-of-the-way places for one thing that seemed awesome.  It was worth going.  It was worth experiencing.  It was certainly not the every day.

But I will still always visit the Quarter because I find something new and quite interesting on each trip.  Something tucked away that only local people will find because tourists are too busy at Cafe Du Monde (which I do love), Bourbon Street or The House of Blues (which I do not love, though I have been to both).

I have found a quirky French Bakery over near Esplanade.  A wonderful little neighbourhood park on the other side called Washington Square, technically not in the Quarter but it’s right there.  I spotted inaccuracies in Russian script at a super hip communist Russian-esque bar.  Sure, it’s a trendy place, but who would be reading the writing on the wall to begin with, much less being able to say, ‘huh, that’s not right.’, when really their just worried with looking ‘cool’.  I have found amazing Gumbo in the Quarter and ate fabulous and authentic German food for the first time ever.  I’ve been into local grocery marts and had New Orleans market food.  I’ve had excellent beignets and cafe au laits with feral cats at a place not often ventured to by tourists, eaten gelato for the first time ever.  I have seen a young Indigenous girl dance an Irish reel.

But beyond the Quarter, I have found more wonderful city parks (not Audubon, though I have been), seen fabulous houses, had authentic Spanish & Indian food, found a cupcakery that made the best cupcakes ever, helped homeless pets by buying a thrifted item, tromped through local neighbourhoods, had coffee in a bank, visited a comic book store on Free Comic Book Day, stayed in an old orphan asylum, helped business owners save for a new ship, “stalked” a celebrity.

I could go on.  The point is that is I try to thoroughly enjoy the city as much as I can on each visit, no matter which part it is.  If you’re only hitting up Bourbon Street and the Hard Rock Cafe, then you don’t know New Orleans at all.  It is a shame.  Get out there and go somewhere different.  Experience something that is really New Orleans, not something that is merely in New Orleans that is catering to what you think you want.

And for heaven’s sake, please don’t say ‘rooooo dey’.


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