“N’Awlins” And Other Abbreviations

Willimantic

Willimantic, Connecticut, by J. Walden Weir (1893)

In an episode of Gordon Ramsay’s “Kitchen Nightmares,” a ridiculous (and non-local) restauranteur tries to convince Ramsay that New Orleans‘ pronunciation is “N’Awlins” (nɔ:lɪnz). As any New Orleanian will tell you, “N’Awlins” is largely a tourist affectation. You might as well insist that “New Jersey” is pronounced “New Joysey.”

Although my impression is that locals rarely say “N’Awlinz,” it probably has some basis in reality. Far from being the preferred native pronunciation, however, it’s likely the most extreme abbreviation in a series of progressively shorter variants: “New Orlee-uns” (nu: ˈɔ:lɪənz) –> “New Orlinz” (nu: ˈɔ:lɪnz) –> (“N’w Orlinz” (nwɔ:lɪnz) –> “N’Orlinz” (nɔ:lɪnz).

The Big Easy isn’t unique in this regard. I would cite several cities with similar “abbreviation continuums.” For instance:

Toronto:

“Toronto” (təɹɒnto) –> “Tronto” (tɹɒnto) –> “Trono” (tɹɒno)

Louisville:

“Louisville” (luɪvil) –> “Loo-uh-ville” (luəvil) –> “Loouhvuhl” (luəvəl)

Baltimore:

“Baltimore” (bɔ:ltɪmɔɚ) –> “Bawdimore” (bɔ:ɾɪmɔɚ) –> “Bawmore” (bɔ:mɔɚ)

I’m not going for strict accuracy here (I’m probably missing a step or two along the way). Nevertheless, it seems that there are often a few people (usually non-local) who are eager to suggest the pronunciation with the most elisions is the “local” one.

For instance, I had a semi-Canadian friend in college who insisted that the city’s “true” local pronunciation was “Trawno” and that Mississauga‘s corresponding pronunciation was “Missawga” (mɪsɒgə). Many Canadian obviously pronounce these words without the elided “o” and “i,” so this clearly doesn’t ring true.

What is true is that people are often inconsistent in how they pronounce their home towns. I grew up in and around a place called Willimantic, for instance, and while I often say this word exactly how it is spelled (wɪlɪˈmæntɪk), I have also been known to call it “Willmantic” (wɪlˈmæntɪk) and occasionally “Wimantic” (wɪˈmæntɪk). But that is not to suggest that “Wimantic” is the “local” pronunciation, but rather that Mohegan-Pequot is not a language whose phonemes find bosom buddies within the English sound inventory. So sometimes, in a rush, I tend to slur.

Place names, which rarely derive from modern English, are often awkward to pronounce. It’s no wonder Anglicized French or native American names like “Louisville” and “Willimantic” are subject to dropped syllables and consonants. And while sheer frequency might lead natives to slur these words more than outsiders, it’s not always the case that such abbreviations are the “correct” pronunciation.

Do you pronounce your home town in a consistent way?

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About Ben Trawick-Smith

Ben Trawick-Smith began his dialect fascination while working in theatre. He has worked as an actor, playwright, director, critic and dialect coach. Other passions include linguistics, urban development, philosophy and film.
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64 Responses to “N’Awlins” And Other Abbreviations

  1. Angus-Michel says:

    I do, I think, but it’s already simplified for me: Kingston, formerly known as Kingstown.

    I’ve had arguments with L2 speakers of Canadian English about the pronunciation of Toronto that they should be aiming for. One Québecois friend of mine insisted that he should say tɹɒnə because someone (an Ontarian not from Toronto) had told him it was the way locals said it. I and an actual Torontonian spent ages arguing him down from that. It was kind of surreal.

    • DieterChan says:

      Here I’d like to ask the author and y’all dear ones a question, we know in the South of USA, people tend to have glide-deletion (ai-ah) in their speech, as in words like ride, time, buy, they are sounded out as /rahd/, /tahm/, and /bah/, especially before voiced consonants. But what I am interested in is, in phrases such as “ I am”, “buy a car”, “fly away”, “cry out”, in general American accents, people may tend to do a “y” liaison between “y” and the vowels after it. That is, I-am (I yam), buy-a car (buy ya car), and the same for fly-away and cry-out. Yet the question is, if the diphthong (ai) becomes monophthong (ah) in southern accent in words as “I, buy, fly” etc, how do people in the south sound these phrases? Do they do the same “y” liaison as people elsewhere in States, or simply no such a liaison? thanks!

    • ella says:

      I was born in Toronto, and tɹɒnə is a pretty close approximation to the rapid speech informal local pronunciation that *I* was exposed to.

  2. AL says:

    This might not be the same effect, but when I first moved to Boston three years ago I was amazed by the pronunciations of some Massachusetts cities/towns:

    Worcester / Wooster
    Gloucester / Glosster
    Peabody / Peab’dy
    Leominster / Leminster

    I guess this is not the same because in these cases, the pronunciation isn’t really optional.

    I’m from suburban MD (DC area) and I admit I sometimes pronounce Baltimore as Baldimore but I feel like that’s almost just like flapping the t?

    • Ros says:

      With the exception of Peabody, the pronunciations you noticed are simply the original British pronunciations of the towns in the UK they were named for.

      • Ellen K. says:

        I would guess those are NOT the original British pronunciations, and one time long ago (in Britain) the number of syllables matching in writing and spelling. Pronunciation at the time they were first used as U.S. place names, sure, but that’s not the same as original pronunciation.

        • Mazzoir says:

          To be fair, if you come from Leominster in the UK, its usually “LEMP-stuh”, with a epenthetic p.
          To look at things the other way, my housemate had an aussie friend staying over, who needed to make a train journey into london, which would require a change at Loughborough Junction. Which, as any fule kno, is pronounced LUFF-bruh. She managed to read it as LOO-Guh-buh-ROO-guh. Which of course it has now become, in our house.

      • Peter S. says:

        The town name Woburn is pronounced non-intuitively in Massachusetts (wu:bən) and as spelled in England (wəʊbən).

  3. Jason Reid says:

    Another thing about the “Tronno” pronunciation is that the process that makes the “nt” of “Toronto” a nasalized [ɾ] or [n] is not exclusive to Toronto or even Canada. It’s very widespread in the US too. To me it actually seems more common in the US. The part of that pronunciation that may be unique to Toronto or Canada is the elision of the schwa in the first syllable.

    AFAICT, I always pronounce my hometown in the same way, because it has a pretty short and easy name.

    • Sam Huddy says:

      Flapping in my experience is not as common in place names, so the specific pronunciation of the name “Toronto” is somewhat more exclusive.

    • Jason Reid says:

      So it’s my experience vs. your experience. OK :)

    • Jason Reid says:

      Do you know of any research on this topic?

      • Sam Huddy says:

        Sorry, I don’t, but I suspect it happens for the same reasons British people say “Los Angelees.” With place names, especially ones far away, there might be a tendency to pronounce more closely to the spelling.

      • Jason Reid says:

        Not to sound too much like a Wikipedian, but show us some sources to back up what you’re saying. The things you’re saying aren’t established facts; they’re just your own personal experiences, opinions and theories. Which is fine. We all have those after all. It’s just that you’re stating them like they’re facts, which is a bit annoying tbh.

        Also IMO the explanation you give doesn’t make sense. The British pronunciation of Los Angeles doesn’t make sense even as a spelling pronunciation. I could understand that pronunciation a bit more if it were spelled “Los Angelise” (but even then it wouldn’t make sense to me because the “s” should’t be voiced. Okay, it is voiced in a few words like “rose”, but not in the name “Elise”).

        • Ellen K. says:

          Sam Huddy said, “I suspect”, and “might be”. That’s not stating opinions as if they are facts. That’s stating an opinion as an opinion.

        • Jason Reid says:

          “…so the specific pronunciation of the name “Toronto” IS somewhat more exclusive.”

          “Sorry, I don’t, but I suspect IT HAPPENS for the same reasons British people say “Los Angelees.”

  4. Linda Wilkinson says:

    I am from Vancouver BC, and have always found that hometowners (at least of my own and older generations) would pronounce the city’s name with an “ng” in the middle (like “Vangcouver”) while outsiders would pronounce the “n” and “c” separately.

    • Alex says:

      Sounds strange when “Vangcouver” would actually be the standard realisation, as a rule all nasals assimilate to the following consonant.

      • dw says:

        But assimilation is blocked by a morpheme boundary. The realization [-nk-] suggests two morphemes: Van-Couver.

        I’ve experienced similar pronunciations for “income” and “pancake”: for me those both have [-ŋk-] but I’ve heard others, especially in the US, use [-nk-], suggesting “in-come” and “pan-cake” (which of course must be how both words originated).

  5. Sooryan FM says:

    All Canadians I know pronounce [ˌmɪsɪˈsɑːɡə] and not [ˌmɪˈsɒgə], the stressed vowel is unrounded, even in the accent of those who round the Don/dawn/Paul/pol/cot/caught vowel.

  6. Sooryan FM says:

    So, the case of Mississauga is more similar to that of Utah (Yutah and not Yutaw) than to the one of Los Angeles (Lahs vs Loughss Angeles).

  7. Christianne says:

    This is not quite the same, but I know many people who like to refer to San Fran. Being from the spectacular city of San Francisco I don’t recal any natives shortening the, arguably, long name.

    • IVV says:

      However, one important difference is that native San Franciscans will accept a tourist calling their fair city “San Fran.” They will not accept another tourist favorite, “Frisco.”

      In my experience, the #1 way natives shorten the name of San Francisco is by calling it “The City.”

    • dw says:

      I’ve lived in the (San Francisco) Bay Area for 15 years, and I hear locals refer to San Francisco in one of two ways:
      * “The City” (vast majority of the time)
      * “San Francisco” (rest of the time)

      I hear “San Fran” and “SF” once in a while. “SFO” is used only for the airport. “Frisco” absolutely never.

      • Julie says:

        I’ve lived in Northern California for over (gasp!) 50 years now, but not in the Bay Area. You can hear “The City” for at least 100 miles from San Francisco (probably all the way to the Oregon border), and everyone knows what is meant. There’s only one City. The only people who don’t seem to get that are newcomers to Sacramento, who seem to think that our city merits that title. (And why it doesn’t seems to have been a mere accident of history.)
        Thanks to a rather notable newspaper columnist who originated here and became famous in San Francisco, we all know now that at one time, the going pronunciation of Sacramento was “Sackamenna.” I think that can still be heard, if one were to listen. Certainly I’ve heard something sort of like that.

  8. ginger says:

    I’m from Rochester, NY, and my non-native relatives insist that natives pronounce it Rahh’ch’ster. A majority of natives do pronounce the A in an almost impossibly nasal way, but certainly not everyone omits the other vowels. I’m in my 20s, and notice that younger folks are more likely to enunciate all 3 syllables.

    • dw says:

      The “impossibly nasal” vowel may be a result of the Northern cities vowel shift”.

      • ginger says:

        Oh, it absolutely is. Rochester offers a really good example of the Great Lakes/ Inland North dialect.

      • ella says:

        Rochester, NY has a very distinct accent, and tends to sound very ‘nasal’ to non-locals.

        • Karen says:

          I went to school in Brockport, NY for four years and my friends from the Rochester and Buffalo area all had that nasal a. They’d say they were from “Rahchester” and it used to drive me crazy. Then again, at the time, I was from “downstate” NY and had a New York Jewish Accent so everyone knew where I came from as soon as I spoke.

          As for the “Baldimore,” I live in the DC area now and I’ve heard it call “Balmer”

  9. Adrian says:

    I’m from Pittsburgh and I’ve always called it that, but many locals call it “Picksburgh”.

    Also, to Christianne’s point about San Francisco: when I lived there people often shortened the name to SF (ess eff) or simply referred to it as ‘The City’ (and some, funnily, referred to South San Francisco, a city separated mostly from SF by Daly City, as “South City”).

  10. IVV says:

    I grew up in Stanislaus County, California. There is no general agreement as to whether the terminal S is pronounced or silent, and some natives rhyme the county with Arkansas, and others with sauce. Pronouncing the terminal S is more popular.

  11. IVV says:

    Also, I love visiting Willimantic.

    • You’re about the only person I’ve heard say that! On an entirely unrelated note, its one of my favorite places to visit, accent-wise, because it’s right on the border of Eastern and Western New England. You can sometimes hear people with interesting mixtures of ENE features (like occasional non-rhoticity) and features more typical of the Conn. river valley (like glottal stopped /t/).

      • IVV says:

        Very true! It’s great listening to people and determine who are the locals, who are the NYC expats, and who is visiting from MA.

        My wife and I visit the Quiet Corner about once a year, and a stopover in Willimantic is pretty much on the way. The architecture is fun to tour, and what’s not to like about Willibrew?

  12. Lane says:

    I went to college in New Orleans. You left off the one truly non-native pronunciation, which is (nu: ɔˈlɪ:nz), New Or-LEENS. It’s the city’s equivalent to “Frisco” or OR-e-gaan for Oregon (non-reduced final syllable) – nobody says it in the city itself. Sure, Louis Armstrong sang “Do you know what it means/ to miss New Or-LEENS” for the rhyme, but I’m sure he said (nwɔ:lɪnz) most of the rest of the time, as most natives (black and white) tend to do.

    Also, the city’s inhabitants don’t tend to call it “the Big Easy”. If anything, they’re more likely to call it “the Crescent City”, which finds its way into lots of business names (Crescent City Brewery, Crescent City Cafe). A native would go out of his way to avoid anything named Big Easy anything, which would be filled with tourists from Alabama.

    • I think locals anywhere tend to avoid nicknames (with some notable exceptions). It’s arguably the same reason we have so many indigenous languages names after vague descriptors like “language” or “people:” we tend to view where we live and how we talk as “normal.”

      “Crescent City,” however, seems appropriate as a local term, since it references a geographical fact about the city that wouldn’t necessarily be apparent to outsiders.

    • Lloyd Meunier says:

      “N’Awlins” is just as truly non-native as “Newer Leans.” Your transcription is very good and is up there with the most common pronunciations.

      I was unaware of the term “Big Easy” until I was almost 40. It reflects an… outsider’s attitude towards the city. (I had to make an effort not to use the term “carbetbagger.”) At the time, ante diluvium, we saw it as an inversion of the truism about the “Big Apple”: “If you can’t make it there, you can’t make it anywhere.” But we weren’t insulted by it. Our attitude was, “Make the money; we’ll have the fun.”

  13. Ed says:

    I watched the US presidential debate this week, and I’m sure that Romney pronounced “Washington” as [wɔʃtn̩] a few times.

  14. m.m. says:

    im sometimes jealous of city shortenings, being from los angeles, natives will go by neighborhoods (or even streets), non locals get an L.A. , and foreigners, Los Angeles.

    While were on no-no’s (re: frisco), “Cali” for california is almost entirely a no, unless you dont mind sounding like a foreigner, or are a native using it in jest. otherwise cali is a city in columbia :b

  15. Tom says:

    I live near Philadelphia, and I pronounce it that way (possibly slurring the first “a” once in a while), but I tend to say “Philly” most of the time. I do not, as many locals do, say “Phiwwy” or a similar slurring of the full name. And “The City of Brotherly Love” is really only heard coming from local newscasters or tourism people, or non-natives.

    The strangest pronunciation comes from the voice of our local PBS affiliate, who always says “Fiddle-delphia” in the station ID (and no, he’s not talking about the orchestra or the folk festival!).

    • Tom says:

      Oh, but how could I forget the other common local pronunciations of FLUFF-ya and Fa-LUFF-ya!

    • Given its accent, I find it an interesting coincidence that the mid-Atlantic has so many place names with /l/: “Philadelphia,” “Baltimore,” “Delaware,” “Wilmington.” You tend to find many variations on place names in the region for that very reason.

      • Whovian says:

        I live in Maryland, somewhat near Baltimore, and we don’t really have much of an accent here, unless you count GenAm, so I never hear those places pronounced strangely. However, that might be because the county I live in is mostly upper middle class.

        The regional American accents always sound strange to me, particularly ones in the North, because I frequently visit New Jersey and New York, and I don’t think I’ve ever heard anything other than my GenAm in person when I was north of, say, the Carolinas. Even when living in Colorado I never really heard an accent, other than a teacher from Virginia who had a Southern lilt on some words.

        Again, this might just be because most people I interact with are (upper) middle class (or just ghetto sometimes, but i’m not really talking about that) of I just might not have heard it, but I’ve always been sensitive to different dialects so… *shrugs*

  16. Mark says:

    DieterChan, in my experience as a native Southerner, there is no liaison.

    I have been under the impression that New Orleans was pronounced N’Awlins since a friend’s wedding almost 40 years ago in which a native girl told us that was where she was from. I never pronounce it that way, and don’t really recall hearing it said that way anywhere else.

    • Lloyd Meunier says:

      I suspect that what she actually said was “New Awlins” or “N’Wawlins,”but because you’ve seen “N’Awlins” in print (which is the only place it exists) so many times, your aural memory has been affected.

  17. Nicholas Chmielewski says:

    I’m from Cleveland and I know that I say /kliv-lən/. This is not the result of any accent, but of laziness. If I was trying to speak clearly I would say /kliv-lənd/.

    On a completely unrelated note, I would love comments on my accent video. I am unsure how NCVshifted I am.http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=A8lgHTvRTo8 My /æ/ is raised to /ɨə/ ONLY before nasals (n, m). Otherwise through formant testing I believe I have a pretty standard GenAm /æ/, despite people telling me I have the ‘Cleveland A’. There are people who I do recognize as having an interesting /æ/ phoneme, but not as being raised, but as having a yod consonant before it, for example ‘cat’ /kjæt/ thus being unique from the raised vowel before nasals.

  18. Jeff says:

    Saint Louis is usually pronounced without the ‘t’ by locals, and with an American pronunciation of “Lewis.” People from out-of-town who pronounce ‘Louis’ as you would in French make us cringe. St. Louis (originally being a French city) has a lot of mangled French street names as well – most famously, ‘Gravois’ is pronounced GRA-voy, and ‘Chateau’ as SHOH-doh.

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  20. Brittany says:

    I can’t believe you’re from Willimantic! I live in the Quiet Corner.

  21. Margaret says:

    I grew up in Waterloo, some 100 km from Toronto, and I’ve noticed that people from away accent the first syllable, whereas we call it WaterLOO.

    As for Toronto, definitely tɹɒno or təɹɒno. People who pronounce the last ‘t’ are from elsewhere.

    I was impressed to learn that the town of Port Dalhousie in the Niagara peninsula is pronounced Pordloosie’.

  22. Dave says:

    It’s hard to mispronounce the monosylalbic “Leeds” (my hometown), but there’s no end to English place-names whose common pronunciations don’t correspond to their spellings. Not far from Leeds is the devious trap of Keighley, pronounced with an absent /th/ (/KEETH-ley/; sorry I can’t do IPA on this computer).

    There’s also a few where pronunciation, oddly, reflects history better than spelling. Bristolians pronounce their city with a very faint /w/ on the end, like /BRIS-tow/ – a feature common to a lot of southern English regional accents. Whether that phantom /w/ is connected to the city’s history or not I can’t say for certain, but some friends of mine from there say that it used to be named “Brigstow”. I’ve never seen it happen this way round anywhere else.

    Ros, above, is certainly correct about /Gloster/ and /Wooster/, by the way. “Original” is a stretch, but yes, they’re BrE pronunciations.

  23. Leslie says:

    While the name of Austin, TX doesn’t have much outsider dialect variation apart from that related to the cot-caught merger, there are definitely streets and landmarks that have local pronunciation. Spanish names are usually pronounced in English (gwad-a-LOOP for Guadalupe, for example–sorry a bit lazy for IPA at the moment). However, there are others. I live near Burnet (BURN-it, not bur-NETT) Rd and Koenig (KAY-nig, not KOE-nig) Ln, and the old airport was Robert Mueller (like Miller, not MYOO-ler)).

    It used to be that mispronouncing any of these words was the sign of an outsider. However, now that the population IS about 3/4 non-native central Texans, the old pronunciations are going away. It wouldn’t bother me so much except there are lots of people who correct me and tell me that I’M wrong. Uhhhh, do you go to London and INSIST to a local that it’s LEI-sess-ter Square because it’s spelled that way? I do like to explain to these people the basis for the pronunciation of the German words Koenig and Mueller though. That usually shuts them up at least, especially when they’re lecturing me on pronunciation of Spanish names. :-)

    I cringed a few years ago when I was on a local bus and the automatic announcement said, in the most cheerleadery accent, “Now approaching: Bur-NETT at KOE-nig!”

    That said, I have NO idea why we call the street and community spelled Manchaca MAN-shack.

  24. Whovian says:

    I live in Ellicott City, which is pretty close to Baltimore (and I have only ever pronounced Baltimore the way it’s spelled, and believe me, we make fun of it so much its a regular part of our vocab) so it’s pretty hard to shorten it, since Ellicott City is a consonant laden, rhythmic phrase. Since the ‘i’ isn’t prominent, in a rush someone might say “El-cut” but if I do that (which is rarely) it’s more like “Ell’cut” if that makes sense…

  25. Steve Bronfman says:

    New Jersey is actually pronouced “Noo Joysey” to the British/Australian/Kiwi ear. As opposed to “Nue” with a “yew” sound.

  26. Tom says:

    What a great blog! Anyway, I was wondering about the pronunciation of “Wyoming”. The stress is usually on the second syllable but I have a feeling I’ve heard locals stress the first syllable. Am I mistaken? Thanks!

  27. Karen says:

    I live in the Maryland suburbs outside of the District of Columbia. Locals call it either DC or The District. No one local calls it Washington, DC or Washington.

  28. Lloyd Meunier says:

    God bless you for pointing out that “N’Awlins” is a fabrication. The easygoing locals (to the extent that any are left), with their colonial mentality, are actually beginning to think that that might be how they’re supposed to pronounce it, but having been born there and lived there 40 years, I can confirm that nobody from New Orleans says “N’Awlins,” any more than they say “Newer Leans.” The artifact seems to have originated with a writer for a local paper with a faulty ear and a condescending attitude (typical of the colonizer mentality). By the way, I personally have never heard any Orleanian use a prononciation having less than three syllables, and that includes “N’Orlinz.”

    Now if only we can get Hollywood to realize that people in New Orleans don’t talk like Elizabeth Taylor in _Cat on a Hot Tin Roof_ (or Brad Pitt in _Benjamin Button_, for that matter), we may make a real step toward decolonization. In all fairness, a certain upperclass, Anglo slice of the population does use a kind of modified Tidewater accent (“Come to the hi-yus”), but nobody takes them seriously since they like to dress up and pretend to be kings and queens.

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