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French Names in Missouri. What Local Pronunciations Can Teach Us

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Presentation on theme: "French Names in Missouri. What Local Pronunciations Can Teach Us"— Presentation transcript:

1 French Names in Missouri. What Local Pronunciations Can Teach Us
Chris Barnett, A travel guide from Missouri André Lapierre, A visitor from Québec

2 Names and Language It is through language that names come to life and become part of our history and cultural landscape. Like words, names evolve through time and space. Like words, names exist in both oral and written form.

3 The Original Name Stratum
French explorers, traders, missionaries were the first to record Missouri Indigenous names in written form using French orthography. At the same time, they gave French names to features as they established the fur trading routes. After the end of the French Colonial period in the mid- 18th century, English-speaking settlers began to arrive in Missouri.

4 Names and Language Contact
The new settlers had two potions: (a) They either adopted and adapted the French names, resulting in language contact, or (b) They bestowed names of their own. No language contact occurred. We are interested in (a), the former case.

5 A few words of wisdom before we begin…
“Whenever the name has changed in form or substance, we must collect all the variants and arrange them in chronological order; for no place name can be adequately interpreted in the light of its present-day form alone, but must always be traced back so far as is possible to its earliest recorded or conjectural form” Robert L. Ramsay (1952). Our Storehouse of Missouri Place Names.

6 Two Basic Principles of Name Change
How did the French Names evolve to their current English forms? If the original French name was adopted from a written source, the adaptation resulted in a pronunciation change. If the original French name was adopted from an oral source, the adaptation resulted in a change in orthography. Let’s see how that works. André is a Quebecker visiting Missouri and meets his guide Chris…

7 Written Source Gravois Creek 'grav-oy Creve Coeur Lake creeve-'ker
Ste. Genevieve saynt 'Jenn-eh-vieve Courtois Creek 'cut-away Mine à Breton Creek mine-oh-'brett-on Pomme de Terre River pom-de-tar

8 Written Source Berger Creek 'burr-djurr Fourche Creek 'for-she
Bois D’Arc bow-'dark Versailles ver-'sails Pierre (SD) 'pier (To answer Tom Gasque’s question)

9 Oral Source Rivière aux marais mary’s = Maries River
Bois Brûlé bob-'ruly = Bob Ruley Creek Des Cyprès di-'sip-ri = Decypri Rivière courante 'kuhr-uhnt = Current River Ruisseau Thibault 'tea-bo = Tebo Creek Fourche à Renault for-‘show-no = 4 Shono

10 Cape Cinq Hommes Cape Cinq Hommes ’Sink-home
< Father St. Cosme, a French missionary in 1698. The French already had reinterpreted the name as Cinq Hommes which is pronounced nearly in the same way. The French spelling was reinterpreted by English speakers to yield current day pronunciation based on written form.

11 Joachim Creek The feature is pronounced 'shaw-shin, which would point to an oral source. But a church located in vicinity is pronounced yo-'ah- kim, which suggests a written source. Both pronunciations would suggest that a phonetic trace of the original pronunciation led to ‘shaw-shin for the feature, but that it had disappeared by the time the church was built, leading to the second pronunciation based on the written form.

12 The Life of Snye Interesting example of how current American toponymy confirms earlier French pronunciations. (Chenal Écarté) Snicarty 'sniye-carty (Chenal Hébert) Sni-A-Bar Creek 'sniye-ah-bar ‘sniye can be traced to the French chniye which was the pronunciation of chenal in the western dialects of 18th century France and used by explorers, trappers and missionaries in New France and Louisiana. In Ontario, there is a feature called The Snye, pronounced exactly the same way as in Snicarty or Sni-A-Bar. The word is now in the lexicon of Canadian English, meaning ‘channel’. Same story, different country.

13 Cote Sans Dessein or Sande(r)son?
Could be a French rendering of an Osage name. Could also be a true French name meaning ‘unbelievably crazy hill’ Whatever the etymology, the name survived in its written form and is pronounced today coat 'san-duh- suhn.

14 Dances with Wolves Tour-de-loup was the name given originally to the bluffs near the Kansas River. The name means ‘Wolf’s trick.’ The name left a phonetic trace that was later reinterpreted in English and rewritten as Toad-a-Loop, the official name today.

15 Isle au Bois Creek Official name probably pronounced Isle- oh-’boy
Variant name is Zile au Boy Creek, an earlier written form pronounced with English phonetic rules. But how do you explain the 'z’? Zile could be derived from the expression ‘aux Isle au Bois’ [ozilobwa], referring to a local tribe, in the same way the French said ‘aux Ark(ansa)s [ozark].

16 One Hundred and Two River
< Osage name ‘Sondse’ (hillside forest) recorded by the French as Cent Deux, for a village near the headwaters of the river. The name was then translated into English, yielding the present form. Traditions have been invented to explain the name, such as the feature being 102 miles long, being 102 years old, being located 102 miles away from another place…

17 Sex and Names Les Mamelles
Refers to a range in St. Charles County. How is this name pronounced? 'Lez 'mam ehlz, lea- 'mamel, los mamelles??? Help Roberto!!! Name originally given to two smooth mounds (150 feet) which have since been leveled for development. Similar to The Tetons (UT), Little Tetons (WY) and Teton Range (WY) also of French origin. Indicative of French fascination with breasts ;-)

18 The Weaubleau Enigma Bois Blanc may be the original form of this populated place. Refers to coniferous trees. It could have survived phonetically for a while and was picked up by early American settlers and reinterpreted into Weaubleau 'wha-bloh (2 syllables) in the same way an island in the Detroit River was named Bob-Lo Island. But…

19 The Weaubleau Enigma A native informant from Hickory County pronounces 'wah-buh-loh (3 syllables), which may indicate that the original name may have been Bois Bouleau, meaning ‘Birch Wood’. Or it could be that the phonetic traces of Bois Blanc and Bois Bouleau got confused at some point, yielding the current written form. More research required. Any volunteers?

20 From Indigenous to French to English – Ménage à trois
Ouchage is the way the French spelled the name the First Nation used to identify themselves, wah-'zha-zhe. This pronunciation was still around when early American settlers arrived. They picked it up and slightly modified it to something like oh-'say-ge which then yielded Osage, the current written form.

21 Conclusions French names didn’t ‘corrupt’ their way into American English. They evolved from one language to another through language contact, in both oral and written speech. The various recorded forms are variants that inform us on former pronunciations and written forms. They provide precious clues in the wonderful and exciting world of place-name history. Now, back to your dinner…

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