LUBERON AND OTHER SHIBBOLETHS.

An interesting piece by Olivier Razemon in Le Monde about the correct/local ways to pronounce various French place names (it’s Luberon avec e comme dans “beurrer,” pas comme dans “bébé,” and Wissant (Pas-de-Calais) is “Uissant”, et non “Vissant”, encore moins “Ouissant”). Thanks, Paul!

Comments

  1. Max Pinton says:

    As would be expected, Google provides some humor in the auto-translation:
    ‘The name of this seaside resort, home to holidaymakers Belgian, Dutch and German, is pronounced “witzerland” and not “screwing,” much less “Ouissi” says Helen, the receptionist at the Office tourism.’

  2. marie-lucie says:

    “Le Luberon” is a geographical name in a previously Provençal-speaking area (P. being a variety of Occitan), and throughout the Occitan area local people learned French from books, and therefore pronounce all the written “silent e’s” in French, therefore they say “le Lu-be-rong” with three syllables, not “le Lube-ron” in two syllables as Northern French speakers would normally say (similarly, they say “la Fran-ce”, not “la France” like Northerners). Told that the word has three syllables, NF speakers would assume that the “e” is not silent, and pronounce it “é” (since that is a normal alternation in French), hence “le Lu-bé-ron” (a spelling I have seen before). “Le Lu-be-ron” does not sound right to speakers of Northern varieties of French, who are used to skip the “e” between two consonants or at the end of a word.

  3. ‘The name of this seaside resort, home to holidaymakers Belgian, Dutch and German, is pronounced “witzerland” and not “screwing,” much less “Ouissi” says Helen, the receptionist at the Office tourism.’
    How wonderful! Thanks for making the experiment.

  4. One can only guess at the process with which the translation are produced.
    Witzerland! Well I can understand that in PDF’s often the first character is put in a different box than the following, so “uisse” may be “wiss” or “witzerland”. But why not “witzerlanding”?

  5. Is the “Uissant” vs. “Ouissant” representing /ɥi.sɑ̃/ vs. /wi.sɑ̃/? If so, is that more intuitive to a native French-speaker than it is to me? (I would have expected “Huissant”, since literally no words or francophone place-names seem to start with <ui>, whereas several common words and a fair number of place-names start with <hui>.)

  6. Les bons gens de montagne
    Qu’habitent le Luberon
    En disent le “e” comme “beurre”
    Et non comme “biberon”

  7. My schoolteacher’s advice on how to pronounce Toulon and Toulouse: “they’re like French naval trousers”.

  8. marie-lucie says:

    ran,
    In the area of France close to Belgium there are many names of persons and places beginning with W, indicating their Flemish (Germanic) origin. I didn’t know about Wissant and its pronunciation, but I would have guessed either Vissant (with the usual French pronunciation of the letter w as [v]) or Ouissant, which was probably original (the [w] later becoming fronted from the proximity of the following [i]). Obviously the local people know the traditional pronunciation of this word in their area.
    French words beginning with hui are usually (perhaps always) of Latin origin, eg huit ‘eight’ from Lat “octo”, huile ‘oil’ from Lat “olea” (orig. plural of “oleum”), etc. The letter h is not etymological, and in those words it was never pronounced as in English or German: it was added in the Middle Ages to differenciate the vocalic (originally w) from the consonantal (v) pronunciation of the Latin letter V (and its cursive form u). This convention was also adopted in Old Spanish, eg huevo ‘egg’ from Lat “ovum”; it also explains the alternation between the spellings in forms of the verb oler ‘to smell’, eg huele ‘it smells’.
    maxim,
    The people of the “Luberon” do rhyme that name with “biberon” (lu-be-rong, bi-be-rong), but the Northerners say “bibe-ron” and want to say either “lube-ron” or “lu-bé-ron”. The pronunciation advice is for the benefit of Northeners, who are not expected to change their own pronunciation of “biberon” (baby bottle). But the local pronunciation does not sound quite like “lu-beurre-on”.

  9. The people of the “Luberon” do rhyme that name with “biberon” …. But the local pronunciation does not sound quite like “lu-beurre-on”
    Thanks, Marie-Lucie! I knew I had to be wrong somewhere… What about my impression that Parisian French almost suppresses that “e” or “é” in the middle, making the baby bottle sound almost “bib-rong”? Am I making things up? If not, would it affect our Luberon?

  10. David Marjanović says:

    Ouissant, which was probably original (the [w] later becoming fronted from the proximity of the following [i]).

    Maybe the labiodental approximant, [ʋ], is involved. It sounds pretty similar to [ɥ], which is the closest thing French has to offer.
    BTW, I don’t understand why the French an sound has ever been transcribed as [ɑ̃]. Was it unrounded as little as 100 years ago? Or is that just a phonological interpretation as the nasal counterpart of the oral /ɑ/ (which has meanwhile merged into /a/ for most speakers)? Because today, it’s distinctly rounded. As far as I can tell, it’s the open rounded central vowel (…which lacks an IPA symbol; the best I can offer is the diacritic for “centralized”, [ɒ̈], but the tilde would be put in the same place…).

  11. David Marjanović says:

    What about my impression that Parisian French almost suppresses that “e” [...] in the middle, making the baby bottle sound almost “bib-rong”?

    Yes, except that on is [ɔŋ] only in the south, where the e is pronounced; in the north, it’s [õ].
    (…And dictionaries still tend to transcribe it as [ɔ̃]. In modern Parisian, that’s flat-out wrong; beau and bon are a minimal pair for nasality. Again, I wonder if that’s a recent sound change or a phonological interpretation; dictionaries are notoriously sloppy in distinguishing phonetic from phonemic transcription… most don’t even try and use [] for everything.)

  12. @marie-lucie: No, you misunderstand my question. (I see now that I didn’t phrase it very well, sorry.) I was expressing surprise at the way the article indicates the correct pronunciation. The article, quoting a certain Hélène, has « ”Uissant”, et non “Vissant”, encore moins “Ouissant” » (emphasis mine), where I would have expected to see « ”Huissant”, et non “Vissant”, encore moins “Ouissant” ». I certainly wasn’t second-guessing the locals’ pronunciation!
    But that is interesting information anyway, so thank you. :-)   Somehow it had never occurred to me to wonder where the <h> came from in those words, even though I was familiar with their <h>-less Latin etyma from various Latinate words in English. And even if it had occurred to me, I would never have guessed the reason!

  13. @David Marjanović: Regarding dictionaries using [ɔ̃]: When that vowel gets denasalized for whatever reason, it becomes [ɔ] rather than [o] (inflection: “bonne journée”; liaison: “bon anniversaire”), even though [on] is allowed by French phonology (as in “jaune”). I don’t think that says anything about the underlying phoneme (which obviously isn’t [ɔn]), but it may explain dictionaries’ notation for it.
    I’m not sure about [ɑ̃], though. Many words end in [ɑ̃] (“en”, “pan”, “grand”, etc.), but of the ones I can think of offhand, none ever denasalize it. “Prendre” has some forms with oral-vowel+[n], such as “prenons” and “prennent”, but I’m not sure if they’re relevant.

  14. marie-lucie says:

    maxim: my impression that Parisian French almost suppresses that “e” or “é” in the middle, making the baby bottle sound almost “bib-rong”
    If it is written just “e”, between two single consonants, it is normally completely (not just “almost”) suppressed in the middle or at the end of a word (that’s why I wrote “bibe-ron”, in two syllables, for the Northern pronunciation – the e is not sounded at all). I wrote “ong” at the end to show the Southern pronunciation (see David’s transcriptions). So: North: bib-ron, Lub-ron, South: bi-be-rong, Lu-be-rong.
    For Northerners, if there is an “e” written in the middle (between 2 single consonants), without an “accent” on top of it it disappears completely; if it does not disappear, it has an “accent” written on top of it, hence (according to Southerners) the incorrect pronunciation “Lu-bé-ron”. If the accentless “e” is in a group of three consonants (eg gouvernEment), it is usually sounded as plain e, and is the same length as any other vowel.
    There are some more minor differences between regions, but the ones indicated by those pronunciations are quite diagnostic of Northern vs. Southern French speech (Paris being in the Northern half of the country, “Standard French” is basically Northern).
    David M: I don’t understand why the French an sound has ever been transcribed as [ɑ̃]. Was it unrounded as little as 100 years ago?
    It probably was, except in some dialects. I pronounce it unrounded.
    Or is that just a phonological interpretation as the nasal counterpart of the oral /ɑ/ (which has meanwhile merged into /a/ for most speakers)?
    It has not merged for me, but I was raised in a conservative area, and I don’t often hear young French people. Phonologically, in the traditional pronunciation of Standard French (since newer descriptions show quite a different phonology and phonetics), each nasal vowel corresponds to a pair of oral vowels, so nasalized a corresponds to both front /a/ and back /ɑ/ (the latter being rounded in some varieties, including that of my [non-upper-class] Parisian grandparents). Nowadays there is a strong tendency to merge those two in favour of front /a/, but on the other hand there is an opposite tendency to back the corresponding nasal vowel, and with backing comes some rounding, as David says. In fact, I find that present-day an almost sounds like on, which corresponds to both mid-high [o] and mid-low [ɔ], but nowadays it is based phonetically on the higher /o/ as David says.
    It is ironic that rounding of the back vowel, which used to be considered rural or low-class for the oral vowel, is now the rule among the up and coming generation for the nasal vowel.
    As for the opposite directions of the “movements” of oral and nasal vowels, it is quite common when there are two series of similar elements for the two series to become more differentiated from each other (this is why the Great English Vowel Shift involved the long vowels of Old English, but spared most of the short vowels). The situation in French is a little different, because in French the nasal vowels are moving towards the back of the mouth, but in Canada they are moving towards the front of the mouth, so that between the two countries words with nasal vowels can become confused, for instance French “blanc” is now very close to “blond”, but Quebec “blond” is now more fronted than French “blanc”.
    Last time I went to France, I bought some books on French linguistics, and I learned that not only has the back /ɑ/ disappeared (so they say), but so has the nasal consonant written gn (like Spanish n + tilde) – according to those authorities, it is now only a sequence of n and y (in pronunciation). Needless to say, at my advanced age my speech is now very old-fashioned, but most of my nephews and nieces in France still make the same distinctions as I do (most of them are not Parisians).

  15. Oh, I thought of one, -ish: “an” is [ɑ̃], “année” is [a.ne]. So, this sort of analogy is probably not the reason for dictionaries writing [ɔ̃], or else we’d expect to see them write [ã]?

  16. marie-lucie says:

    ran: sorry for the misunderstanding – I guess that you were asking about why the pronunciation was indicated by Ui- and not Hui-: in addition to the few words in hui-, the sound sequence -ui- appears in a variety of other words, so hui- would not be the automatic spelling coming to a French person, even if the sounds occurred at the beginning of a word, as in this case.
    Many words end in [ɑ̃] (“en”, “pan”, “grand”, etc.), but of the ones I can think of offhand, none ever denasalize it.
    Some examples; Jean, Jeanne(tte), Jeannot; paysan, paysanne; an, année, anniversaire; constant, constamment; prudent, prudemment (pron. as if prudamment), etc.
    The case of
    prendre/prend/prenne(nt) is a little different: the underlying vowel here is e, not a, and only the nasal vowel of -en- has changed (to that of -an-), but if the vowel was before -n(n)e, as in prenne, it denasalized before the change, and therefore stayed as e (here pronounced as è).

  17. David Marjanović says:

    I pronounce it unrounded.

    Wow! That I’d like to hear. Is there an audio file somewhere of someone saying [ɑ̃] in a French word?
    I ask because my German dialect has “all four” open vowels: front unrounded and central rounded, nasal and oral. It’s a somewhat difficult question how phonemic they all are, but all four occur fairly commonly.

    It has not merged for me, but I was raised in a conservative area, and I don’t often hear young French people.

    Probably all Parisians of all ages have merged /a/ and /ɑ/, but there are still non-senile French people who keep them separate. So do Canadians. And then there’s the phenomenon, considered “ugly speech of little children”, where pas is pronounced somewhere along the lines of [pˤɒˤ] or [pˤɔˤ] (…apparently never [po], despite the entrenched spelling). Titeuf talks like that, for instance.

    In fact, I find that present-day an almost sounds like on

    Most people do keep it slightly more open than [ɔ] (…which means it happens to coincide exactly with the nasal rounded vowel in my dialect), but sometimes I wonder.

    French “blanc” is now very close to “blond”, but Quebec “blond” is now more fronted than French “blanc”.

    I haven’t noticed that (maybe my thesis supervisor has adapted), but the sound transcribed /ɛ̃/ in dictionaries is something like [æ̃] in Paris while it’s [ẽ] in Quebec. This probably also explains why the un sound, [œ̃], has escaped merging into it in Quebec.

    not only has the back /ɑ/ disappeared (so they say), but so has the nasal consonant written gn (like Spanish n + tilde) – according to those authorities, it is now only a sequence of n and y (in pronunciation).
    That doesn’t fit my experience at all.
    What is true is that there often is a [j] in it ([ɲj] as opposed to [ɲ]), but even that is often not the case at the ends of words, and [ɲj] still isn’t [nj].

  18. David Marjanović says:

    the sound transcribed /ɛ̃/ in dictionaries

    The in/ain sound.

  19. Jongseong Park says:

    There’s also the curious case of ‘femme’ [fam] which was historically de-nasalized.
    By the way, as for the traditional IPA symbols for the French nasal vowels, I think they are reasonably close to the values that were in use in the late 19th century when the International Phonetic Association was founded in France. Of course, they are somewhat outdated now.

  20. My 20-something classmates usually say [ɐ̃] or even [ʌ̃].

  21. For the “faim” sound, my 20-something classmates (I study in Paris) usually say [ɐ̃] or even [ʌ̃].

  22. marie-lucie says:

    minus273, that’s my observation too. The pronunciation of “in, ain” and “un” seems to have fallen together in a low central nasal sound closer to the classical pronunciation of “un” that of “in”.
    About the nasal vowels in France and Canada, over a period of time all the nasal vowels have changed in opposite directions, the front ones becoming lower in France and higher in Canada, the back ones becoming higher in France and lower in Canada. This is not a “flip-flop” operation as it would seem: you have to visualize the vowels, not arranged in square pigeonholes as they are usually represented, with two axes front-back and high-low, but along a curve going from the high front vowels, down to the low central vowel, and up again in the back (or the opposite). This is not a traditional representation, but it works to explain the opposite evolutionary trends.
    About the supposed present state of French phonetics and phonology, I was quoting from recent textbooks on French linguistics: I think that the authors are relying on their own pronunciation rather than wide-ranging research.
    “pas” as almost “po”: my Parisian grandmother used this a lot (short for “n’est-ce pas”).
    “femme denasalized”: denasalization was not peculiar to that word: so did “bonne” and all the previously nasal vowels then indicated by the double nasal consonant: OF has “bone” and “feme” (with stress on the first vowel), and the later spelling “bonne”, etc indicated a nasalized pronunciation of the first vowel: “bon-ne”, which later lost the nasalization in front of the nasal consonant. OF “fe-me” went to “fem-me” (with nasal front vowel) to a lower pronunciation of the nasal vowel (as if written “famme”), then to denasalization of that vowel. The same evolution explains the adverbs in -emment, which sound exactly the same as those in -amment.
    [ɲj] still isn’t [nj]: even when I was a student in Paris (decades ago!), with classmates from all over France and Algeria, some of them used [nj] not [ɲ] in the middle of words, but the younger people in my family do not. I think that omitting the phoneme /ɲ/ from the current French inventory (as in some current textbooks) is rather premature.

  23. Athel Cornish-Bowden says:

    As it happens I live quite close to the Luberon (and even closer to Cassis). Both pronunciations and spellings (Luberon and Lubéron) are used by natives of the region (whatever the mayor of Bonnieux may claim), though the recommended pronunciation is the more common. As for Cassis, it is true that only outsiders pronounce the final s, but confusion is understandable, given that the final s in “cassis” (which is unrelated to Cassis) is usually pronounced.

  24. Jongseong Park says:

    I brought up ‘femme’ because other than the adverbs in -emment, it is a rare case where an ‘e’ stands for a non-nasal [a] due to historical denasalization. Any other such cases? I can only think of ‘solennel’ and the words sharing the same root.
    What surprises me, living in Paris, is hearing mispronunciations of some major place names such as Auxerre, Metz, and especially Bruxelles (Brussels). I kept on hearing [bʁyksɛl] for Bruxelles, which threw me off because there is no ‘k’ in the Korean name for the city, which is based on the French pronunciation. Every source I’ve checked agrees that [bʁysɛl] without the [k] is the proper pronunciation, but that’s not how most Parisians say it in my experience. (I’ve also heard the version with the [k] is correct for ‘chou de Bruxelles’, though. What’s the story on that?)
    Similarly, [osɛʁ] and [mɛs] are ‘correct’, but I regularly hear [oksɛʁ] and [mɛts] from Parisians. Admittedly, I may be overestimating the importance of Auxerre and Metz due to my knowledge of French geography coming mostly from its football league, but Brussels? The capital of a neighbouring country and the de facto capital of the EU?

  25. Jongseong Park says:

    I thought I found another example of ‘e’ standing for [a] with indemnité, but the ‘e’ was indicated as standing for [ɛ] according to my dictionary.
    I’m glad that I further checked Le Trésor de la Langue Française, since it showed both [ɛ] and [a] as accepted pronunciations. So this is at least a half-example.

  26. I too have heard those spelling pronunciations from Frenchpersons, who (I suppose) are as given to Not Looking Things Up as the rest of us.

  27. marie-lucie says:

    I was born not too far from Auxerre, in the wine-growing area of Burgundy. Quite a few years later, after we had moved away, a wine salesman called on my father: “Monsieur, je suis d’[okser]“, he started to say; my father replied “Non monsieur, vous n’en êtes pas”, and showed him the door.
    In Paris there is a church dedicated to “Saint-Germain l’Auxerrois”, and everyone says the last word with “ks”, even though the Auxerrois (the people of Auxerre) would use “ss” as with the name of the city. This is because many of those place-names were once only known on paper outside of their immediate area. Same thing with Bruxelles: everyone know the vegetable “choux de Bruxelles” (with “ks”) but few people know the local pronunciation of the city (with “ss”).
    “femme, indemnité”: it is true that “femme” looks and sounds unique, but it observes the same rules as other words with the same type of oral-nasal sequences. But I have never heard anyone pronounce “indemnité” as it it had “dam” instead of “dem” (both with an oral vowel). It is a fairly common word in French, as many people (many more than in America) are sooner or later eligible for an “indemnité”. The adjective “indemne” (‘uninjured’) similarly has oral e, not nasalized a. These words are learned ones, borrowed directly from Latin, and have not been subject to the older rules like “bonne, femme”, or “ennui” where the extra n or m originally indicated the nasalization of the preceding vowel.

  28. few people know the local pronunciation of the city
    Really? Like most Anglo-Saxons, I was taught postwar formal Parisian in the late ’60s. (Most of your old pronunciations sound correct.) But we still managed to learn /s/ for Bruxelles.

  29. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM, you were an educated person being taught formal, educated French, which not every French speaker speaks. Foreigners are often taught details (especially exceptions) which native speakers are not always aware of, or care to observe. After all, I don’t think every English person knows about “Cholmondeley” sounding like “Chumley”.
    I am glad to hear that “most” of my old pronunciations sound “correct” – I can speak very formal French if I choose – I wonder which ones do not.

  30. I certainly did not mean that any of it sounded incorrect, which would be presumptuous. Rather that some of it wasn’t immediately familiar in the same way. My intent was only to say that my impression is, “yeah, she’s talking about the language we were taught in school.”

  31. I’ve never heard the Auxerre ss pronounciation. My sister-in-law has a house nearby and I’ll ask her when she comes back next week. As for Bru[k]selles, I used to hear it that way that from an eminent correspondent of Belgian Radio’s French service so I assumed it was the local pronounciation. He also used it in Bruxellois, as in his boutade in the late ’60s : “If Queen Fabiola had fertility treatement and produced quins, there would be two Walloons, two Flamands and a Bruxellois…”

  32. As a resident of Brussels, I can confirm that the locals say Bruxelles with ss and that people who say it with ks are usually French.

  33. marie-lucie says:

    MMcM, thanks for the clarification.
    Bru[*s}elles: On second thoughts, I think that "choux de Bru[ss]elles” ‘Brussels sprouts’ is the normal French pronunciation, although some people will say “choux de Bru[ks]elles”, a spelling pronunciation.

  34. @marie-lucie: I’ve got a question. A traditional final [e]/[ɛ] does a Parisian pronounce [e] or [ɛ]? Personally I say [e], but I’m a forriner who can’t mimic every detail correctly, and from what I have queried from other people, a lot say [ɛ].
    As a peripherical evidence of the current value of in/ain/un, note that “ben” denasalizes to “bah” not “beh”.

  35. David Marjanović says:

    I kept on hearing [bʁyksɛl] for Bruxelles

    I have never heard [ʁ] from a Parisian, or in fact from almost anyone from France. What happens a lot is that the trill gets devoiced and then partially (well, sometimes completely) turns into [x] – not [χ], but [x] –, but the voiced fricative doesn’t occur. And between the two voiced sounds [b] and [y], a Parisian will put nothing else than a short [ʀ].
    The tapes at the Gare de l’Est say [mɛs], that’s how I learned about that pronunciation.

    A traditional final [e]/[ɛ] does a Parisian pronounce [e] or [ɛ]? Personally I say [e], but I’m a forriner who can’t mimic every detail correctly, and from what I have queried from other people, a lot say [ɛ].

    I know one person who pronounces est as [ɛ]; lives and teaches in Paris but may have come from anywhere.
    Pronunciation of traditional final [e]/[ɛ] as [e] is very common, but not universal (yet).
    Similarly, there are a few people who have abandoned the phonemic distinction between /o/ and /ɔ/ entirely, using always [o] in open and always [ɔ] in closed syllables, so that even ô and au can end up as [ɔ] (côte merging into cote = [kɔt]).

    As a peripherical evidence of the current value of in/ain/un, note that “ben” denasalizes to “bah” not “beh”.

    Well, it has the en/an sound, not the in/ain/(i)en/un one.

  36. But of course “ben” is for “bien”, so pronounced as if it’s “bain”!

  37. I think my 60-so-year-old Parisian landlord says “paume” for “pomme”. But it’s only my impression. Maybe she says, instead of my expected unrounded [pɤm], a rather high [pɔm] which I parsed as [pom].

  38. David Marjanović says:

    But of course “ben” is for “bien”, so pronounced as if it’s “bain”!

    Actually, yes (took some time till I understood it’s not for bon), and now I remember that pronunciation varies. But I don’t think it correlates with how people otherwise say their in sound.

    [pɤm]

    That would be a lot higher and more back. I haven’t heard [ɤ] in French outside of a Chinese accent (and then for /œ/).

  39. You are right. I should have written something between [ɜ] and [ʌ].

  40. Jongseong Park says:

    I should probably have used // instead of [] because I was merely using ʁ for the phoneme regardless of the actual realization. I don’t even know what the correct symbols are for the pronunciations I hear or use myself.

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