May 11, 2010

Roncesvalles

Yesterday I fell upon the word "Ronces". After translating it, I found that the word Ronces means  Brambly and Valles - Valley. So Roncesvalles, the predominant street in my Toronto neighbourhood, means Brambly Valley.  I think that's very cool. But ever since I was old enough to be cognizant of Toronto street names, I felt that  Roncesvalles Avenue was most likely pronounced incorrectly.  Most Torontonians pronounce it "Ron-sez-veils".

Colonel Walter O'Hara was an early settler who owned the tract of land comprising our neighbourhood. In 1813 he fought in Spain at the Battle of Roncesvalles, taking an active part against Napoleon's army.  After 1850 O'Hara divided up his land and was responsible for naming the streets. He named the main artery "Roncesvalles" after the battle he had been in.  Parallel Sorauren Avenue was also named after a battle in which O'Hara was present. Constance, Geoffrey and Marion were named after family members. Fern Avenue used to be called Ruth after his daughter and Grenadier was once called Walter Street after his son.

When I moved into the neighbourhood I wondered if one should just call it Roncesvalles or throw in the Spanish "TH" and the fricative Y-sound and pronounce it "Ron-theth-vayes". I had a polyglot Czech friend who couldn't cope with the Canadian pronunciation so he called it "Ronces-val" and let it tail off at the end. My mother-in-law always threw in an extra N just to spice it up. A lot of people call it by its nickname "Roncey". Google Translate and Forvo.com pronounce it Ron-sis-VAY-es. But no one would know what I was talking about if I pronounced it correctly which led me to wonder if  the 19th-Century inhabitants pronounced it en español.

Now if only the  neighbourhood could come to a consensus on how Geoffrey and MacDonnell are supposed to be pronounced. Really - why would a Scotsman pronounce his name MacDon-Elle - I ask you?

Top picture - a mural on Roncesvalles found on travelpod.com
Bottom picture - a mural in my neighbourhood by Joey Devilla on Flickr

13 comments:

Julie Schuler said...

It always irritated me that here in Pennsylvania. Dubois is pronounced Dew-boys and North Versailles is North Versails. I wonder when the last time was, when they were pronounced as intended.

Brian Miller said...

both of those street art scenes are really cool..

Giulia said...

Oh Julie, I hear you. I'm originally from Pgh. It was difficult for me as I started French at 5 years old. So people thought my mother had taught me to be a little snob. It's really really hard to "mispronounce" something on purpose.

And to Pup--people pronounce the Scots name like that, really? What gives? Is this discussed at pubs & cafés. A neighborhood mtg should be convened.

I always like your history-combined-with-soapbox lessons. Always more fun....

The Clever Pup said...

We had some French-Canadians at our high school that couldn't even pronounce their own names correctly.

Courvoisier was Kwassy????!!!!
Deschene was DeChevy???? !!!!
There was three ways of pronouncing Boucher. Properly, or Bushy or Bouch-er rhymes with voucher.

The Clever Pup said...

Me again. The district I grew up in, Seguin should be pronounced Seh-gan, but it's alway pronounced like sequin but with a G.

Giulia said...

To be fair, though, the French-Canadian accent & pronunciation - quite different from "standard" at times. (Although, the names you cite...wow, that's strange to me.)

I used to go to a beach in Virginia also favored by les Québécois & holy cow. I thought there was something wrong with me (other than the obvious) as I listened (before we were introduced). Yes I was listening, I couldn't help it (she said defensively before anyone has criticized.) This was years ago but I still remember thinking, what the hell? My companion was completely fluent in Arabic & French. He didn't figure out for a bit either but kept pulling me (on the blanket) over to him as I would inch back, creep back to listen. Yes, I was an embarrassment, I suppose, though he never criticized. It was sort of a Lebanese & American Lucy Show.

Raining buckets, going to lie down & try not to think about it too much.

PS: Wait--Seguin. Yes, but do you mean pronounced with a 'Q' as in queue? Oh my, we both of us speak English (well, I sort of do:)...what? I'm confused.

Diane said...

Just pronounce it "brambly valley". Be sure to ask the streetcar driver for the right spot!

amourissima said...

I wish I lived in a place called "Brambly Valley". I currently live in the Beltline District which means "don't walk alone at night".

The Clever Pup said...

See-gwin

Giulia said...

Well, that's just ridiculous.

willow said...

Your Roncey's charming no matter how you pronounce it!

Laura in Paris said...

You seem to live in a very cool place (love the two shots)

dogimo said...

I love a woman who can just come right out and use the word "fricative"!

The fricative is indicative.