Blog Excerpts

Need Help Pronouncing Street Names?

A couple of students at the Copenhagen Institute of Interaction Design came up with a clever project: helping foreigners learn how to pronounce local street names by hooking up street signs with some electronics that play audio recordings of the tricky Danish words. But why should expats in Denmark have all the fun? Could the same be done in the English-speaking world?

The students, Andrew Spitz and Momo Miyazaki, made a video of their design project, which they call "WTPh? (What the Phonics)":

On Language Log, a commenter suggested that the same type of assistance could be given for street names in the United States, such as Houston Street in New York City, Devon Avenue in Chicago, or Nicollet Avenue in Minneapolis. In such cases, wayward pronunciation can often quickly mark you as an outsider. For example, the New York street is pronounced HOUSE-ton, not HYOOS-ton.

In New York, in fact, you can actually hear pronunciations of street names via "accessible pedestrian signals," placed at some intersections to help those with impaired sight cross the street. As the New York Times reported recently, the pronunciations are quite local indeed, as they have been recorded by Dennis Ferrara, a Brooklynite who works for the city's Transportation Department.

Are there street names where you live that are tricky for non-locals to pronounce?

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Comments from our users:

Friday July 20th 2012, 5:08 AM
Comment by: Licia C. (Milano Italy)
Most Italian tourists have problems with Leicester Square in London.
Friday July 20th 2012, 5:19 AM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
I don't understand why some VT articles don't have 'share' links associated with them.
Friday July 20th 2012, 11:28 AM
Comment by: Orin Hargraves (CO)Visual Thesaurus Contributor
Long ago I drove a cab in Chicago and it was always interesting to hear different passengers' pronunciations of Goethe Street. Not surprisingly, I never heard it pronounced the way a German would say it. I think the standard Chicago prons is GO-thi. Other cities who get in on this might find it useful to consult cab drivers to learn standard pronunciations.
Sunday July 22nd 2012, 2:21 AM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
When my father was chief of our community he'd been privy to conversations my mother had with her late grandfather. When our community leased some of our land to raise revenue a number of new streets went in and my father decided to give them aboriginal names. Our word for river is stal'əw and he chose this word for the street that overlooks the Fraser River. However, the bureaucrat at city hall Anglicized the spelling to staulo and the street became known as Staulo Cres. The diminutive of that word in our language is statləw' which translates to small river or creek. One of the new streets runs along a creek and so he named the street for this word, but it was Anglicized to Stautlo Ave. The names of these to streets have been a source of confusion and frustration for address seekers ever since.
Sunday July 22nd 2012, 9:52 PM
Comment by: Rebecca K. (La Mesa, CA)
interesting idea and article! Does one need to press a button to hear the pronunciation (I think I saw an American crosswalk-type button, but am not positive.)
Sunday July 22nd 2012, 10:59 PM
Comment by: Ben Zimmer (New York, NY)Visual Thesaurus ContributorVisual Thesaurus Moderator
Rebecca: According to the project page, "when participants lift the speaker off the wall, it starts playing." No button-pushing needed, which might explain some of the pleasantly surprised expressions!
Monday July 23rd 2012, 5:34 AM
Comment by: Linda L. (Baton Rouge, LA)
One need only be born & reared in New Orleans to know the best of such unique, a/k/a mispronuniated, street names, such as "Tchoupitoulas Street" (Chop-it'-TOOL'- us) - a local American native name which they used here for this road that runs along the eastern bank of the Mississippi River.
We also have the streets named after the Greek Mythological Muses, as with Terpsichore ("Turp-sick'-o-ree" or "Turp'see-coor") Brought many a N.O. neighbourhood bar to a fight on a Monday or Tuesday evening !! Then our ever-famous Burgundy in the French Quarter. What's the problem? It is pronounced "Burrr-GUN'-dee", not the way most folks pronounce the wine-LOL.
Just to make it an even number, let me include Persephone, which is allegedly pronounced in New Orleans as "purse-SEF'-o - nee". There is a large group of New Orleanians who call the street "Purse-see-PHONE'".
We have a minimum of forty more streets that are pronounced a minimum of 2 ways if not 3 or more, but that is simply too many to put into this report and/or "Comment", right? So, in the meantime, why don't y'all come on down here and see what y'all can find on your own? As Always, Linda A. Liljedahl, New Orleans, LA
Monday July 23rd 2012, 8:55 PM
Comment by: Victor G. (Vancouver Canada)
The pronunciation errors with which people come out can be so amusing. Some of our family enjoy watching Brit-coms (British sit-coms for those that haven't heard the expression). One of those programs is called 'Good Neighbours' and one of the cast members is Penelope Keith. One of my family commented "What a silly name 'Penny-lope'. I couldn't help laughing and corrected her saying it's pronounced 'Pen-ELL-o-pee'. She prides herself on being well informed and responded indignantly "That's not how you spell Penelope." LOL
Wednesday July 25th 2012, 11:11 AM
Comment by: Paula P.
In Detroit, Goethe Street was pronounced GO-THEE. (The TH as in "they")

Gratiot Avenue is pronounced GRASH-it. Newcomers often want to pronounce it Gra-TOYT, somehow linking it to Detroit's own pronunciation of it's name: DE-TROYT.

Where I live now, Kirksville, Missouri, newcomers have difficulty with Osteopathy Ave. It runs in front of the Kirksville College of Osteopathic Medicine (now part of the A. T. Still University system). We pronounce it Os-te-OP-a-thee. Newcomers mangle it in many different ways.
Wednesday July 25th 2012, 11:13 AM
Comment by: Paula P.
Reply to Victor G: When I was a very young child I read a storybook about a girl named "Penny-lope," or so I thought. It seemed like such an ugly name for a nice little girl. Thankfully, I heard an adult pronounce it correctly before I ever said it aloud!

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