28 September 2009

Salers, the pronunciation

Salers is one of those place names in France that has two pronunciations. Yesterday, for example, I went to the outdoor market over in Noyers-sur-Cher, across the river, to buy some cheese. My goal was goat cheese, and I got three nice pieces, along with a slice of the Auvergne blue cheese called Fourme d'Ambert.

Then I noticed a shrink-wrapped piece of tomme fraîche like one we had bought in Salers. It's cheese to cook with and I'll make something with it later this week (truffade — stay tuned). The wrapper says it's good cheese to put on pizza.

The old post office in Salers

I told the cheese vendor, who is starting to get to know me after two or three years of seeing me occasionally on Sunday mornings, that I had just come back from the Cantal. He asked me where I stayed, and I said Saint-Chamant. He didn't appear to be familiar with that name, so I said it was not far from Salers.

Walt and Callie taking a picture in Salers

His face brightened and he starting singing the praises of the Salers area. How beautiful it is, how green, what good food, especially the cheeses, he said. I told him we had visited a dairy farmer and watched him make Salers cheese late one afternoon. I think he was impressed — or envious. At the least it called up good memories for him.

Here's what I meant when I said flowers add color to gray Salers.

Anyway, every time he said Salers he pronounced the final S, saying something like [sah-LEHRSS]. I used to pronounce it that way too, when I lived in Paris. There are a lot of French place names that end in an S where the final S is silent, and a lot where it is pronounced. Everybody knows that Paris is [pah-REE] and Tours is [tour] — those are often-used names. But how many people are sure how to pronounce names like Tournus, Carpentras, Alès, or the Rhône wine villages Gigondas and Vacquéras? S or no S at the end?

The church tower in Salers and a coq

Once Walt and I went for lunch at a restaurant near Ecole Militaire in the 7th arrondissement in Paris. It was called Le Bistrot de Papa, I think — yep, just looked it up and that's the one. When we went there, one of the specialties on the menu was le bœuf de Salers, steaks of Salers beef. That's what we, or at least I, ordered. I asked the waiter if I should say [sah-LEHR] or [sah-LEHRSS]. He said he was from Auvergne and that down there the final S is silent, but that in Paris a lot of people pronounce it. So you really can't go wrong, I guess.

A typical solid-looking house on the edge of Salers

That's what I tell English-speakers who want to know how to pronounce town names that end in an S. Go ahead and pronounce the S. French people will understand you, even if that's not the way they normally pronounce the name. Then listen carefully to see if you can hear the French-speaking person say the name back to you. Imitate that pronunciation.

Nice street view in Salers

Well, I got carried away with those pronunciation questions. The pictures in this post are ones I took in Saler' on September 2. It is a very photogenic place.


  1. Very interesting :) Do you think that it's a matter of what vowel comes before the "s"? Like... "as" and "us" get the "s" pronounced, but not "es", unless it's "ès"? What do you say, Mr. Phonetics teacher? :))

    Is the s in mas pronounced?

    For me, I like to respect the way a place is pronounced by the people who live in the region. For example, the town in Massachusetts called Amherst is pronounced with silent h by everyone who lives in the region. People who just go there for school, or see it written, always want to pronounce the h... AmHerst. Yuck.


  2. Hi Judy, As far as I know, it's Tournu' and Carpentra' (and Montargis = Montargi') without the S, but GigondaS with the S. I assume it's VacqueraS, but I'm not sure. And yes, [ah-LESS] but [sah-LEHR] (even though my Larousse Dictionnaire de la Prononciation says the final S of Salers IS pronounced). And what about Nyons, famous for olives? I think that was has changed. I'm not sure there is a reliable rule for these pronunciations.

    How many people know how to pronounce Beaufort NC vs. Beaufort SC? Or Albany NY vs. Albany GA? Cairo IL? Versailles IN? Skaneateles NY? Rodanthe NC? Much less Am'erst MA! Or LaJolla and Vallejo in CA. Walt and I lived on Gough Street in San Francisco...

  3. Oh, the Larousee pronunciation dictionary says mas is ma'.

  4. I agree with Judy. A word should be pronounced the way it is pronounced in its region. I say mas
    (maSS) because it is how it is pronounced in Provence. (Now I know how to pronounce Amherst.)

  5. Nadege, you're my buddy! :)

    Ken, now I want to know the pronunciation for all of this! My curiosity is piqued:

    Beaufort NC vs. Beaufort SC
    Is it bo-for for one and bew-fort for another?

    Albany NY vs. Albany GA
    Is it Awl-bunny for one, and aaal-BAYnee for another?

    Cairo IL --> KAy-ro?

    Versailles IN --> verr-SAYLES? (like the town in Missouri?)

    LaJolla -- LaHOYa? and Vallejo -- no idea? Vah-yay-ho (just guessing on that one from my Spanish background)?

    Walt and I lived on Gough Street in San Francisco...
    And how do you pronounce that??

  6. Which reminds me of..."Rodez." The "Z" is pronounced, and interestingly the locals pronounce it as kind of a hissing "s."

  7. Thanks Betty. That's interesting about Rodez being kind of [roh-DESS]. I wonder if that -ez ending is a variant spelling of the -ès in Alès.

    I was just reading a France 2 TV discussion forum where somebody criticized a TV host for pronouncing mas as [mah]. Others said it's pronounced [mahss] in the south but [mah] in the north. It's not a word I hear much in the Loire Valley, where it would be pronounced [mah-NWAHR].

    Somebody on that forum mentioned the area called Le Gers [zhehrss]. That made me think of mars [mahrss], name of the planet and month. Near Tours there's a place called Cinq-Mars-la-Pile. I'd always thought about it being pronounced saying all the letters. Recently I learned you say it as if it were "Saint-Mar-la-Pile" — funny.

    Judy, you're right about [BOH-furt] NC and [BYOO-furt] SC. The SC pronunciation is more English — there's a town in England called [BYOO-lee]: Beaulieu.

    Vallejo in Calif. is [vuh-LAY-(h)oh] and LaJolla is as you said [luh-HOY-yuh]. You're right about Albany NY [AWL-buh-nee] and Albany GA [ahl-BEH-nee] (approximately). And Cairo IL is [KAY-roh] I think, while Versailles IN is [vur-SAILZ]. I might be wrong about those though.

    The Gough in SF rhymes with "cough" and not with "though" or "through" or "tough" as some think at first.

    So many people want to pronounce St. Louis as [saint-LOO-ee] and Louisville as [LOO-iss-vil]. How do you say Louisville? The -ville suffix is pronounced like "full" in many places, but with a V of course.

    Proper names know no pronunciation rules, I guess.

  8. I knew them all! Does that mean I win a free trip to France?? ;-)


    word verification: fustans = foos TAH(n)?


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