MSS-003-French Pronunciation and Text-to-Speech Aids

Episode 003-January 7, 2014

A Very Happy New Year to Everyone!!

In episode 003, we saw that knowing the native pronunciation of a word enables us to come up with possible phonetic spellings. Then we took a look at various methods of determining the correct native pronunciation.

Language Tip #3-Native Pronunciation is the Key

In attempting to work backwards on my maternal grandmother’s Mathieu line, I could find death records from the mid-20th century for my grandmother’s generation and her father’s generation. But I could not find their birth records from the mid- to late- nineteenth century in the Massachusetts and Connecticut towns where all the later records said they were born.

I began with Exina Mathieu’s baptism certificate.

Baptism Certificate, Exina Mathieu, St. Anne's Church, Fiskdale, MA, 21 Nov 1896

Baptism Certificate, Exina Mathieu, St. Anne’s Church, Fiskdale, MA, 21 Nov 1896

From there I began a search for her father and two uncles, Alfred, Henry, and Arthur Mathieu. Their death records gave places of birth, but again, no luck in finding them there, even though I checked both French and English spellings of the name. However, the three brothers’ records lead to their father George’s obituary, which gave the names of three married sisters:

From the December 11, 1908, edition of the Worcester [MA] Daily Telegram, p. 9:

“George Matthew, Formerly of Fisherville, Dies at Wilkonsonville”

  • Died: December 10, 1908, Wilkinsonville, Massachusetts; aged 57 years, 3 months, 25 days
  • Born: Putnam, Connecticut
  • Married: over 30 years to Olive Collette
  • Leaves: four sisters: Mrs. Marceline Obarton, Mrs. Sophrina Chauvin, Mrs. Josephine Jerin, Miss Alexina Matthew

It was searching for information on the three married sisters that lead to the solution to the problem. I finally found a birth record for a son born to Alphonso Chauvin and Sophronia Mycue [Plainfield, Connecticut, vital records, vol. 5, BMD 1867-1879 (part), roll #3277, p. 84, accessed at the Connecticut State Library]. The ‘Mycue’ spelling of the surname Mathieu brought back memories of how the name was pronounced by my family decades before. Although there is no exact English sound, the ‘th’ sound most equates to a ‘tch’ sound in English. The name Mathieu, pronounced /Ma-tchue/, more closely sounded like Mycue or Micue to the English ear, and was found spelled the way it sounded in Massachusetts and Connecticut vital records and censuses.

French Pronunciation and Text-to-Speech Aids

To repeat a previous lesson, researching the collaterals was what lead to the clue that solved the mystery, a mystery that might have been solved years earlier with an understanding that the native pronunciation can lead to the misspelling of foreign names in records. Here are several ways to discover the native pronunciation:

1) Ask a native French speaker

  • Social media sites like Facebook or Google+

2) Text-to-Speech Aids

  • Acapela (in French): In the first drop-down list, sélectionnez une langue [choose a language], click on ‘French (Canada); for choisissez une langue [choose a voice], there is only one choice, French (Canada) Louise; in the box below tapez votre texte ici [type your text here], type in your name of interest; then click écoutez [listen] to hear the pronunciation.

  • Cepstral’s ‘We Build Voices’: Type in your name of interest. In the Voice drop-down list, scroll down to Canadian-French and choose either the male or female voice and click ‘Say It.’

Take the time to close your eyes and listen to the sounds. Write what you hear phonetically, and search for that spelling. Happy hunting!

A recently purchased book, the Dictionary of Americanized French-Canadian Names: Onomastics and Genealogy by Marc Picard, had two of the spelling variations for Mathieu that would have saved me years of searching. Perhaps your surname clue is in there as well.*

Mystery number 2: Obarton was actually the Anglicized spelling of Aubertin.

Has knowing the pronunciation of a name helped you to locate it in records even though it was misspelled?

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Volunteers for Help with French Pronunciation (Thank you):

Annie (will send audio file): info [at] joinusinfrance [dot] com


* Disclosure:  The link to the Dictionary of Americanized French-Canadian Names: Onomastics and Genealogy by Marc Picard is an affiliate link, as are the slideshow and search box at the bottom of each web page. That means that if you purchase an item through the site link, it does not cost you a cent more, but it helps to support this podcast. Thanks!!

6 comments on “MSS-003-French Pronunciation and Text-to-Speech Aids

  1. Pingback: MSS-003-French Pronunciation and Text-to-Speech Aids | Maple Stars and Stripes

  2. Pierre Lagacé

    About tomorrow on my blog.

    Cayos were in fact Cadieux… That family lived in St-Mathias-sur-le-Richelieu.

    They pronunced it Caieux or Cayeu.

    My great-great-grandmother was Onésime Cadieux born in 1822.

    People in databanks will find Lesime Carieux written in her marriage act.
    That’s how people transcribed that parish register page.

    I use the same technique as you.
    Cadieux became Kayou or Cayo. So people who have this surname will have a lot of problem finding their roots.

    That’s one reason why I like to write about it on my blog.

  3. Margie

    Loved this podcast episode!

    Another way to find variations on French surnames would be to have 10 different English speakers listen to the pronunciation, then write down what they heard. I would choose people from different areas in the US as their English accents are different and they will “hear” different sounds or record them differently.

    And, keep a list of the variations close by when searching. Every time I find a new variation of my ancestors’ name, I write it down. And that goes for ALL my ancestors, not just those with French Canadian names. Every surname gets butchered from time to time.

  4. Julie Mangin

    I have been enjoying your podcasts ever since I discovered them last week. Your style of presentation is excellent, and I can tell you really know what you are talking about. This is partly because I have spent the last two years tracing my French Canadians back to the beginning of the colony. A lot of what you are saying, I had already figured out. It’s nice to know, however, that I have been on the right track.

    In this episode, your explanation of the number 8 in certain surnames reminded me of something similar I came across in my research. I was puzzling over what I thought was the word “gbre” in one of the registers, where the name of the month should have been. It turned out that it wasn’t a letter g at the beginning of the word was actually a number 8. The 8 was written as if the lower half of it was a descender, which made it look like a g to me. I realized that “8bre” was the priest’s way of abbreviating “October.” I later learned that “7bre” means “September,” and “9bre” and “Xbre” means “November” and “December” respectively.

    1. Sandra Goodwin

      Julie-That’s correct. It’s because before Julius Caesar started messing around with the, at the time, 10-month calendar, September WAS the seventh month, October the 8th and so on. When he added July and August (12 shorter months instead of 10 longer ones meant more monthly taxes collected), the names were misnomers from then on.

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