Friday, February 18, 2011

The Toronto Shibboleth

How do you know if a singer is from Toronto? Because he mentions it in his songs? No -Falco mentioned Toronto in 'Vienna Calling', and no one would have ever confused him with a resident of (ahem) 'T-Dot.'

No, it's not merely saying the name 'Toronto'; it's saying it in a very particular way. Note the rhyme schemes of these two songs from Torontonians down the ages:
"Hey little Donna, I still want to
You said to ring you up when I was in Toronto"

- The Kings, "The Beat Goes On / Switchin' to Glide"

"I said a lot of things that I can't take back
But I don't really know if I want to
There've been songs about love, I sang songs about war
Since the backstreets of Toronto"

- Neil Young, "Love and War"

If you've never heard these songs sung, that might confuse you even more. How can Toronto rhyme with 'want to'? 'Want toe', perhaps. I had an English friend tell me recently that he thought 'Toronto' should be pronounced to rhyme with 'tomato', which also confuses the issue until you remember how the English pronounce that fruit/vegetable.

Anyway, in both these songs, 'want to' is pronounced as is commonly written 'wanna'. Which allows it to rhyme quite comfortably with Toronto, as pronounced by almost all Torontonians - a pronunciation that seems excessivley slangy or uneducated to non-Torontonians but that ultimately ought to be considered the correct pronunciation.

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