This afternoon I was listening to CBC‘s Radio 1 on my computer, using the Edmonton station in order to listen to a 2:30 show at 1:30 PST. I kept listening to the next show, apparently a local one, with Peter Brown hosting a sort of New Year’s Eve musical face-off between Alberta and Saskatchewan.
There was an interesting bit in which Brown, who apparently grew up partly in Saskatoon, interviewed people on the street (of what city, I didn’t hear—maybe Edmonton?) about how to pronounce ‘Saskatchewan’.
Apparently what he was interested in was the quality of the vowel in the last syllable: according to Brown, the correct pronunciation is [səˈskætʃəwən], and it’s like “a stab in [the] heart” when he hears *[səˈskætʃəˌwɑn]. Co-host Betsy Hanson (I think?) agreed, heaping scorn also on *[ˌsæˈskætʃəˌwɑn].
It doesn’t surprise me that the local pronunciation of this place name is more reduced than the outsider pronunciation. What was impressive, though, was how overtly aware of the difference the hosts were and how articulately they could discuss it: they talked about syllables and vowels being over-emphasized, and Brown, talking with a person on the street named [ˈkɹɪstəl], drew an analogy between *[ˈkɹɪˌstɑl] and *[səˈskætʃəˌwɑn].
The same contentious [ɑ] vowel distinguishes the outsider pronunciation of my own home, [ˌmʌntɹiˈal] (not *[ˌmɑntɹiˈal]). But I’ve generally found that native Montrealers can’t really explain what’s wrong with the out-of-towner pronunciation or even imitate it—they just know it’s wrong somehow.