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.

3 thoughts on “Saskatchewhat?

  1. Bob Kennedy

    Maybe this is why some just say Sask. As for Montreal, I’d thought this distinguished Canadian from American pronunciations.

    I’ve got some examples of place names oddly left unreduced by locals but reduced by non-locals. Ottawa is one: Canadians typically have a secondary stress on the last syllable [ɑ́ɾəwɑ̀], while Americans make it a dactyl [áɾəwə]. This applies to other places with the same name in Iowa, Kansas, Illinois, and Michigan. Since the same toponym is used in so many places, it’s not quite fair to call the two-stress form ‘local’ and the dactyl ‘non-local’, but the unreduced form is definitely used by locals in the Ontario Ottawa (which is also the largest of any municipality by that name).

    Another fun one is Newfoundland. Non-local pronunciations include the (compositionally transparent?) [nùfáwndlənd] and the dactyllic [núfənlənd]. Locals prefer a full vowel in the last syllable, as in [núfənlæ̀nd], or even with the stress transposed, to [nùfənlǽnd]. In this case, though, one need not rely on the pronunciation of the toponym to identify a local.

  2. Kie

    I know what you mean, Bob. Sometimes it seems as though the purpose of the toponym’s pronunciation is just to foil outsiders: if out-of-towners don’t reduce, then reduce; if they do reduce, then don’t.

    I found the Boston area to be especially treacherous with respect to lack of reduction. [I’m afraid to try much IPA in a comment, but here goes…] The two that stick in my mind are ‘Lechmere’ (L[i]chmere) and ‘Waltham’ (Walth[æ]m–that should be an a-e digraph), but I think there were others, too.

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