Saskatche-what? Settling our provincial pronunciation once and for all

The old joke goes it’s a province that’s easier to draw than spell. As it turns out, there’s maybe even something harder to do than spelling Saskatchewan, and that’s saying it properly.

Ellen Degeneres and SC's Jay and Dan prove the name's nothing if not a conversation-starter

Jimmy Fallon spoke about Regina, Sask. on his show. (The Jimmy Fallon Show)

There's an old joke that says Saskatchewan is easier to draw than spell. It turns out it may be even harder to say its name properly.

Saskatche-win? Saskatche-juan? Saskatche-wan? Puzzle over it too much and you'll end up saying it in an endless loop, driving yourself batty and questioning why you can't even properly say where you live.

It's a name that's been batted around American television for some chuckles. Talk show host Ellen Degeneres took multiple stabs (it was arguably that violent) at the pronunciation, as she struggled to read out where one viewer was from.

We get it, Ellen, it's OK if you just describe her as being from Canada.

We'll just point out that Jimmy Fallon sounded pretty smooth and confident, when he introduced the Tourism Board of Saskatchewan (at the 3:18 mark of this video).

TSN's Jay and Dan tackled the question this past week, critiquing a sports announcer's pronunciation of the province.

CBC Saskatchewan's Morning Edition crew set out to find out the correct pronunciation. Four people called in, each with their own distinct pronunciation and even a lesson on how to say other Canadian stumpers like "Cal-gree" and "Toranta."

Listen to four different ways Saskatchewanians say Saskatchewan 1:15

The team then turned to Cree speaker Simon Bird to explain the etymology of the word, "Saskatchewan." He said the word is derived from the Cree words, saskan, meaning warm wind, and pimiciwan, meaning it is flowing.

"It's two words combined, that refers to the type of season that the river flows faster than normal, which is in the spring time," Bird said.

Simon Bird explains how to say Saskatchewan in Cree. 0:20

The word, when broken down like this, has a poetry that anyone who has lived through a Saskatchewan spring can appreciate, of the snow melting and rushing water flowing downstream.  

"Saskatchewan is a given," said Bird. "That's how we all say it in the Cree language."

With that, we may consider the debate settled.

About the Author

Janani Whitfield

Janani Whitfield spent 10 years working in the newspaper industry in Alberta before joining CBC Saskatchewan as a web writer in 2017. Contact her at janani.whitfield@cbc.ca on on Twitter, @WhitfieldJanani.

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