How is “Sacagawea” properly pronounced? I have always heard it pronounced as sack-uh-jah-WE-uh. The other day while flipping channels I ran across a program in which the narrator pronounced it sah-Kah-gah-WAY-ah, with a soft emphasis on Kah and heavy emphasis on WAY. Is either of those correct?
Here in North Dakota, where she was from, we pronounce it sa-KA-ka-wee-ah. We named our largest lake after her. The hard “g” sounds more like a “k” for some reason.
We laugh at those Sack-a-ja-WEE-ah types.
I grew up hearing SACK-uh-juh-WEE-uh (Great. Now I have the Schoolhouse Rock song going through my head.), but I too have noticed the “new” pronunciation.
I heard once, on The Discovery Channel or The History Channel, that it could be either one. One way (I think the former) means “Bird Woman” and the other means “One Who Pulls Boats” (or something like that). Of course, as entertaining and often enlightening as those two channels are, they very often do not get their facts right.
There is a peak in the Bridger Range east of Bozeman MT called Sacagawea, and the local pronunciation seems to match the first one in the OP. But I’m not sure that proves much.
The proper pronunciation is with a hard g. Lewis and Clark spelled it various ways in their journals, but always with the letter g. In the system of phonetic writing that they used for recording Indian words, the letter g always stood for the hard g (voiced velar stop) as in “gust”, never for the sounds represented by English j as in “judge”. The improper pronunciation is due to Nicholas Biddle, the editor of the first published version of their journals. He wrongly assumed the j pronunciation of written g and so changed the spelling to Sacajawea. Later writers reverted to the spelling Sacagawea but the wrong pronunciation stuck. The spelling Sakakawea is, I believe, an attempt to make the word closer to the modern Hidatsa pronunciation.
Her name was probably a Hidatsa (a/k/a Gros Ventre, a/k/a Big Belly, a/k/a Minitari) for “Bird Woman.” She was captured by the Hidatsa as a teenager. Her original Shoshone (a/k/a Shoshoni a/k/a Snake) name is unknown.
Here’s a 1975 article on the question of spelling and pronunciation from We Proceed On, a journal dedicated to all things Lewis-and-Clark: http://www.lewisandclark.org/pubart.htm
Stay tuned for a Straight Dope Staff Report on Sacagawea in the coming months.
The ‘WAY’ and the ‘j’ are completely wrong.