Why Is Arkansas Pronounced Differently From Kansas? We Have The Answer!

The word “Arkansas” is typically the subject of much national confusion because of the way that the state’s name is pronounced. It contains the name of another state, Kansas, which has a different, and seemingly more phonetic, pronunciation. The origins of the states’ names are the clue to understanding why they are pronounced differently.

Often, it is hard to understand why certain syllables are pronounced the way that they are in America because of the many varied languages that have influenced modern American English. Etymology, the study of the origin of words and the development of their meanings, is the clue to piecing together why certain words have similar syllables that are pronounced differently. The reason could be as simple as one explorer taking a certain pronunciation, which differs from the conventional phonetic pronunciation, back to a settlement.

The syllable -sas at the end of “Kansas” is pronounced -zes. Alternatively, the syllable -ses at the end of “Arkansas” is pronounced -sɔː, or spelled phonetically -saw. So, why is it that this syllable is pronounced differently? The origins of the two words, “Arkansas” and “Kansas,” are similar; both are a variant of a name given to members of the Dhegiha branch of the Siouan people of the American midwest.

Kansas” is the pronunciation that the French interpreted from the Siouan people, and was spelled “Kansa” in it’s original form. The word “Kansa” is a plural form in Siouan language, so it is perhaps from plurality where the final -s is derived.

The word “Arkansas” was the Algonquian name for the Dhegiha branch of the Siouan people, and it was applied by the Algonquian people to the the Quapaw tribe of the Arkansas River. It is marked by the Algonquian prefix a- to signify the name of an ethnic group. The spelling also represents the French plural form, but retained the Siouan pronunciation /arkansa/. Common spellings from early settlements include Akancea, Acansea, and Asansa, which further explains why the modern pronunciation has remained.

Featured Photos Via Flickr, Arkansas, Kansas, available under a Creative Commons license.