When a popular Fox News host apparently mispronounced the name of Canada’s capital in a segment on his US prime-time TV show last week, he could have actually been closer to the brand than many think.
Both Canadians and Americans reacted with ridicule when host Tucker Carlson — a political commentator on fire, known for his right-wing views — referred to Ottawa in a Friday segment on his show, Tucker Carlson tonight.
The segment was about the time American Democratic Vice Presidential candidate Kamala Harris spent in Canada as a young man.
“So if the question is, ‘What is Canada’s capital?’ For the record, it’s a place called Ottawa, “Carlson said, emphasizing the second syllable with the city’s name instead of the first — essentially pronouncing it” aw-tuh-wah “instead of” AW-tuh wah. “
SE | Tucker Carlson (mis) says Ottawa on his Fox News show:
The reaction was immediate.
“I have never heard anyone mispronounce ‘Ottawa’ as @TuckerCarlson does here. Very strange,” said US Reporter Andrew Feinberg tweeted.
“Did Tucker Carlson just deliberately utter ‘Ottawa’ to make Canada seem like an exotic, foreign country?” wrote Twitter user Meghan McNally.
“He probably did not like the way this Canadian pronounces ‘Tucker,'” said another.
‘Ottawa’ original origin
But as many indigenous peoples pointed out, the way Carlson pronounced the word – intentionally or not – resembles the original word to which the capital is named more than the ordinary English pronunciation does.
“I know he was trying to be funny … but he actually got pretty close,” said Jeff Monague, a Beausoleil First Nation elder and an expert on Anishinaabemowin, the language the place name Ottawa comes from.
Monague said the original Anishinaabe word “odaawe” is pronounced “aw-DAH-weh” – means “a trading post” or “to sell or trade”, and was used to refer to the Algonquian-speaking Ojibway people of the same name.
While their traditional territory was west of the Ottawa River Valley along the shores of Lake Huron, they were key traders in what is now the Ottawa area.
“It was they who went into the trading posts,” Monague said. “Through Anglicization, they became known as Odawa, and today they would call themselves Odawa because that was the label that was put on them.”
In the mid-19th century, British colonial authorities ended up assigning the name Ottawa to what was then known as Bytown, an important trading post where thousands of Algonquin people had settled, said Veldon Coburn, professor of indigenous studies at University of Ottawa.
“As legend has it, they picked it up and anglicized it, put a harder ‘T’ on it,” said Coburn, who hails from Algonquins in Pikwàkanagàn First Nation near Golden Lake, Ont., About 160 miles west of Ottawa.
“The inflection of syllables and the way Tucker Carlson pronounced it was much closer to Anishinaabemowin than the way most people pronounce the word today,” Coburn said.
“Whatever his point was, I think he mistakenly stumbled upon a correct pronunciation, unconsciously.”
Forgotten native story, pronunciation
Coburn said the subsequent pile-on targeting of Carlson betrays widespread ignorance of indigenous history in Canada.
“It says a lot [about] most of Canada that they do not really know. “
Monague said he would like to see a movement to regain the original pronunciation of English words derived from native languages. At the very least, he said, people should learn the history behind place names where they live.
“I was taught English, and it always impressed me that I needed to speak the language properly and to pronounce every word properly,” Monague said.
“It would be nice if it was done in kind and the other way around. If you use our language, then you should also pronounce the words properly.”