39

There are many sources that claim that it is illegal to pronounce Arkansas incorrectly and you can be fined for doing so.

My favorite law is one designed to get Northerners into trouble. That's right folks, if you mispronounce Arkansas (Ar-kan-saw) you're in for a fine or jail time.

http://littlerock.about.com/cs/factsfun/a/strangelaws.htm


It’s strictly prohibited to pronounce “Arkansas” incorrectly

http://www.dumblaws.com/laws/united-states/arkansas

Is this true? Is it mentioned in Arkansas State Laws?


As a subnote, Wikipedia mentions the below:

In 1881, the pronunciation of Arkansas with the final "s" being silent was made official by an act of the state legislature after a dispute arose between Arkansas's then-two U.S. senators as one favored the pronunciation as /ˈɑrkənsɔː/ AR-kən-saw while the other favored /ɑrˈkænzəs/ ar-KAN-zəs.

  • 3
    Even if such a law were on the books, it would likely be held unconstitutional and thus technically, not a law in the U.S. – RBarryYoung Oct 23 '14 at 15:10
  • 1
    Agreed, that would be a clear 1st amendment violation. – Andrew Medico Oct 23 '14 at 15:34
  • 3
    Cf.: Just because "New York City" is the official name, you won't get arrested for calling it "The Big Apple". – Hagen von Eitzen Oct 23 '14 at 18:19
  • 4
    Your question rhymes! Someone should write a limerick: I've heard it said that in Arkansas/ Pronouncing it badly breaks the law/... – CJ Dennis Oct 25 '14 at 0:52
  • 3
    @Zack The whole point of the First Amendment is to severely restrict legal consequences for speech; if it's a criminal offense to say something, you're not considered able to say it. Preventing speech in the first place (i.e. as opposed to the question of what legal consequences are allowed) is just a narrow subset of First Amendment law, not the whole thing; there's probably more that's been written about whether a vague law causes self-censorship to avoid violating it than about prior restraint of speech. – cpast Oct 25 '14 at 5:07
62

The name, Arkansas, is a French pronunciation of a Siouxan word meaning "land of downriver people". It is pronounced:

/ˈɑrkənsɔː/

ar-kən-saw

In 1881, the Arkansas General Assembly passed Concurrent Resolution No. 4.

The resolution was further modified in 1947 as Arkansas Code 1 April 105, and reads thusly:

Whereas, confusion of practice has arisen in the pronunciation of the name of our state and it is deemed important that the true pronunciation should be determined for use in oral official proceedings. And, whereas, the matter has been thoroughly investigated by the State Historical Society and the Eclectic Society of Little Rock, which have agreed upon the correct pronunciation as derived from history, and the early usage of the American immigrants. Be it therefore resolved by both houses of the General Assembly, that the only true pronunciation of the name of the state, in the opinion of this body, is that received by the French from the native Indians and committed to writing in the French word representing the sound. It should be pronounced in three (3) syllables, with the final "s" silent, the "a" in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables. The pronunciation with the accent on the second syllable with the sound of "a" in "man" and the sounding of the terminal "s" is discouraged by Arkansans.

The full explanation of the debate leading up to this resolution can be read here.

Essentially, this resolution was just to make the proper pronunciation "official". You'll notice that the language of the resolution uses words like "should" and "discouraged", not "must". So no, it's not illegal to pronounce Arkansas incorrectly.

Both Arkansas and Kansas derive their names from the Native-American Kansa tribe (pronounced as Kan-SAW). Kansas is an English spelling of the tribe's name, leading to the current pronunciation. Arkansas is french, and the trailing "s" is therefore silent. This is why the official pronunciation of Arkansas sounds more like the original Native American word.

  • According to that definition, i.e. "the "a" in each syllable with the Italian sound" and "the second syllable with the sound of 'a' in 'man'", the 3rd syllable should be a hard/flat 'a' (with a silent 's'), like 'ər-kən-sə'. – ChrisW Oct 23 '14 at 10:32
  • 5
    @Brian I believe that it does matter. It is not necessary for a written law to have the punishment defined within the text of said law. In such cases, the punishment is determined either by an auxiliary law written specifically to define punishments for certain types of crimes, or by a judge using his own judgement and precedent. – TonyArra Oct 24 '14 at 7:03
  • 1
    So how do you actually pronounce the demonym "Arkansan"? – Saibot Oct 25 '14 at 0:35
  • 1
    @Saibot According to the link that I posted "People who live in or who come from Arkansas, are referred to as Arkansans (Ar'kansans'). This term is a throwback to an earlier pronunciation of the state name as Ar'Kansas'" – TonyArra Oct 25 '14 at 2:10
  • 2
    @ChrisW in the court proceedings that I linked to in my first link, they make mention of this pronunciation numerous times: "Throughout all these States it is to this day pronounced by all the old inhabitants and their children in three syllables, with the broad Italian sound of "a," and the final 's' " silent, as if written Ar-kan-saw." The IPA wasn't invented until 7 years after these proceedings, and admittedly, the way that the resolution wrote it is a bit unclear. It's a bit of a moot point to the question of its legality, but it's clear from the link what pronunciation was intended. – TonyArra Oct 25 '14 at 8:44
1

If this was a valid law, it should be possible to point to a successful prosecution made under its provisions. There hasn't been one.

The reason this myth has grown legs is because of an article introduced into the Arkansas legal code in 1881. The article in question, which I have reproduced below, is taken from Lexisnexis.

1-4-105. Pronunciation of state name.

Whereas, confusion of practice has arisen in the pronunciation of the name of our state and it is deemed important that the true pronunciation should be determined for use in oral official proceedings.

And, whereas, the matter has been thoroughly investigated by the State Historical Society and the Eclectic Society of Little Rock, which have agreed upon the correct pronunciation as derived from history and the early usage of the American immigrants.

Be it therefore resolved by both houses of the General Assembly, that the only true pronunciation of the name of the state, in the opinion of this body, is that received by the French from the native Indians and committed to writing in the French word representing the sound. It should be pronounced in three (3) syllables, with the final "s" silent, the "a" in each syllable with the Italian sound, and the accent on the first and last syllables. The pronunciation with the accent on the second syllable with the sound of "a" in "man" and the sounding of the terminal "s" is an innovation to be discouraged.

HISTORY: Concurrent Resolution No. 4, Acts 1881, p. 216; C. & M. Dig., § 9181a; Pope's Dig., § 11867; A.S.A. 1947, § 5-102.

Note that the provision in the code merely describes the unfavoured pronunciation as "an innovation to be discouraged". That doesn't make that pronunciation illegal — it merely states the official opinion and preference of the state legislature at the time this article was included in the Arkansas legal code.

It may also be of interest that in the neighbouring state of Kansas (where I actually live), there are several place names that include the word Arkansas, like Arkansas City. Here, those place names are actually pronounced as written (though Arkansas City is more often than not simply shortened to 'Ark City' in speech, which renders the pronunciation of the end of the word a moot point).

  • Welcome to Skeptics! Your first paragraph has a couple of issues: (1) It isn't a safe conclusion that a law isn't valid until their has been a successful prosecution. By that argument, no first prosecution could ever be made for a new law, because the new law would not yet be valid. (2) You haven't provided a reference to support your claim that there have been no such prosecutions. – Oddthinking Nov 10 '14 at 13:02

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .