Unless you grew up on Martha’s Vineyard, there’s probably a good chance you’ve mispronounced a town, a pond, or some other landmark on the Island.
The names on teal and white signs confound visitors. People exiting the ferry and weaving around the Island for the first time squint and sound out the foreign-sounding names phonetically — “Sen-gee-con-tickit?” — oftentimes to little success. (Pro tip: Call it “Sengie” and you can’t go wrong.) You may have even heard the nails-on-a-chalkboard mispronunciation of “Oaks Bluff.”
And so, in the spirit of “Jimmy Kimmel Live,” and wanting to educate the public, The Times hit the streets to ask tourists on their summer vacations to try and pronounce popular Island places. Spoiler: Some were spot-on and some were wickedly way off and, yes, funny.
We asked tourists to pronounce: Katama, Sengekontacket, Quansoo, Aquinnah, Wampanoag, Cape Poge, Muskeget, Wasque, Makonikey, and Noepe.
The Times consulted oral historian Linsey Lee and fluent Wampanoag speaker and tribal member Durwood “Woody” Vanderhoop for correct pronunciations.
The Island’s unusual-sounding names are a point of pride for Vineyarders. They’re up there with other hard-to-pronounce names across most of New England. Many of these words have roots in the Wampanoag tribal language. According to the tribe website, Squibnocket literally means “at the place of the red cliff or bank.” Tashmoo was originally “Kehtashimet” and Chappaquiddick comes from the word “Tchepiaquidenet.”
Many of the names of places on the Island were changed by English settlers when they began arriving in the 1600s, such as “Kuppiegon” to “Cape Higgon” and “Nashawahkamuk” to “Chilmark,” according to the tribe website. You’re unlikely to find these original names on a Google Map, or on the tip of anyone’s tongue.
While the Wampanoag Language Reclamation Project and other organizations have carefully documented the nuances of the language, Island natives still debate the exact correct pronunciation of many words. The disagreement still exists for several reasons, one of them being that many of the linguistic sounds simply don’t exist in other languages.
No matter how you say Cape Poge, Quansoo, Sengkontacket, or Aquinnah — say it with us: Martha’s Vineyard is a great place to visit.