LETTER TO THE EDITOR: No matter how it’s spelled, Wabash is Ouabache is Quabache
Many of us in Adams and Wells County have experienced at some time the unfortunate misunderstanding of the French spelling and language many years ago.
This happened when the local Civilian Conservation Corps of the 1930s built a camp in Wells County near Bluffton. This has caused much grief to the local constituency since then. I’m referring to the spelling of the name of our local state park and the river with the same name but different spelling.
It’s an old Indian name, all right, but since reading, writing and arithmetic aren’t the same in all languages, there’s been a discrepancy in the spelling, but not the pronunciation of our Indian name, Wabash. This was explained to me by a former teacher in the South Adams school system years ago,and most recently by Dan Bortner, director of Indiana state parks.
The name is without doubt two syllables (Wa-bash). But since no one knew the native Indian alphabet, different spellings have been used.
This area was controlled by both the French and the English about 250 years ago. So, when the French controlled it they used their alphabet, and when the English controlled it they used their spelling.
Let’s explain the French spelling. The French don’t have a spelling for the sound “wa” so to get that sound they use “oua.” And since they don’t end any words with a “sh” spelling, in order to get that sound they must use “che” letters to get the “shh” sound.
When the local CCC camp became a state recreation area in 1962 and a state park in 1983, the Indiana Department of Natural Resources chose the French spelling in naming the park. But when highway signs were made directing motorists to the new state park, somehow, the sign makers spelled Ouabache as Quabache.
When DNR officials came to inspect the signage, lo and behold there was a fly in the ointment. Where did that Q come from? They had to remake all the signs, but unfortunately, the damage had been done. Too many people had seen the signs and so the Q stuck. Up until just a few years ago, the phone books even had the Q in the name when they printed local maps of this region.
I’d like to propose to all of us local and patriotic Hoosiers that we fix the problem once and for all. It may cost a small amount to make new signs, but let’s change the old French spelling, Ouabache, to the one we all know, Wabash. Let’s be consistent and spell the river and our state park using the same language, English.