Why Can't Americans Pronounce Spanish-Named Cities in the United States Like Los Angeles Correctly?

[¡Ask a Mexican!] And why do Mexicans cheer for the Texas Longhorns and USC Trojans in football if they never attended?

DEAR MEXICAN: In my hometown of Playa Larga (Long Beach, California), natives refer to a major avenida in our villa, Junipero Avenue (named for Father Junipero Serra, accused native genocider, a candidate for sainthood—but I digress), as Juan-a-pear-o. There is no "Juan" in Junipero, but that's how everyone in this town pronounces it. People who reside on that street, real-estate agents, residents, business owners—I even heard a former mayor pronounce it that way. Why do white Americans (and even some Guatemalan-Americans) bend over backwards to pronounce Junipero as Juan-a-pear-o to sound as though they know how to pronounce it as a Spanish speaker would, yet it is the most garbled malapropism of the word (which should be pronounced "hoo-NEE-pear-o")?

Hombre Blanco de Playa Larga

DEAR GABACHO FROM LONG BEACH: Gotta say that in my lifetime of living in Southern California, I've never heard nadie pronounce Junipero as you say people mispronounce it—the malapropism I hear is "June-IH-pear-oh," a fascinating medley of the proper accent placement on the third-to-last syllable in Junípero's Spanish incarnation and a rigid following of English grammatical structure. This is the wonderful world of the grammatical gabacho colonizing of the American Southwest, where Yankees decided to keep many of the original Spanish names of territories, cities and geographical landmarks, but Anglicize them—"Tex-as" instead of Teh-haas," "Loss An-ju-less" instead of "Loce AHNG-heh-les," or "A-ri-zone-ah" instead of "Hell-on-Earth" (okay, in fairness to the Sonora dog, just the parts of the state where Arpayaso and Brewer roam). Custodians of Cervantes, of course, cringe at gabachos' mongrelization of Spanish-language place names, and that's a beautiful thing: Remember that one of the few cardinal rules of this columna is that language is fluid, and anyone who tries to box it in or get their chonis in a bunch about it are as deluded as Rick Santorum.

 

DEAR MEXICAN: Why is every overweight, tattooed, goateed, bead-wearing, late-model-Tahoe-driving, non-educated enchilada in Texas a University of Texas fan? Why not A&M or Tech? Or Baylor (that's obvious)? And one more thing: Please stop becoming belligerently drunk and taking it personal when the team on your Walmart 3XL T-shirt loses. You have no personal ties to the team, so quit throwing up gang signs and using profanity in an atmosphere that's meant to be fun. The drunk 19-year-old college kid means no harm when he screams, "Boomer!" so grow up and get a life.

Frustrated Educated Okie

DEAR GABACHO: "Enchilada" as a slur against Mexicans? The 1950s called—they want their ethnic insult back. As for the fan question: same reason no one outside of Oklahoma gives a shit about the Sooners. Subway alumni like winners in football, and the Longhorns are the epitome of a winning program in the Lone Star State, while the Aggies, Red Raiders, UTEP Miners, Texas Christian University, the University of Houston and Texas' many other college football programs haven't exhibited such gridiron dominance over the years. The Sooners haven't dominated college football since the days of Barry Switzer—you really expect non-Okies to give a damn about a third-rate university that just played in something called the Insight Bowl? By the way, your Baylor dig is lost on me. Because Baylor is a private university? USC (the Trojans USC, not the Gamecocks one) is private and has more than a few wab alumni. Typical Sooner solipsism—but what else can we expect from a university that named itself after invading illegals? Go Cowboys (both the Dallas and Oklahoma State variants)!

 
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35 comments
Mungo
Mungo

We don't pronounce Paris, TN as the French would.

And if you look Eastern European names they are unpronouncible to eh Average American.

Even Irish/Gaelic/Celtic words bear no resemblence to their pronunciation.

A few years ago China changed the spelling when tranliterating their words/names into Enghish so English speakers could say them properly.

And any language that causes the argument if LL is one letter or two is beyond my understanding. .

jesses
jesses

How about Christophorus Columbus, this name not just got miss pronounced .But changed also.His real name is Cristoforo Colombo.

ablinecoln
ablinecoln

It's not that white anglos cannot pronounce spanish words with a spanish accent - it's that we chose not to. Kind of like not going on the metric system, driving on the right side of the road, and singing "God Save The King" with different words. This is the way Americans say "stuff it." You see, we won the Mexican-American war, and are not about to re-negotiate the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo. This pisses Mexicans off to no end.

Mike O
Mike O

Yes. And here we have the truth. It's simply a matter of willful ignorance. jala-payn-yoo

cauc-asian
cauc-asian

Hombre Blanco, the simple and straight answer is people are idiots and sheep. I have the same experience here. There's a street called Hampden. EVERYONE, even the news casters drop the "p' and call it Hamden. It's maddening.

WhaaaaaaaaatThe
WhaaaaaaaaatThe

Spanish is like Japanese .. here's a simple lesson.. a i u e o "ah" "ee" "uu" "eh?" "oh!"

Everytime you see that vowel, pronounce it like that..

Bill T.
Bill T.

As I learned in about the fourth grade. I really have a hard time figgering out what's so hard about that.

Gabbyglez
Gabbyglez

I live in Long Beach and as Mexican, I am too guilty of mispronouncing Junipero as Juan-a-pear-o. Mainly because of peer pressure. People correct you constantly about the "correct" pronunciation and some people pretend not to know what the hell your talking about if you pronounce it any other way. But maybe the gabacho and I should start community education program that teaches people that it's pronounced "hoo-nee-pear-o."

Bill T.
Bill T.

The fra. was from Mallorca and was a native Catalan speaker (see Mitch's post, above) so he probably pronounced it differently from either of the examples.

I still pronounce "gigabyte" as "Jeegahbite" and just point out that it's fine if they want to pronunce it "geegahbite" and refer them to the etymology (same root as "gigantic", how do YOU pronunce it?).

Sophie
Sophie

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mrroach
mrroach

Bite me spammer. If this is what you do by working from home, well you're obviously not making any money and wasting your time and (more importantly) Mine.

Bill T.
Bill T.

... and stealing resources from OCW. Scum.

Support the legit advertisors on OCW as possible, blow these asholes off, and avoid very possibly having your computer infected with malware.

bigtiny99
bigtiny99

low-sang-ga-less (mayor sam yorty)

Bob Squalonero
Bob Squalonero

Hola Gustavo,

Me again, and hopefully what I'm about to write, isn't too off topic concerning pronounciation (if it is, I apologize in advance).

Besides I didn't know if I should write this hear or send it to your "Ask A Mexican" column, for your response (however you decide to reply, is fine with me).

While studying espanol in high school (this was over 30 years ago), I was surprised to learn that there's another, equally correct spelling, for the name of the country forming the southern border with the "good ole U.S. of A"....."MEJICO" (con el "J")! :-O

Initially, all of us in class sort of did a double take, and asked el profesor if the textbook publisher made a printing error.

However, he told us no, the name is correctly spelled both ways, i.e., "MEXICO" or "MEJICO", as is also the "derivative" words, i.e., "MEJICANO" & "MEJICANA".

When we asked our teacher why this was so, the gist of his response was that "MEJICO" is preferably escrito that way para los espanoles en Espana, while los "mexicanos" escriben "MEXICO" (again, this also for the derivative words).

To further reinforce this, our teacher analogized the difference as similar to the spelling differences for words found entre el ingles del Reino Unido y el ingles de los Estados Unidos (por ejemplo: "harbor"--US, y "harbour"--UK).

De verdad, yo no compre completamente la respuesta del profesor, and unfortunately, being a teenager with other things on my mind (girls 99.99% of the time), I never pursued the matter further.

As a result of reading your response the questions regarding pronounciation, I figured this would be una oportunidad to ask you about it.

Gustavo, es la verdad que dijo mi profesor, o existe una cantidad espicifica de mierda de toro en su respuesta?

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

In Spain, most words with an X in them come from Catalan or Basque. In those languages, X is pronounced like "sh", so "xerés" (sherry) is "sheh-REHS" and "pintxo" (cold tapa on a slice of bread) is "PEEN-cho".

It used to be that all the words with X were pronounced that way, so Ximénez was pronounced "shee-MEN-ess" and xarabe [syrup] was pronounced "shah-RAH-beh" (from the Arabic word for syrup, "sharab"). There was a shift in pronunciation a few hundred years ago, just as Mexico was being colonised, and many words switched to the "j" sound (the aspirated H we have today).

Some words switched to reflect their pronunciation—Jiménez and jarabe—and some didn't. In Spain, there was an effort by the Academia Real to standardise, and so you'll see México written as Méjico sometimes. It isn't standard, though, not anymore, but old habits die hard.

Marc Morin
Marc Morin

As a graduate of Southern Cal, I want to say muchissimos gracias to you, Gustavo, for clarifying which USC you were talking about (i.e., as opposed to the one is South Carolina).

But really, when one thinks about it both USC's complement each other.

After all, if it wasn't for us "Trojans", them "cocks" would have no protection! ;-)

Bob Squalonero
Bob Squalonero

Sadly, it's thanks to gabacho Americans' mispronounciation, that there now exists one of the most (if not THE MOST) hated of racial slurs, i.e., "nigger" aka "the N-word".

The word for "black" in Spanish is "negro" which phonetically is pronounced "nay-groh".

However, los gabachos americanos, pronounced it "knee-grow", and eventually would say "nigger" for short.

So much for, "... language is fluid...." (oh well....)

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Except for the Jews, who called them "shvartseh."

CHS
CHS

I've heard it pronounced "younipero."

Bill T.
Bill T.

Like the news pukes from back east who can't be bothered to learn to pronounce local names and hence we get such pendejados as "sanyahcinto" for "San Jacinto", and many others.

mitch young
mitch young

Serra, of course, wasn't a native Spanish speaker, the name is Juníper, with the J making the 'j' sound (as in Jordi).

Bill T.
Bill T.

Catalan is not a dialect of Spanish (analogous to Castilian), wow, I learned something this morning! Any Catalan speakers out there, is Mitch correct about the pronunciation of Junipero? (I honestly do not know.)

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Almost. The J in Catalan makes a "zh" (like the middle sound of "pleasure") sound more than "J" as in "jump".

Alva
Alva

Yes but we can pronounce Putah Creek correctly even though its misspelled.

909Jeff
909Jeff

The 5 north in the central valley there Is a Panoche rd and Little Panoche rd I dont care that its spelled differently or that its meaning is a rough grain of sugar (Probably because of the sugar beet fields up there) I still giggle everytime i drive by!

Kmcarranza
Kmcarranza

Great article. Who cares who people cheer for. It's the alumni and fans that make UT rich. Jaja by the way... To the person "born and raised in Corpus" it's Christi. Jaja that really proved your point.

909Jeff
909Jeff

So appropriate given the episode of Modern Family last night... "You want us to speak your language try winning a war sometime".

Also what about San Pedro? Everyone pronounces it Pee-dro. Don't know about you, but the line chef at my local Mexi joint's name is pronounced Pay-dro.

And Pay-dro may not be a Saint but his food should qualify him one day!

Spartazuma
Spartazuma

Pedro rhymes with pedo, pendejo!!

I know everything
I know everything

Sorry 909 but it is pronounced PEE AYE DROE. Dumb ASS.

Dave Lieberman
Dave Lieberman

Yeah, no it isn't.

La Tijera ("the scissor") as "La Tierra", the bizarre pronunciation of "Los Feliz", and the if-I-ever-find-the-person-who-did-this-I'm-going-to-have-a-hard-time-restraining-myself road in Rancho Santa Gabachada called "Via Con Dios" all drive me insane.

MayhemInTheHood
MayhemInTheHood

"... language is fluid, and anyone who tries to box it in or get their chonis in a bunch about it are as deluded as Rick Santorum." Does this include the "Five Commonly Mispronounced Mexican Food Terms That Americans Shouldn't Mispronounce" article from a few months back?

Not A Wab
Not A Wab

Easy on the Cowboys Gus...Ever been to Southern Texas? A metric shit-ton of wab Dallas Cowboy enthusiasts!! I grew up in Corpus Christie so this is first hand knowledge..Shit, check the streets of SantAna and you will see the innumerable amount of the Cowboys jerseys and jackets during football season!

Susie Rondeau
Susie Rondeau

You grew up in Corpus and cannot spell it correctly? Yikes!

 
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