JACINTO CITY, Tex. —
Forget the Alamo. It is the letter “J” that is under siege in Texas, at least to Mike Jackson, the mayor of this town near the old shipyards and oil refineries of Houston. Nearly everyday, Mr. Jackson told The Houston Chronicle, he corrects people who he thinks are mispronouncing the word “Jacinto.”
To Mr. Jackson, who grew up here, it is “Juh-SIN-tuh.” To others, including many newcomers who are part of the city’s Hispanic population, which now constitutes nearly 80 percent of the total, it is “Ha-SEEN-to.” Jacinto, after all, was originally a Spanish word, so why not pronounce it properly in the language of Cervantes?
The pronunciation of place names is one of those quiet conflicts that are played out everyday throughout the Southwest as the numbers of Hispanics in areas originally colonized by Spain and Mexico continue to grow – and in some cases nudge Anglos into the minority.
Texas is full of place names whose pronunciations confound Hispanics but sound natural to others. Palacios is pronounced “Puh-LAY-shus” instead of “Pa-LA-see-os.” Manchaca is “MAN-shack” instead of “Man-CHA-ka.” Pedernales is “PER-dan-al-is” instead of “Peh-der-NA-les” and so on. Even Texas should be “TEH-jas,” according to some traditionalists…
Linguists studying the evolution of English and Spanish in the Southwest say that [insistence on anglicized pronunciation] is fading. Maryellen Garcia [sic; a Google search convinces me her given name is MaryEllen], a professor of linguistics at the University of Texas at San Antonio, noted that many newscasters in Texas now pronounce Hispanic names in the Spanish manner, a habit, she said, that was growing in prestige.
“It’s a bit puzzling,” Dr. Garcia said. “Even as the Hispanic middle class uses less Spanish, the rest of society is not as threatened by Spanish, perhaps because of the very emergence and recognition of that middle class.”
No one knows exactly where the intermingling of Spanish and English in the Southwest will lead. Some young Hispanics in Texas pronounce place names in the Spanish way among themselves, but use the Texan pronunciation when speaking with Anglos. That may be one model.
I’m sympathetic to both sides in this dispute and will be interested to see how it plays out, but I have to say I don’t believe for a minute that anyone anywhere pronounces the name of the state “TEH-jas.”