Say what?


Los Angeles. Jalapeños. Casa Grande.

Would you adjust the way you pronounce these words based on your audience?

In fact, some people would.

An informal study of Tucsonans conducted by two reporters reveals that people will often try to pronounce words of Spanish origin with a Spanish accent and pronunciation.

Others, however, will adopt the common English pronunciations of the Spanish-origin words, often to be better understood.

“If I was in Mexico or a Spanish-speaking country, I’d be more apt to change it to sound more with the accents and rolling the r’s,” said Amber Maker, 26, a barista at Wilko on E. University Avenue, near the University of Arizona. “But just here, I don’t really.”

Maker, of Tucson, said her high school and college-level Spanish is limited but she tries to adjust her pronunciation depending on her audience.

When she is around English-speakers, however, she knows she sounds “very American.”

Sometimes she pronounces things wrong on purpose.

“I really want to say ja-LOP-en-os,” Maker said of jalapeños. “Just because it’s funny.”

Anglos aren’t the only ones who switch pronunciations depending on who they’re around. Some Mexican-Americans do it, too.

Isaias Carrillo, born in Tucson but of Mexican descent, says he pronounces city names like Marana and San Francisco and other Spanish-origin named places without an accent “because the Anglo population doesn’t use an accent we kinda just follow their lead,” he said.

“When I speak to my Mexican relatives I would never say it like that. I’d say it with a Mexican accent,” Carrillo added.

But there are exceptions to his rule.

“I always pronounce Roberto Clemente,” he said. “I always say his name correctly.”

Some Latinos insist on always using Spanish pronunciations regardless of the audience.

Herminia Valenzuela, a regular at the El Pueblo Senior Center, said she always pronounces Spanish-origin words with a Spanish pronunciation in English.

“Maybe they don’t understand me,” said Valenzuela, 61, in Spanish. “I don’t like to change because that is the way it is pronounced.”


This non-scientific survey was conducted at two different times on Thursday night during dinnertime hours and on Friday around lunchtime. Fifteen participants read words from a sheet provided by two reporters. Reporters interviewed participants on the first day on E. University Avenue between N. Euclid and N. Tyndall Avenues, a location near the University of Arizona campus. Second-day interviews were conducted in South Tucson.

The testing words included: Casa Grande, Sahuarita, Marana, San Manuel, Mesa, Mexico, San Francisco, San Jose, San Antonio, Los Angeles, Boca Raton, Rio Grande, sombrero, mariachi, fajitas, jalapeños, enchilada, burrito, tortilla, guacamole, Tony Gonzalez, Roberto Clemente, Alex Rodriguez and Pedro Martínez.

– James Wagner and Nathan Olivarez-Giles


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