What's in a Nombre?

Yolette Garcia, Assistant Dean for External Affairs and Outreach in SMU's Annette Caldwell Simmons School of Education and Human Development, talks about how the way words are pronounced may be changing as the state's demographics change.

By Ruth Pennebaker 

All you have to do is move and you get this question 600 times a day: “What’s your new address?” Funny they—the friends, the bankers, the credit-card callers, the movers, the shakers—should ask. Our new address is on San Jacinto Boulevard. San Jacinto! The name of the battle that won the Texas Revolution. The name of the 567-foot Houston ship channel column that’s taller than the Washington Monument (Texans love to measure). The name of my husband’s junior high school in Midland.

San Jacinto. I could have sworn, after decades in this state, I knew how to pronounce it. Along with most people I know, I’d always said it with a hard J: juh-SIN-toe.

But, wait. Not so fast. During three phone calls to utilities, the three women I talked to listened to my hard-J pronunciation. Then they repeated it back to me, using the street’s Spanish pronunciation: ha-SEEN-toe.

One incident like that I could have ignored. Two, in the words of the immortal Fran Lebowitz, constituted a trend. But three? We were rapidly approaching profundity. Evidently, I’d lived blithely, obliviously, in my hard-J neck of the woods while the world had changed around me. With Texas becoming a state with a Hispanic majority, were old pronunciation habits changing? . . .

I was in the midst of these contemplations when my whole linguistic-change theory fell apart. First, I talked to Yolette Garcia, now an assistant dean at Southern Methodist University, and formerly news director of Dallas’ public radio station KERA. She said she hadn’t heard any of the linguistic shifts I was talking about. If they were happening, they hadn’t made it to Dallas yet.

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