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Outgoing Nevada state lawmaker seeks to end state pronunciation debate


By Sean Whaley, Nevada News Bureau: If there is one thing near and dear to the hearts of many Nevadans, it is the pronunciation of the name of their state.

For most Nevadans, it is pronounced Ne-vaaa-da. The middle syllable rhymes with glad. It is not pronounced Ne-vah-da. And many Nevadans don’t mind letting people know when they err.

In 2003 then-President Bush was criticized for what many considered his mispronunciation of the state’s name during his first visit to Nevada as president.

The mispronunciation by then-NBC news anchor Brian Williams in 2008 even generated a report by the news agency itself that addressed the proper pronunciation of the state’s name, which is Spanish for snow-capped, referring to the Sierra Nevada.

While many Nevadans take this pronunciation stuff seriously, one state lawmaker just wants to call the whole thing off.

Out-going Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, wants to end the pronunciation debate for good. He has requested the drafting of a concurrent resolution that, “resolves that there are two acceptable pronunciations for the name of the state of Nevada.”

Mortenson said the description of the resolution on the Legislature’s bill draft request list isn’t quite right. It is BDR 205 requested on Aug. 1.

“It should say there is one preferred pronunciation, and one that is tolerated,” he said.

Mortenson, who acknowledges he is likely to get numerous calls and emails for his proposal, said the intent is to be accepting of the alternate pronunciation, which he said is the preferred pronunciation for most of the world.

“It is a terribly daunting task for Nevadans to try and correct the other 8 billion people on the planet,” he said. “Maybe we ought to just allow a different pronunciation.”

Mortenson said he still remembers when ABC’s George Stephanopoulos was booed for mispronouncing the state’s name when he moderated a presidential candidate forum in Nevada in 2007.

“He didn’t understand what everybody was booing him about,” Mortenson said. “It was rude and crude.”

Former state Archivist Guy Rocha, who is now retired, has spent a lot of time researching the pronunciation issue and was himself the target of nasty emails when he suggested in 2003 that Bush should have pronounced the state’s name properly.

While all for civility, Rocha said the proposed resolution misses an important point. The pronunciation Mortenson wants accepted is not Spanish, but a pronunciation learned mostly by Americans east of the Rockies, he said.

“Essentially it is a long standing mispronunciation that people defend as Spanish and I challenge that,” Rocha said.

The Spanish pronunciation would be more along the lines of “Neyvada,” he said.

The key point is that the “correct” pronunciation of a town or state is the one used by the residents, and visitors typically use that pronunciation as a sign of respect if they are aware and able to do so, Rocha said. Any correcting should be done gently. But knowingly mispronouncing the name of a city or state won’t win you any friends, he said.

Mortenson, who is termed out of office, won’t be able to usher his measure through the Legislature in the 2011 session himself, but another lawmaker may choose to introduce the resolution on his behalf.

Such resolutions are typically approved by lawmakers without the lengthy hearings and testimony that accompany bills seeking to change state law. Given the seriousness of the issue for many Nevadans however, this resolution could be a notable exception.



Retired State Archivist Guy Rocha says pronunciation issue requires civility:

081010Rocha1 :12 of each other.”

Rocha says proposed resolution won’t clarify pronunciation issue:

081010Rocha2 :22 it is different.”

Rocha says learning the pronunciation of a state or town is a sign of respect:

081010Rocha3 :13 very good welcome.”

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