Las Vegas Sun

August 19, 2019

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Lawmaker lobbies for alternative pronunciation of ‘Nevada’

CARSON CITY — A 48-year resident of Nevada says he’s embarrassed when out-of-staters are “raked over the coals” for pronouncing the state’s name as “Nev-vaaa-da.”

And Assemblyman Harry Mortenson, D-Las Vegas, says he’s been called crazy for asking for a resolution to be introduced at the 2011 Legislature that says two pronunciations are acceptable.

He says the one used by 2 million residents is Nevada with a flat “A” — “a sound not unlike the bleating of a sheep.” But he said 7 billion people who live outside the state pronounce the name with a soft “A” — “not unlike a sigh of contentment.”

You hear it now on television with a focus on the race for the U.S. Senate. Out-of-state reporters pronounce the name with a soft “A.” And national weathermen do the same thing.

Former state Archivist Guy Rocha says Mortenson is confusing the issue. He said Mortenson grew up in the Washington D.C. area and learned the wrong pronunciation.

Mortenson said that’s the way he was taught when he attended a military academy in Maryland and took two years of Spanish.

“Whereas is it almost impossible to correct television pundits worldwide — virtually all of whom utilize the Spanish pronunciation…” his proposed resolution says.

In Spanish, Nevada means “snow-capped.”

Gov. Jim Gibbons, a native Nevadan, was asked if he’s annoyed when he hears the eastern version used.

“I don’t know if it drives me crazy. I tell them if they want to be socially acceptable they should” use the correct pronunciation, he said.

He then quipped, “We have a Ramada hotel, but it is in Nevada.”

Mortenson is term-limited and won’t be at the 2011 Legislature. So he must find another lawmaker to introduce the resolution

So far, he hasn’t asked anybody.

As a member of the Assembly Judiciary Committee, Mortenson said, many non-residents came to testify. They used the Spanish pronunciation and were “raked over the coals,” he said.

He said it’s a “continuous, prodigious and daunting task” to interrupt and correct visitors for their pronunciation.

His resolution says there are two common versions — one used by Nevadans using a flat “A” sound “and the less preferred but acceptable cosmopolitan Spanish pronunciation — using the soft “A.”

It remains to be seen how far the bill will get in 2011 with lawmakers dealing with such issues as a $3 billion budget shortfall and reapportionment.

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