How Home-State Pronunciations Can Shape Elections

By Ben Zimmer

Woe to the politician who, while campaigning in a particular state, pronounces the state’s name differently from the local denizens.

The latest casualty of this phonetic parochialism is Matt Rosendale, currently the frontrunner among Montana Republicans seeking to oppose the incumbent Jon Tester in this year’s U.S. Senate race. Democrats have already set their sights on Rosendale by issuing an online ad that plays up the fact that he moved to Montana from Maryland some fifteen years ago. His accent, the ad suggests, is proof that Rosendale—dubbed “Maryland Matt” by the Democrats—is an interloper who doesn’t share “Montana values.”

While Rosendale’s accent is indeed distinctly non-Montanan, the ad focuses on his pronunciation of one word in particular: “Montana.” As befits someone of Rosendale’s background from Maryland’s Eastern Shore, there’s something peculiar about how he pronounces the vowel in the second syllable of “Montana.” (More on that in a bit.)

Rosendale is hardly the first politician to be ridiculed for his pronunciation of a state name. In October 2016, Donald Trump tried—and failed—to pronounce “Nevada” the Nevadan way at a rally in Reno. Locals prefer pronouncing the second syllable like “add” and bristle at outsiders saying it like “odd.” Trump must have been informed of this before the rally but still managed to get it exactly backwards.

“Heroin overdoses are surging and meth overdoses in Nevada,” Trump said, making a point to pronounce it as “Ne-VAH-da.” He continued, “And you know what I said? I said when I came out here, I said nobody says it the other way, has to be Ne-VAH-da. And if you don’t say it correctly, and it didn’t happen to me, but it happened to a friend of mine, he was killed.”

As University of Pennsylvania linguist Mark Liberman observed on Language Log at the time, …read more

Via:: The Atlantic


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