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Austin shibboleths

My current obsession with all things Mueller raises the question of local pronunciations.

Mueller t-shirt

I was born and have spent most of my adult life in Austin but didn't grow up here, so the good-old-boy substrata of the local culture are not second nature to me. At some point I was taught the "authentic" pronunciation of several local geographic features. These are the ones I've confirmed by hearing them in use. A couple have some intriguing transpositions of consonants.

PedernalesPurd 'n Alice
New BraunfelsNew Brawnsfell
ManchacaMan chack

And my favorite:
BurnettIt's "burn it", durn it

Now the thing about pronouncing the name of Austin's old Mueller Airport and new Mueller neighborhood as "Miller" instead of "Myoo-ler". The politicos and developers religiously say "Miller" but I don't hear anybody else do that. Is it a born-before-1950 thing? An aviation thing? A neighborhood thing not shared with other parts of town? Dunno.

The other local sociolinguistic question somebody should study is the pronunciation of Guadalupe (AKA the Drag, or the street that fronts UT): some people pronounce the final E as in the Spanish Virgen de Guadalupe, while others say "Gwad-a-loop". Can that be correlated with politics? Will the Minutemen someday round up all of us commie pinko hispanophiles and deport us because of a stray syllable? I suppose there's a biblical precedent.

language 2007.03.09 link


Don't forget Koenig (KAY-nig) Lane!

Greg [gregbeets cxe gmail punkto com] • 2007.03.09
Eventually Koenig leads to "May-ner", spelled Manor. And to say San Jacinto like a Texan, crunch that J.

Marla • 2007.03.09
I dunno, I live right next to the place, and I've always called it "mewler".

Adam Rice [adamrice cxe 8stars punkto org] • 2007.03.09
Isn't it "burn it", "durn it" ... "lern it" ?

Tony • 2007.03.09
It was always Miller, which is very close in pronunciation, with the exception of the final letter R, to the German When a German word with an umlaut comes into English and is spelled without the umlaut, the spelling is the vowel followed by an E (example, Goethe)

Rantor [rantor cxe rantomat punkto com] • 2007.03.09
Rantor, even if the German ü in Müller is in theory a pretty close phonetic cousin to the English short i in Miller, I don't believe English speakers really hear them as particularly close. The former is a close front rounded vowel and the latter is a near-close near-front unrounded vowel, which means that the two are actually different on all three axes of the vowel chart.

The Catellus site says the airport was named after a prominent businessman and politician who died in 1926. It wouldn't surprise me if his family anglicized the pronunciation of their name as "Miller" while retaining the alternate German spelling "Mueller". Maybe the pronunciation was chosen because to somebody's ear Müller sounded like Miller, or maybe it was chosen because Müller means miller.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.10
You're certain correct concerning the nonexactness of congruency in pronunciation, but let's just say that Miller is much closer than Mewler and that the surmise about retaining the spelling and using the Miller pronunciation may very well be correct. There was once a miller, or more than one miller, in nearly every earlier community and that's why it's such a common name. Many Smiths began as Schmidts and many Snyders were once Schneiders (or eventually became Taylors).

Rantor [rantor cxe rantomat punkto com] • 2007.03.10
"Burnet Road" in Austin is spelled with one "t," so I don't find the "Burn-it" pronunciation intolerable, even if it bothered me when I first got here.

There are some other place names here that bug, like "Chicon," but it's not like Philadelphia where names like "Schuylkill," "Passyunk," and "Manayunk" have bizarre pronunciations. Shoot, they pronounce "water" "wooder" there.

McChris [chris cxe infobong punkto com] • 2007.03.12
Chris, you're right, I can't believe I spelled it "Burnett" [sic] above.

I've always assumed "Chicon" with an accent on the "o" is Spanish. I see that "Chicón" is indeed a Spanish surname.

Back when I was first learning Spanish I thought how odd it must be to grow up surrounded by complex and mysterious place names from Native American languages. It took me a couple of years to realized how ironic that thought was for a boy born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma.

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.03.12
Everyone I was around 20 yrs ago in Austin said "Mewler".
The pronunciation of Guadalupe as GWA-da-loop was cool. I think of it as an anti-pattern for spanish, because it's the way that the scary white football players in high school spanish would pronounce Spanish words in order to prove that they weren't Mexican. Yet there is also a similarity to the way that words like Insurance are pronounced. IN-srnce. Heavy emphasis on the first syllable, minimizing of vowels and syllables in the end of the word.

badgerbag [lizzard cxe bookmaniac punkto net] • 2007.05.03
Mueller was always 'miller'. We used to make fun of the newbies on the news who said 'mewler'. It's partially anglicization and partially just the unrounding of front vowels that is common in many German dialects. That's what happens in Koenig, too.

I have to say that I really can't stand all the revisionist pronunciation that I get subjected to. If people want to pronounce place names with what they think is correct (like the Spanish place names), that's fine, just don't correct me if I don't do the same. I'm not intentionally mispronouncing anything--I'm just saying things the way I grew up saying them.

I speak fluent German and a moderate amount of Spanish and Czech, but I think people would look at me really funny if I decided to pronounce the German and Czech place names like they are in those languages. Friedrichsburg, anyone? NiederVald? :-) Hell, Paris is Pa-REE in French, but people would think you were a bit pretentious if you said that in English with reference to the city in France, and a complete nutcase if you were serious about calling the city in Texas that. :-)

lekkermeisje • 2007.05.15
Lekkermeisje, I agree with you about linguistic pedantry even though I often have to fight it in myself.

However, it seems to me that after all the doublings and redoublings of Austin's population by immigrating yankees and Californians, the traditional Texas pronunciations are as nearly as foreign to the speech patterns of the average Austinite as the underlying German (and perhaps more foreign than the underlying Spanish, even if we limit the discussion to native English speakers).

I don't think this is what you were trying to say, but it's hard to accuse people who prefer the Spanish pronunciation of Guadalupe of being prescriptivist while still insisting on the traditional Texas pronunciations. The prescriptivist vs. laissez-faire debate cuts both ways.

Regarding Mueller, I'm increasingly convinced that there was a generational shift a couple of decades back. I've only found one native Austinite under 30 who says it "Miller", and she has deep Hill Country roots and a family ranch outside Blanco.

P.S. Some friends and I were discussing this and realized that Austin desperately needs a gay bar called the Man Shack!

Prentiss Riddle [riddle cxe io punkto com] • 2007.05.15
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