Vanessa Ruiz

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Fernanda Santos and Christine Hauser, "Arizona News Anchor Is Drawn Into Debate on Her Accent and the Use of Spanish", NYT 9/3/2015:

An Arizona news anchor defended her pronunciation of Spanish words during English broadcasts, saying she delivers them the way the language is intended to be spoken. […]

Ms. Ruiz, who was raised in a bilingual household, said some viewers had questioned her way of pronouncing Spanish words. Sandra Kotzambasis, the station’s news director, said viewers were asking why Ms. Ruiz “rolled her Rs.”

The most striking thing about this controversy is how small the issue really is, at least in terms of the number and type of words whose pronunciation is contested.

Here's the promo announcing her start at the station, with no Spanish-tinged pronunciations of any kind to be found:

And here's the start of her presentation of a story about the pope's visit to the U.S.:

In the whole segment (below in video form), you won't find any words pronounced outside the norms of general American newscasters — which is presumably because there aren't any Spanish words or names:


Here's a story about "Honoring Leadership in the Hispanic Community", where Ms. Ruiz does roll an R or two:

The whole story as video, where you can see that her Spanish pronunciations are limited to Spanish names:

As her biography on the station website explains, she was born in America to Columbian parents, so her bilingualism is normal:

Born in Miami, my family is from Cali, Colombia (known as the salsa dancing capital of the world). However, I always say that if you're from Miami, you're always a little bit Cuban by default…and that's a good thing.

Here's her response to the people who complained  — "Vanessa Ruiz's message about her on-air pronunciations", 12 News 9/2/2015:

The comments on that story include a few hostile responses, some of which are even spelled right:

This is America, not Mexico. 12News needs to hire American speakers, not Mexican speakers.

Well isnt that special. In case you haven't heard THIS IS STILL AN ENGLISH SPEAKING COUNTRY. What if the Chinese , or other speaking peoples did the same thing? What a freakin mess. You are NOT going to change the language of this country! people from all other parts of the world have come here and adapted & have done very well…..because they learned & spoke the language. If I moved to Mexico I guarantee you I'd havevto speak that language or die.

Deport her. She isn't American she has no right to be here no matter how much some corporation paid for her.

People she is a jounalist,,, any where you go in the country when reporting the NEWS they are expected to remain neutral. Did you hear a NC accent from the woman that got shot down? Does Doug speak in his Boston Heritiage when he is reporting? I am third generation AZ my father grew up not only with Mexican's but true Spanish Basc (sheep herders) never in my 55 years livinging in and traveling in all 50 States have I listen to News that was not netural no matter where I lived. If I wanted tol isten to a certain diaiolic when hearing the news I would tune into that channel. Sorry will not whach a channel that has a broadcaster telling me I will get use to them, just very disrespectful. I, we are the watchers.

But the great majority of the comments are positive:

Be who you are. People will warm up to you in a matter of time. I think you're doing a great job! Welcome!

Way to go, let the haters hate, stay true to yourself

Gracias, Vanessa. As a 5th generation Arizonan, I appreciate your commitment to authenticity and respect for Arizona's heritage. Adelante!

I didn't like her at first, but I definetly can respect that's she's worldly and that's the correct way to say some things. New & different can only be positive and make everyone grow!

It's interesting that someone in Arizona views Spanish pronunciation of Spanish names as "worldly" — let's hear it for bilingualism as a luxury good!

One of the commenters points out that the same station had another female bilingual anchor 30-odd years:

In the early 1980's there was a news anchor by the name of Linda Alvarez. She always use the proper pronunciation for Spanish words, including her own name. I loved to hear her speak and often wondered why the other news journalist wouldn't pronounce the words properly.

Here's the clip:

In fact, as standard descriptions of Spanish would lead us to expect, Ms. Alvarez pronounces the /r/ in her last name as a tap, not a trill:

This confusion about taps and trills is pervasive. See "Shibboleth and perejil", 7/13/2015, and also the graphic accompanying the New York Times' op-ed on the issue a couple of days ago (Ilan Stavans, "The Rolled R’s of Vanessa Ruiz", NYT 9/16/2015). The title and the text are fine, since Ms. Ruiz does roll her R's in Spanish where she should (in word-initial position and for intervocalic -rr- sequences), but the graphic suggests a rolled R in the word Arizona, which is phonetically wrong:

And anyhow, Ms. Ruiz treats Arizona as an English word in terms of pronunciation.

Update — in a later segment, she observed that

My intention has never been to be disrespectful or dismissive. Quite the contrary. I actually feel I am paying respect to the way some of Arizona’s first, original settlers intended for some things to be said.

I'm not sure how her studies of Tohono O’odham, Hopi, etc., are progressing.


  1. tudza said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 2:11 pm

    Call up Lunarpages support number and listen to the automated answering system. Wait until the part where the guy tries to pronounce the Spanish for "Press two for assistance in Spanish"

    I fully support pronouncing Spanish as Spanish.

  2. ThomasH said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 2:12 pm

    Learning how to "correctly" mispronounce words originating an language X when speaking language Y is just another language skill.

  3. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

    The notion that a proper name of Hispanic origin is not an "English word" when used in an English sentence seems a bit ipse dixit. Quite a lot of common American names are of non-English ultimate origin, but they tend to have AmEng pronunciations consistently different from the German or Lithuanian or Italian or Mandarin or what-have-you original (and of course many names of English origin have AmEng pronunciations that differ from their BrEng pronunciations). If you listen closely it is not uncommon for bilingual immigrants who have near-native fluency in AmEng (or their children) to pronounce their own names differently depending on the language they are speaking (i.e. they don't treat their own name as if it were somehow in quotation marks and untranslated). I recently heard a podcast of a radio show where the Greek-American host said (jocosely) that he was so pleased to have a Greek-American guest on this particular day that he was going to change over to the Greek pronunciation of his surname for this one episode only (which he proceeded to do sort of mid-paragraph, changing the stress pattern and vowel quality).

  4. Jon W said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 2:41 pm

    Is the pronunciation of "Mesa" (the name of the Arizona city) used by the region's Anglophone population (about 80%) "correct", and the one used by the region's bilingual population (about 20%) "incorrect"? What's your basis for saying so?

  5. Emilio Márquez said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 3:06 pm

    In Spain, we refer to The Beatles as [loz ˈβitels] and The Rolling Stones are [lo ˌroli nesˈtons]. Even from those who can speak English well, the "correct" pronunciations [ˈbiːtlz] and [ˌɹəʊlɪŋ ˈstəʊnz] would sound comically pedantic or disrespectfully patronizing.

  6. Max Pinton said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 3:09 pm

    I certainly don't object to Spanish speakers pronouncing Spanish words with a Spanish accent, but at the risk of being grouped with the unlettered xenophobic crazies quoted above, I'll opine that it's not "more correct" to do so when speaking English.

    If I'm introducing myself in Japanese, my name is Makkusu. If I pronounce it "Max," I'm not speaking Japanese. McDonald's is Makudonarudo in Japan; call it "McDonald's" and your chances of being understood drop significantly.

    The '90s show In Living Color did a spoof of Spanish pronunciation by newscasters by having one say all recent loanwords with the appropriate accent. I wish I could find a link, but I remember "wienerschnitzel" pronounced in a German accent. Expecting "authentic" pronunciation shows a lack of understanding about how languages absorb and transform loanwords.

    But again, more power to Ms Ruiz. Multilingualism should be praised.

    [(bgz) Here you go — starting at 6:34 in the video.]

  7. Guy said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 3:14 pm

    I basically agree, but a person generally has the option of using either the anglicized pronunciation or a more "authentic" pronunciation, and getting upset over someone's choice is, in general, bafflingly dumb.

  8. Adam F said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 3:16 pm

    "Deport her. She isn't American she has no right to be here no matter how much some corporation paid for her."

    Does that apply to Rupert Murdoch too?

  9. J.W. Brewer said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 3:49 pm

    Separate and apart from which approach is more "correct" and how big a deal it is or isn't, the on-air speech of tv newscasters in general does not typically reflect the full range of varieties of AmEng out there. It's not reasonable to expect it to. TV news is a branch of the entertainment industry, and what language varieties are used or not used is a choice made by the show's impresario on aesthetic/commercial grounds just as much as what the color of the furniture on the set should be and what sort of wardrobe/makeup is used for the quote journalists unquote. (And it can vary within a cast – the person who does the sports may perhaps be permitted to deploy a more colloquial or regional or ethnically-distinct style than the anchorperson, for example.) So Ms. Ruiz should speak on air in whatever fashion is satisfactory to her employers, who presumably will take into account audience preferences while knowing that the relatively small percentage of the audience willing to engage in vituperative internet commentary is not necessarily representative of the whole.

    [(myl) Because about a third of Arizona's population is ethnically Hispanic, and about a fifth has Spanish as a first language, the situation for pronouncing Spanish names is somewhat different than (say) pronouncing historically Dutch names in New York, or historically Norwegian names in Minnesota, where using the original pronunciation would be an odd sort of affectation.]

  10. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 4:14 pm

    Two thoughts. First, if she regularly pronounces her own name on air ("This has been Vanessa Ruiz, back to you in the studio Bob") then obviously that would vastly increase the frequency with which viewers hear a rolled "r".

    Also, am I the only one who hears a non-standard accent to her English speech as well? She speaks the way I'd expect for someone who grew up speaking English mostly with Latinos in the US, what I guess should be called Latino American English by analogy with AAVE. The intonation is a bit more varied (sing-song? Is there a technical term for that?) than standard US English, and a few consonants are dropped–most notably the final "t" in "tonight". Obviously this isn't a criticism, just pointing out that the variation isn't limited to Spanish words. It seems possible that some of the negative reaction is (subconsciously) to this dialect as well as explicit Spanish.

  11. Guy said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 4:54 pm

    @Anschel Schaffer-Cohen

    I don't hear anything nonstandard in her intonation. The "tonight" does seem to lack a final consonant, but it's at the end of an audio clip and would standardly be realized as a glottal stop in an American accent so it's hard to tell if it was simply clipped off or is present but perceptually masked by the cut-off.

  12. James said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 4:59 pm

    I grew up in Phoenix, and I not only remember Linda Alvarez, I remember when the intro used in the above clip was newfangled and high-tech.

    I recall no complaints being made about her hypercorrect pronunciation at the time. Her speech was definitely perceived as an assertion of pride in Hispanic identity, and I think most of her audience saw that as perfectly appropriate and unworthy of comment.

  13. Anschel Schaffer-Cohen said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 6:31 pm


    The "tonight" I'm talking about is around the 25s mark of the 1-minute video in which she talks about her pronunciations.

  14. maidhc said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 6:54 pm

    It's not uncommon for journalists of Hispanic background working in English-language TV to do this. I've seen several examples, and I don't even watch that much TV news. I never heard anyone complain about it before.

    You sometimes encounter it in Canada also. A francophone journalist working in English might use the French pronunciation for placenames, etc.

  15. Steven Marzuola said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 7:08 pm

    I wouldn't normally listen this closely to any speaker, but I do detect a slight hypercorrectness in Ms. Ruiz' speech, one that I associate with someone having learned it as a second language. But I can't see a thing wrong with it, especially with the wide varieties of "English" accents spoken in the United States.

  16. Bathrobe said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 8:20 pm

    Does that apply to Rupert Murdoch too?

    Don't send him back; we don't want him.

  17. Eric P Smith said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 8:40 pm

    TV news is a branch of the entertainment industry

    I may be naive and/or old-fashioned, but the thought that TV news might be regarded as entertainment fills me with horror. Is there a US/UK difference here?

  18. Ken said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 10:22 pm

    I'm reminded of this WKRP classic. IIRC, after that Johnny asked Les (the newsreader) how he pronounced the name of that "little Mexican dog", and Les said "You mean a chi-hoo-a-hoo-a?"

  19. Ben Zimmer said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 11:40 pm

    There's also this 1990 Saturday Night Live sketch with Jimmy Smits:

    See Jane Hill on Mock Spanish for more on the sketch.

  20. Thomas Rees said,

    September 19, 2015 @ 11:42 pm

    This morning I heard Eric Garcetti, the mayor of Los Angeles (Los Ángeles), speak at the dedication of a light rail station in Azusa, California. He began by wishing his audience good morning in English, Spanish, and Mandarin, which he identified as "the three official languages" of the San Gabriel Valley. He then continued in English for several minutes, finishing with a sort of executive summary in Spanish. All this was very well received.
    "Azusa" is a Gabrielino/Tongva toponym, like "Cucamonga" but not "Anaheim”.

  21. Michael Watts said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 12:54 am

    Eric P Smith:

    That's not a US/UK difference. BBC executives would be the first people to tell you the news is an entertainment industry.

  22. EricF said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 8:16 am

    Wow, I was just complaining to my wife this last week when Donald Trump was here in LA that all the local news stations should hire someone with Latino speech patterns/accent to go interview him. We have lots of reporters with obvious Latino heritage, but they all speak "mid-western American TV English."

  23. Steve Kass said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 12:11 pm

    I learned about the tap/trill distinction recently, from a singing coach who identified it as one of the most common mistakes American choirs make when singing in Spanish. The Times got it wrong twice: once for “Arizona,” and again at the end of the article, before a quote from Viridiana Gonzalez. The Spanish pronunciation of Viridiana, said the paper, is “bee-RRREE-dee-AH-NAH.” I’m not a native speaker or a linguist, but I think that’s also wrong.

  24. Peter Taylor said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 4:00 pm

    @Emilio Márquez, I've never heard anyone in Spain include "Stones" in the band's name: they're always "Los Rolin". It's still sufficiently intelligible that I understood it the first time I heard it, which I can't say for "Udos".

    (Hint for those who don't think they've heard of that band: try inserting a space).

    The thing that really struck me from the "Honouring leadership in Hispanic community" video was the anglicised pronunciation of Santos.

  25. Ray said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 7:00 pm

    maria hinojosa is another latina journalist/anchor who routinely pronounces spanish names with a spanish pronunciation (including the term "latino" and the name "univision"). but she's not always consistent (or insistent?). in this clip you can hear her speaking style, as she discusses trump's recent confrontation with jorge ramos. notice that she 're-pronounces' "univision" (5:13) with the american-english pronunciation (for clarity to the viewers?), and pronounces "mexico" (at 5:25) in neither the spanish nor mexican way, but in the american-english way.

  26. K. Chang said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 8:21 pm

    As my dear passed abuelita would say, "Full stomach, empty head." Some of the commenters are making mountains out of mole hills, having found nothing to pick on.

    Oh, and ProfMair? It's "Colombia", no U.

  27. Jason said,

    September 20, 2015 @ 8:58 pm

    "My intention has never been to be disrespectful or dismissive. Quite the contrary. I actually feel I am paying respect to the way some of Arizona’s first, original settlers intended for some things to be said."

    I would suggest to Ms Ruiz that if the fire's near death, don't throw la gasolina on it.

  28. Larry Sheldon said,

    September 21, 2015 @ 5:28 am

    As a born-and-bred Californian, I find the language-correct pronunciation of words (Spanish Russian, Cahuilla, Miwok, Aztec, you name it) attractive.

  29. Carrington Dixon said,

    September 21, 2015 @ 2:19 pm

    When discussing classical music most will attempt a language-correct pronunciation of proper names. For example, I do not believe that I have ever heard a radio announcer pronounce the last name of the German composer Richard Wagner without at least approximating the German pronunciation of the initial consonant and vowel. (Vog-ner) The pronunciation of the first name; however, runs the gamut from good German pronunciation to American English.

  30. K Chang said,

    September 22, 2015 @ 3:45 am

    Funny, I used to live in Cali, and even went to school there. The rich kid school though, most classes are in English and all that. :)

  31. White Trash said,

    September 22, 2015 @ 5:44 am


    "Call up Lunarpages support number and listen to the automated answering system. Wait until the part where the guy tries to pronounce the Spanish for "Press two for assistance in Spanish"

    I fully support pronouncing Spanish as Spanish."

    [Lunarpages is a premier [should be spelled "premiere", a la French] American webhost by the way, and not a reseller.]

    I do too, but this is America. If Hispanics want to come here, especially illegally, then they better does as the Romans do. When I go to France, I don't demand that everything also be spelled out in English. These immigrants are so self-entitled these days. Time to put them in their place.

    I am a Democrat and love Obama (although he did not go far enough with the ACA), but I support Trump in 2016, because of his common sense. It's time to end "Birthright Citizenship", which was interpreted incorrectly in the first place. Send the Mexicans back to Mexico and let them overpopulate that country. End the birth tourism perpetuated by the Chinese.

    [(myl) "Are we Americans, Donald and I?" And which country should you be deported back to — if they'll have you?]

  32. White Trash said,

    September 22, 2015 @ 8:59 pm

    I think you are being too hard on yourself Mark. Or if you are being rhetorical and just trying to point out a logical fallacy with the anti-birthright citizenship argument, I would counter that with this:

    If your mom voted in US elections, she most likely had to be a citizen, since only citizens are allowed to vote (she would have had to theoretically give her SSN–if that policy was in effect at that time, which would be matched against existing records, at least in a perfect world). And just because you can't find evidence that your mother or great-grandfather were naturalized, doesn't mean it didn't happen. The presumption, at least for your great-father, for something that occurred such a long time ago, was that he was naturalized.

    Regardless, even though I propose to eliminate birthright citizenship, I would allow it for the second generation in a row that was born in the US, regardless of true citizenship. So you and your father would be citizens, but your grandfather would not, under this standard. I might even allow citizenship for the first generation that was born here if they were raised here as children (similar to the Dreamers and famed journalist Jose Antonio Vargas).

    The main thing is to eliminate the loophole of anchor babies and Chinese birth tourism. Most people would agree that is taking advantage of the system. And actually, from what I know, "anchor babies" is not even a correct concept, since ICE will deport a U.S. baby along with its non-native mother and father. Of course, at 18, the child is free to come back to the U.S. legally.

  33. Larry Sheldon said,

    September 22, 2015 @ 10:20 pm

    In the news of late is one of my favorite Bones of Contention:

    La Cañada Flintridge

    Which is not only mispronounced by the talking heads, it is often misspelt.

    I personally believe that peoples names are properly pronounced the way the name-holder pronounces them.

    And similarly, place-names are properly pronounced the way the people that live there pronounce them. So south of here we have Nevada (Nee Vay Da), Missiouri (Miz ur ah); south and west of here we have Beatrice (Bee at truss), Nebraska; west and north of here we have my favorite of the triad, Norfolk (North Fork), Nebraska.

  34. Larry Sheldon said,

    September 22, 2015 @ 10:26 pm

    Regarding the stand-alone issue of "the birthright" to citizenship…

    I think trying to get rid of it involves the fatal embrace of the slippery slope.

    Far better, I think is to attach (rediscover) a punishable felony of "fraud" to cases where the impending birth is brought here with the intent to defraud, where the child would not, perforce, implicated in the fraud.

  35. Cesar said,

    September 23, 2015 @ 9:49 pm

    Linda Sanchez is still around here in Los Angeles on channel 4 nbc.

  36. Bloix said,

    September 25, 2015 @ 5:28 pm

    "place-names are properly pronounced the way the people that live there pronounce them."

    We've had this discussion before. I live in Maryland. Do I have to say Mizzooruh? or can I say Mizzouree? How about Wissgonsin? Surely I don't have to say Paree and Milahno and Mahtdrith. And there is no way that I will ever say Ni-ha-rah-wah. Unless I'm speaking Spanish.

    The "proper" (i.e. standard English) way to pronounce place names is the way that they are pronounced as words in English, according to the speaker's dialect and accent. This allows for partial concessions to the language of origin (La Jolla is La Hoya, Des Moines is D' Moyne) but not to the point that the speaker must adopt consonants and vowels that are not part of his or her normal speech.

    BTW, you are under no obligation to say Murruhlund. Say Mairyland if it makes you happy.

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