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I know there was a long debate about whether "Los Angeles" should be pronounced like the English (soft-G, as in "jelly") or the Spanish (heavy-H as in "Jose"), and given the history of the city, that division seems quite natural and inevitable. The English version eventually won, and except among Spanish speakers it is now the standard pronunciation.

There was once heated debate over how to pronounce “Los Angeles.” The Spanish pronunciation of the name has long been “Loce AHN-heh-less.” Yet, non-Spanish speaking Angelenos seemed to prefer the harder-sounding anglicized version “Loss ANN-ju-less.” The anglicized version was adopted, in 1934, by the U.S. Board on Geographic Names.
Pronouncing Los Angeles

In many films from the 1940s and 1950s though, the city's name is frequently pronounced a third way, with a hard-G (as in "gelding" or "Geller").

But I can't find any reason for this pronunciation, with the hard-G, so when and why did the hard-G version originate, and when and why did it disappear?

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    Well, the Spanish doesn't have a /g/; it's /los 'aŋeles/, with the velar nasal sound of English hang, which also doesn't have a /g/ sound. That's just ordinary Spanish for 'the angels'. So, if you don't want to say the Spanish, what do you do with the G? Two possibilities -- stop /g/ or palatalized stop /dʒ/, as in go and Joe, respectively. This kinda stuff happens all the time with English speakers adapting foreign words, especially since English spelling is so awful. Jun 28 at 0:42
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    Native English speakers find it very difficult to pronounce Los Angeles the authentic Spanish way, so we're going to mispronounce it no matter what. Jun 28 at 2:49
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    @JohnLawler Spanish does have a /g/ - it's pronounced [g] utterance-initially and [ɣ] in most other contexts. Spanish doesn't have a /ŋ/, and ángel is pronounced [ˈaŋxel] (or [ˈaŋhel] or [ˈanhel] in some dialects), which is phonemically /ˈanxel/.
    – Nardog
    Jun 28 at 7:09
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    The g in Los Angeles in Spanish , the /x/ voiceless velar fricative, is completely pronounceable for English speakers, but they have to know it. If you can say head, you can say Los Angeles. Almost the same. But shucks, English speakers also pronounce the s in Paris, so them's the breaks.
    – Lambie
    Jul 4 at 14:34
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    @Lambie: there is a big difference between the sound [x] (as in loch and Bach) and the sound [h] (as in haben and have). German and Hebrew have both. Some varieties of Spanish have [x] in Los Angeles, which is unpronounceable for English speakers, and some varieties have [h]. Jul 5 at 20:33
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According to this 1953 article by David Allen Stein, the pronunciation since the 1850 incorporation had been the one with soft G, and the hard-G variant was a pseudo-Spanish pronunciation that grew out of a "craze" around the turn of the century "to give every new street, every new subdivision, every new town a 'Spanish' name ... not limited to Southern California but spread over the state." If this is correct, the hard-G variant may be a sort of hyperforeignism on the assumption that that was closer to Spanish [ˈaŋxeles] (or whatever the Spanish pronunciation was thought to be).

This is given credence by this letter sent to a newspaper by Charles Fletcher Lummis, an LA librarian who vigorously advocated for the hard-G pronunciation:

Spanish G before E has no precise equivalent in English. It is almost exactly the German ch in "buch." Those who call the name "Ann Hell" are less outlandish than the "angle" people; but they are still far from the fact.

So even though he was well aware that [ɡ] wasn't a good approximation to [x], he advocated for it anyway because it was at least closer than [dʒ].

The hard-G pronunciation soon lost favor, with endorsements of the soft G coming from the US Board on Geographic Names in 1934, and from the city of Los Angeles itself in 1952, as documented in this LA Times story. Again assuming Stein is correct, this was a return to an old form.


To address your question more directly, I think Stein and Lummis's accounts imply the hard-G pronunciation arose from an earlier, more faithful attempt at approximating Spanish, and [ɡ] was inserted as a result of epenthesis. Here's what I think happened:

  • The Spanish [x] was approximated by /h/, but this was soon dropped as is common with /h/ occurring after stress and between voiced sounds (cf. vehicle, Birmingham).
  • The second vowel in Angeles lenited to a schwa (if not already), which gave rise to either a syllabic realization of /əl/, i.e. [-ŋl̩-], or a complete elision of the vowel, i.e. [-ŋl-].
  • Since [ŋl] is quite rare in existing words (cf. angle, English) except across morphological boundaries (wrongly, meaningless), [ɡ] was inserted.

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