Michigan guide helps to say 2,200 people, places, things

By Jeff Karoub
Associated Press

DETROIT (AP) - The state of Michigan wants to help residents and visitors pronounce the names of 2,200 places, people and things in or connected to the Great Lakes state, from Aaliyah (uh-LEE'-uh) to Zilwaukee (zil-WAW'-kee).

The Michigan Braille and Talking Book Library recently announced the creation of a guide called "You Say it How in Michigan?" with audio and phonetic pronunciations. The directory was developed for audio book production for the blind and visually impaired, but its writers say the guide can benefit anyone curious about the state of MISH'-uh-gun.

In some cases, the list recognizes that residents are of two minds, such as when it allows for the state's biggest city to be pronounced "DEE'-troit" or "de-TROIT'." (Sorry, French speakers, the "deh-TWAH'" ship sailed centuries ago.) And when in Michigan, be sure to hit the accent in the second syllable of the Lansing-area community of Charlotte (shar-LOT).

Still, some listings won't satisfy all tongues - or ears. Folks from the western lakeshore town of Onekama (ohn-EHK'-uh-muh) might be surprised to see and hear it as "on-eh-KAHM'-uh." Likewise in the Upper Peninsula township that the locals call "mish-uh-GAH'-mee," but the guide suggests is "mish-uh-GAM.'"

"People have trouble with that sometimes," said Neil Hanson, Michigamme Township clerk. "There's a lot of people who don't know."

The Bureau of Services for Blind Persons has been updating the guide and will continue to do so with new or corrected information. Some people working on it are longtime state residents, and they've also worked with public libraries and municipalities to get it right - or at least reach a common understanding.

"If there are two common ways that people pronounce a word, we're looking overall for the majority of how people pronounce the word," state spokeswoman Tanya Baker said, adding that the guide "is entirely a living document."

Time has its way with some local pronunciation quirks: Older folks in the Detroit suburb of Dearborn won't find "DEER'-burn" in the guide, and senior denizens of the Shiawassee County town of Durand won't discover "DOO'-rand" - a throwback to the tradition of accenting the second syllable.

The guide helps tongue-tied tourists through the Upper Peninsula's Tahquamenon (tuh-KWAHM'-in-uhn) Falls, a collection of waterfalls, and the Mackinac (MAK'-in-aw) Bridge that connects the state's two peninsulas.

There are also the music stars, including Aretha (uh-REE'-thuh) Franklin and rapper Eminem (em-in-EM'), along with the late R&B singer Aaliyah.

Baker said some other states have such guides, but they usually weren't developed for the blind and visually impaired. The catalyst was to help audio book narrators who, she said, "were struggling" and sometimes "slaughtering" Michigan-related words.

The library loans books and magazines in braille and audio formats to roughly 11,000 people annually and has more than 30,000 audio titles.

Published: Wed, Jan 25, 2017