Goodbye To Y’all That
Is the Texas twang disappearing? Researchers from the University of Texas at Austin's Texas English Project pretty much say: "Yup."
A moment of silence, please, for the Texas accent.
As Scott Farwell of the Dallas Morning News reported (link is paywalled), the distinctive sound of Texas speech is not quite so distinctive anymore. The Texas twang is dying, and not even that slowly. Wrote Farwell:
What’s so striking is that 30 years ago, about 80 percent of all speakers had clear Texas accents,” said Lars Hinrichs, an assistant professor of English and director of the Texas English Project.
“Nowadays, the recordings my students bring back of people who grew up in Texas hardly ever have a strong Texas accent.”
The reasons are predictable — immigration, urbanization, gentrification — and the shift is most noticeable in people who live in a city, or are younger than 25. Today, people who live in Texas cities sound more like accent-neutral Midwesterners.
Brenda Bell of the Austin American-Statesman has also written about UT’s Hinrichs and the research of his grad students.
Her story noted younger Texans were now pronouncing “cot” and “caught” and “don” and “dawn” alike, while the so-called “goose” vowel had evolved from a normal “oo” sound to an “eeew” pronunciation.
This would all seem to be a big change (or contradiction) from 2003, when Texas Monthly‘s Pamela Colloff wrote about University of Texas-San Antonio linguistics professor Guy Bailey’s National Geographic Survey of Texas Dialects.
Bailey, who went on to become the president of Texas Tech before leaving for the University of Alabama this past summer, found that certain aspects of the Texas twang were expanding among young people, as was the use of phrases like “y’all” and “fixin’ to.”
And a major reason for that, Bailey’s research found, was Texas pride. As Colloff wrote:
Bailey was intrigued to find that those who described the state as an “excellent” place to live were five times more likely to use monophthongs as residents who characterized it as “poor.” Of course, people who are proud to be Texan are proud to talk like Texans. But Bailey sees it as no coincidence that people are now, more than ever, claiming their Texan identity through language, whether that choice is a conscious or unconscious one. “The Texas identity is threatened,” he said. “There was a large influx of people who moved here in the seventies. Oil was big, and the auto industry and the Rust Belt were on the decline. Suddenly, in the seventies, Texas attracted many new residents from outside the state. The arrival of so many outsiders can make people circle the wagons, linguistically.”
That certainly describes Mesquite Championship Rodeo Announcer Bob Tallman, whom Farwell spoke to for his DMN piece.
“I’m a big believer that you should take pride in who you are, what you do, what you look like and what you sound like,” the 65-year-old said. “I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican or independent. Whatever you are, be a goodun.”
Farwell also noted that the use of phrases like “y’all” and “ma’am” were still quite common situationally—that even if you live in Plano and talk like a Valley Girl or Indianan, you might start drawlin’ at your favorite BBQ joint, or while traveling in East Texas.
“Fifty years from now, Hinrichs said, Texans will still sound distinctive — different from people on the East or West Coast — and different from what we sound like today,” Farwell concluded.
All we can really say, then, is thank God for Tami Taylor, y’all: