Senior editor Pamela Colloff discusses accents and how her own has changed since she moved to Texas.
texasmonthly.com: How did you get involved with this story?
Pamela Colloff: I’ve always been fascinated with accents, probably because I’m from someplace else. So when I read a story in the newspaper about Guy Bailey, I thought it would be interesting to try and write about different accents around Texas.
texasmonthly.com: You are from New York. Do people here in Texas ever tell you that you have an accent?
PC: People know I’m not from here. But they never identify me as a New Yorker, because I don’t talk like I’m from the Bronx. I don’t say, “Noo Yawkuh,” for example. Just as there are a lot of Texas accents, there are a lot of New York accents. The word that immediately gives me away as a Northeasterner—I’ve been told—is “either.” I say “eye-ther,” but most people here say “ee-ther.”
texasmonthly.com: Do you remember the first time you heard a Texas accent? If so, when and where were you? Can you tell us about it?
PC: When I was a kid, I used to watch the show Dallas. The way J.R. talked seemed exotic, at the time.
texasmonthly.com: Did you realize there was a difference between a West Texas accent and an East Texas accent before you started working on this story? After working on this story, were you able to tell the difference?
PC: I’ve traveled a lot in the six years I’ve worked for the magazine, mostly to rural places. So I was already familiar with the differences in regional accents. When you transcribe interview tapes, you get to really know the sound of people’s voices. I’ve gotten pretty good at pegging where people are from.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most interesting thing you learned while working on this story?
PC: I think it’s fascinating that television has had so little impact on people’s accents. The way we talk is much more influenced by our peers than by TV.
texasmonthly.com: What was the most difficult aspect to working on this story?
PC: Honestly, the hardest part was just figuring out how to phonetically reproduce sounds on the page, so that readers could hear the sounds while they were reading them. I hope it worked.
texasmonthly.com: Has your accent changed since you’ve been living in Texas? If so, how?
PC: Definitely. I’ve lived here for close to a decade now, and apparently, it’s affected the way I talk. When I go home, my friends and family will sometimes comment on how I talk “funny.” But I can’t win, because I don’t sound like a Texan to Texans. “Y’all” has become second nature to me, but people at home die laughing when I say it.
texasmonthly.com: Have you personally noticed a difference in the way people speak in different parts of the state? Say South Texas versus Dallas?
PC: Absolutely. My boyfriend is from the Valley, and I’ve always teased him about how he starts talking differently when he’s on the phone with high school friends. His voice has a whole different cadence to it, but I don’t know how to reproduce it on the page.
texasmonthly.com: Has anyone ever told you that you have a Texas accent?
PC: Yes. People at home!
texasmonthly.com: Which do you prefer, a twang or a drawl? Why?
PC: I love both. I especially love it when people use a lot of colloquial expressions, which are—sadly—dying out. My favorite one, which I learned while working on this story, is too raunchy to repeat here.
texasmonthly.com: Is there anything you would like to add?
PC: When I first moved here, I could never figure out why people would ask me if I had a “pin.” I thought it was kind of odd to ask a stranger for a safety pin. Now I know to hand over my pen.