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Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Do you speak Texan? | Jessica Sinn, University of Texas at Austin

Is the Texas twang fixin’ to die out? That's a question writer Jessica Sinn asks near the start of this interesting article.

I'm not a Texan and have spent only an hour or two at the Houston airport. But I've known folks from there (and elsewhere in the South)--and have been fascinated by their accents. And I must make it to Austin City Limits one of these days!

The initial answer to Sinn's question:
Not necessarily, says Lars Hinrichs, assistant professor of English language and linguistics and director of the Texas English Project at The University of Texas at Austin. Despite the drastic changes in the Lone Star State’s iconic accent, Texans will continue to use their twang, but only in certain contexts.
Hindrichs explains that high mobility and rapidly increasing access to mass media have affected the Texas twang. But:
[T]his isn’t just happening in Texas, Hinrichs said. The distinctive sounds and vocal patterns of America’s regional accents – like the way Bostonians drop the “r” in some words – are rapidly transcending into a more homogenized Midwestern American dialect.
Later in the article, linguistics graduate student Kate Shaw Points, a participant in the Texas English Project, notes that Texas-born Hispanics in the Austin area revert to Hispanic English when the conversation turns toward local politics and gentrification. (In Hispanic English, the sound is produced with the tongue toward the back of the mouth.)

Sinn asks what’s causing this unconscious switch in accents?
Points suggests it’s a way of expressing a certain identity. When they are happily waving their Texas-pride flags, they tend to infuse some twang into their speech. But when they’re staking claim to their East Austin neighborhoods, they employ the Hispanic accent to distance themselves from encroaching developers and affluent interlopers.
Sinn explains that these insights can help dispel harmful stereotypes about different ethnic groups. Understanding this behavior also may increase a sense of tolerance for other cultures. 

Points said (emphasis added):
Appreciating that different groups of people have varied linguistic patterns, and that none of these patterns are a priori "better" than others, could lead to increased understanding of other cultures. The more you know about how an ethnic group outside your own uses language, you are better prepared to accept their culture.
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