Talking Texan: Y’alls, Drawls, and Monophthongs

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Across the country, few people blink anymore when a president – or presidential hopeful – talks like a Texan. George W. Bush goes on Larry King and says that in considering U.S. military obligations, he thinks we need clear policy about when to commit troops abroad. But Bush’s “think” sounds like “thank,” and his “clear” rhymes with “burr.” This is a man who, in his own pronunciation, wants to be our “prezdint.”

Lyndon Johnson was our prezdint, too, except back then, his accent provoked hoots of Beltway derision that only got worse when LBJ struggled to mute his heavy drawl on national TV. That was thirty-five years ago. Southwest Airlines didn’t exist. There was no Texas Monthly. The mass migration of Rust Belt refugees to our state hadn’t begun. When outsiders thought about Lone Star culture, the best they imagined was poverty, bigotry, and unlettered oilmen with dung on their boots. The worst was the Book Depository and the grassy knoll. Being Texan was not cool. Neither was speaking Texan.

TEXAS COOL

Not so today. For years now, we’ve enjoyed a generally booming statewide economy. We’ve experienced a growing, ever glitzier Houston. We’ve welcomed streams of newcomers from northern industrial graveyards such as Pittsburgh and Detroit. The world thanks us for the TV show “Dallas,” music à la “Austin City Limits,” and tourist meccas like San Antonio’s River Walk. To top off the hoopla, a state-sponsored ad campaign has promoted Texas as “a country where the natives are friendly and the language barrier is easily overcome.”

The exaggeration is cute, but in a way it’s dead serious. These days, Texas is under heavy scrutiny by sociolinguists – scholars who study how groups of people talk, then speculate about what that talk says about society. During the past decade or so, sociolinguists with tape recorders have been interviewing thousands of Texans, then looking for patterns in their speech that suggest how life in the state is changing. Even the researchers are sometimes surprised by their findings. Today’s Texas talk helps explain why LBJ had to mute his accent in the White House a generation ago, and why George W.’s twang is no longer a political minus. Studies also show that, contrary to the predictions of old-school linguists, TV and urbanity aren’t entirely killing the Texas accent. Instead of losing their y’alls and drawls, many young people are keeping them, and using Texas dialect to express how they feel about life in an increasingly citified, multicultural state. Meanwhile, the heretofore ignored speech of the state’s “minority” groups – especially Latinos – is under the microscope. Their accents also are thriving, and even affecting Anglo talk in ways that reflect vast social change in Texas.

SOUTHERN ROOTS

How have linguists figured this stuff out?

For starters, they’ve listened to old folks and studied history. The Texas accent, after all, is basically Southern speech. That’s no surprise, since Anglos who settled here in the nineteenth century were mostly from below the Mason-Dixon line. It goes without saying that Texans inherited “y’all” from Scarlett O’Hara types. Not to mention “fixin’ to” and “might could” (“I’m fixin’ to drive to Houston after work, but if not, I might could meet y’all for happy hour”). Worried about sounding like rednecks, many better-educated people have purged their speech of these expressions. But it’s harder to get rid of another feature of the Texas accent – something linguists call the “monophthong.”

STUDYING TEXAN SPEAK

Don’t let the jargon intimidate you: “monophthong” is an easy term to grasp. Remember when your first-grade teacher told you about diphthongs? That word is a compound: “di-” for two, and “-phthong” from the Greek “phthongos,” meaning sound. A diphthong is a vowel that’s actually two sounds glided together. Think of the word “night.” The “i” is really the “ah” sound, followed rapidly by an “ee.” “Night” is the quick and graceful combining of “nah-” plus “-eet.”

But in Texas, the second part of that diphthong – the “ee” – often gets dropped, making “night” come out “nahht.” Instead of two vowel sounds, there’s only one: hence, the word “monophthong” to describe the result. It was LBJ’s monophthong that shamed him when he said the first word in “Mahh fellow Amurricans.” Lyndon is long gone, but countless Texans still turn words like “swipe” to “swap” and “white” to “watt.” This “monophthongization” is one of the most common features of the statewide accent.

There are others. One is the Panhandle and North Texas tendency to turn long “a’s” into long “i’s” (a patient from Lubbock telling a doctor she’s been hurting the past twenty-four hours describes being “in pine all die”). In addition, many people say “hep” for “help.” “Ten” just like “tin.” “Farm” when they mean “form.” “Wadn’t” and “dudn’t” for “wasn’t” and “doesn’t.” Older people call business “bidness.” Some leave “r” off the end of their syllables, making the number forty, for example, sound like “fawty.” And – as in George Dubya’s appearance on Larry King – “clear” comes out sounding like “klurr.”

Linguists have traditionally studied these Texanisms – and regional speech in general – by interviewing people. Before the age of tape recorders, scholars simply wrote down what they heard, using an elaborate transcription system with symbols resembling the pronunciation guides in dictionaries. In the old days, researching dialect and accent was a lot like going to the wilderness to bird watch. A linguist would travel to podunk towns far from big cities, and ask old – and almost invariably white – codgers whether they said “snap bean” or “string bean,” “crawfish” or “crayfish,” diphthongs or monophthongs. Answers would be plotted as dots on a map. Resulting patterns were supposed to show the geography of people’s speech – much as bird-watcher charts show where Canadian geese nest, as opposed to blue jays.

The problem with this old method is that nowadays in the United States, more people live in urban than rural areas. Furthermore, earlier linguistic studies often used white people’s talk as the benchmark of a region’s speech – even though blacks, Latinos, and other groups had and still have their own vocabulary and accents. And unlike bird song, dialect changes rapidly. It’s not unusual for an elderly person’s speech to be different from his or her child’s, and for the child’s to differ from the grandchild’s, even when the three generations live in the same place. It’s precisely these differences that can signal deeper changes in communities. That’s why linguists nowadays are coming up with new ways to study dialects. Innovative work is being done among people of varying ethnicities, who live everywhere from El Paso to Grapevine. Texas is a linguist’s investigational hotbed.

THE MARK OF AN ACCENT

And San Antonio is home to one of the most persistent researchers: Guy Bailey.

A modest, gracious man who was raised in Alabama, Bailey currently is U.T.-S.A.’s provost. In addition, he is a linguist with long experience researching American English dialects. Several years ago, Bailey and some colleagues decided to research Lone Star Speech. They wanted to see if and how it had changed over more than a century, and whether modern Texans were using their accents to make cultural, even political statements.

To do this, Bailey and his team first gathered older studies that included interviews with Texans and noted the year of each interviewee’s birth. Using this data, Bailey divided respondents into those born before 1880, between 1880 and 1914, from 1915 to 1929, and so on, in fifteen-year increments. The youngest group included people born more than a century after the oldest interviewees.

After everyone’s answers were divvied up into the age groups, some surprising sociological facts emerged. Take the “mahh” sound: as in President Johnson’s utterance when he tried to say “My fellow Americans.” That’s the “monophthong” talking, and it’s supposed to be the mark of a Texas accent. Yet Bailey found that among people born before 1880, monophthongal pronunciation was rare: only one Texan in twenty-five used it. But then things changed. Among people born between 1915 and 1944, monophthong use leaped – to about one person in five, regardless of whether they were raised in big cities or the countryside.

GOOD OL’ BOYS & CITYSLICKERS

With baby boomer Texans (those born between 1945 and 1959), saying “mahh’ instead of “my” declines somewhat. But as they looked closer at this post-war group, Bailey and his colleagues found something else interesting. When they separated boomers into two groups – urbanites and rural-dwellers – it turned out the monophthong has gotten more common in the countryside, but rarer in cities. Somehow, replacing “night” with “nahht”

has become a sign of good ol’ boyness (or gal-ness) versus city-slickerdom.

The trend jumps off the charts with younger Texans. Among people born after 1972, the monophthong is so popular that almost half of the population under thirty sounds like LBJ. For this younger generation, rural pronunciation is no longer different from urban talk. Tykes, teens, and twenty-somethings in mid-sized cities such as Corpus Christi and Amarillo use the monophthong about as much as their peers in Jasper and Dime Box. Only in the sprawling, big-malled, giga-freewayed metropoles – Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, and San Antonio – do a lot fewer people point to your watch and ask you “What tahhm is it?” instead of “What time?” (In these giant cities, the ratio of young people who use monophthongs is a paltry one in five.)

The boonies/big city fissure is similar with Texans’ tendency to say “die” when they mean day, or to turn Baylor University to “Biler.” Again, this pronunciation happens about equally among older Texans, regardless of whether their homes are urban or rural. But with younger people, there’s a sharp split between big-city dwellers and everyone else. Suddenly, a speech breach is separating Dallas-Fort Worth, San Antonio, and Houston from the rest of the state.

Why the big split? Linguists point to watershed changes in Texas since World War II. That’s when lots of people – including many Yankees – started moving to the state from other parts of the country. The migration accelerated in the Sixties and Seventies, as Rust Belt industry declined and northerners flocked to Sunbelt jobs. In Texas, most newcomers settled in the state’s biggest cities, and especially in those cities’ suburbs. Indeed, Frostbelters now outnumber native Texans in many bedroom communities around Houston and Dallas. These immigrants’ children easily pick up “y’all” and “fixin’ to.” But when it comes to vowels, they continue to talk like their elders from Gary. Meanwhile, younger, native Texan families (especially Anglos) have fled from older, inner-city neighborhoods to suburbs overrun by the northern immigrants. In making the move, younger Texans may be losing contact with oldsters’ local speech ways. Simultaneously, these families are exposing their impressionable children to Rust Belt vowels.

HAPPY TEXANS

Migration may thus explain why more and more people in the biggest cities are using non-Texan vowels. But relocation doesn’t tell why younger people in rural areas and smaller cities drawl so much more than their elders living in the very same places. Why do only 29 percent of folks born between 1928 and 1944 say “mahh fellow Americans,” yet among those born between 1960 and 1971, the proportion rises to a whopping 60 percent? According to traditional linguistic theory, drawling and other non-standard Texanisms aren’t supposed to survive, much less multiply. Television and modernism are supposed to shrink and kill them.

Guy Bailey has a theory about the surprising persistence of Texas dialect. He figured it out after he and his colleagues added questions to a 1989 statewide survey. Their study, called the Texas Poll, is conducted several times a year, and used to be based at Texas A&M University. There, telemarketer types would call people all over the state and ask questions: everything from which candidate the interviewees preferred in a political race to whether they intended to vaccinate their babies. In 1989, Bailey got permission to tape-record part of the poll. He wanted to hear people responding to questions whose answers would expose dialect quirks such as the monophthong. Along with those pronunciation questions, Bailey included an additional item: “What do you think of Texas as a place to live?” Interviewees could answer excellent, good, fair, or poor.

Bailey took each respondent’s answer to that question, and compared it to whether or not the person had used monophthongs in the previous queries. Then the data was crunched to find patterns. And patterns did emerge. It turned out that people who praised Texas as an “excellent” place were more than five times more inclined to talk like LBJ than were those who lambasted the state as “poor.” From this, Bailey concluded that people – especially younger ones – use monophthongs to flaunt their happy Texanness. Chances are, they do this unconsciously. Still, the Texas accent seems to have taken on a role similar to that of name-brand clothing and car models. You wear cowboy boots and drive a Mazda not just to get around, but also to proclaim to the world who you are. Likewise with your drawl: It’s not just what you say, but how you say it.

But what are Texans trying – or in this case, “trahhing” – to say?

Professor Barbara Johnstone teaches far from Texas these days, at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie-Mellon University. Until recently, though, she was at Texas A&M, where she had ample chance to research the locals. Having done so, Johnstone notes that Texans used to live mostly in rural areas or small towns. But by 1990, according to the last federal census, four out of five people in the state resided in metropolitan areas, while only one in 100 lived on a farm or a ranch. Census 2000 will no doubt reveal even bigger urban-rural disparities. Johnstone thinks young people are using dialect to protest against the state’s vast demographic changes. “Increasingly,” she writes, “Texas’ boots-and-hat-wearing, truck-driving cowboys and cowgirls are suburbanites who learned to dance the two-step in a high school gym class. And more and more of the state’s small, once-isolated towns and rural ranches are populated by weekenders from Houston and Dallas.” Years ago, people in the Texas boonies “sounded country” because they were from the country. But today, Johnstone notes, “‘sounding country’ is less about geography and, more and more, about creating rural identity through speech.” People miffed about urbanity, Johnstone adds, use drawls and monopthongs to reject the homogeneity of the suburbs, and to proclaim sympathy with “traditional rural attributes such as political conservatism, religiousness, and family values.” Texas talk, according to this theory, has become the oral equivalent of a Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche bumper sticker or a WWJD bracelet.

PROFESSIONAL TEXAN

So is Lone Star speech just a postmodern backlash? Or can today’s Texas accent also poke fun at troglodytes?

It certainly can in the mouth of journalist-cum-humorist Molly Ivins. These days, Ivins is one of the nation’s best-known Lone Star liberals. Her voice is also a paragon of drawling, gravel-mouthed Texas talk. Yet Ivins’ accent is mostly performance. She’s not even a native Texan: her parents were from Illinois, and when Molly was a young child, the family lived in California. After moving to Houston, they took up residence in that city’s poshest neighborhood, River Oaks, and Molly went to an exclusive private school. Later, she attended Smith College in Massachusetts, then studied in Paris and at Columbia University. This is
ardly the background of a redneck.

Yet as part of her celebrity persona, Ivins is a “professional Texan,” according to Barbara Johnstone and her colleague Judith Bean, at Texas Women’s University. Both researchers have spent a lot of time analyzing famous Texan women’s speech – everyone from the late Barbara Jordan to Ivins. Johnstone and Bean note that as an Eastern-educated, staunch liberal in a state ruled by Aggie-booster conservatives, Ivins could easily come off sounding like an egghead outsider when she jousts with local rightwingers and Jesus mongers. Instead, from her base at the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Ivins stages a veritable Texas-accent drag show to mock her opponents, simultaneously positioning herself as a good ol’ girl who can denounce the yokels without sounding unacceptably Yankee. “There’s nuthin’ you kin do ’bout bein’ barn liberal,” she drawls on the books-on-tape version of her best seller You Got to Dance With Them What Brung You. Ergo, Ivins adds, it’s hard for liberal authors like herself “to wrahht about [Phil] Gramm without soundin’ main.” Playing with this ironic rhetoric, Ivins shows that “sounding country” in Texas can signal both yahooism and its polar opposite.

Of course, sounding country also tells the world that you’re Anglo. The Texas accent of folklore, tourist PR, and Ivins shtick is actually a white phenomenon. The vast majority of the state’s native blacks and Chicanos avoid the twang, the drawl, the monophthong. Good ol’ white boys abound. But buen ol’ muchachos are relatively scarce. And you’d be hard-pressed to find an African American who says Wico for Waco.

SE HABLA TEJANO

Linguists studying African-American pronunciation say it has hardly changed over the past century, nationally or in Texas. About the only evolution is with the “r” sound: fifty years ago, southern blacks still dropped it when saying words like “bird” and “hurry” (which sounded like “boyd” and “hoy”). Today the “r” is back, but all else remains the same. In contrast, linguists have long been aware that Mexican Americans in Texas have a variable accent. One of its most notable features is the Spanish-derived tendency – even among Latinos whose families got here generations ago – to say “s” in words where Anglos say “z.” The English word “his,” for example, is written with an “s,” but Anglos virtually always pronounce that consonant as a “z” – so that the entire word sounds like “hizz.” Not so with many Latinos, who say “hiss.” For these same people, “raisin” sounds like “race in,” and “jazz” is “jass.” In addition, Texas Latinos – even those from longtime Texan families – can still be affected by Spanish vowels. The Spanish “baile” – dance in English – has the same diphthong as the English “buy.” But while Anglo Texans often turn “buy” to monophthongal “bahh,” Mexican Americans keep it as it is in the rest of the United States. That’s probably not TV talking, though. Instead, it’s influence from the Spanish language, which can affect even people who don’t speak it. A telling example: the heavily Latino border from Brownsville to El Paso is the only part of Texas where Anglos tend to use diphthongs instead of monophthongs when they say words like “my.” The influence of Spanish pronunciation has even shaped the way Border Anglos speak English.

Still, Mexican Americans in Texas do not all talk alike. Their accents often vary, depending on their socio-economic status and whether they grew up before or after the Civil Rights movement. Before that momentous time, back in the Fifties, one sociolinguist interviewed Latinos in San Antonio. In a damning indictment of the era’s educational, residential, and employment discrimination, he found people who, despite being born and raised there, spoke only halting English, with immigrant-like pronunciation. Many such people still exist. One is conjunto master and five-time Grammy Award winner Flaco Jiménez. Born in 1939, Jiménez is a San Antonio native; so were his father and grandfather. But the Jiménez men were quarry workers and janitors; they and their families lived in San Antonio’s segregated West Side. As an adult, Flaco still has difficulty with English (“I didn’t really got to know my grandfather,” he says in an interview archived at the Institute of Texan Cultures), and his English includes heavy use of Spanish vowels and consonants (“museechn” for “musician,” “skeeny” for his translation of “Flaco”).

Today, younger or more formally educated Mexican Americans demonstrate a wider range of dialects. Henry Cisneros, who was born after World War II, has absolutely no trace of a Texas accent – Chicano-style or Anglo – when he speaks publicly. The product of a middle-class home, Central Catholic High School, Texas A&M, and Harvard, Cisneros has had ample opportunity since youth to hear and adopt Network Standard speech. Which he has: listening to him today, he might as well be Mike Wallace. Other Texan Latinos have also abandoned Spanish-language influences. But instead of adopting a Midwestern Anglo sound, they talk more like white folks of the Texan variety. Take San Antonio car lot maven Ernesto Ancira. He could almost pass for Cisneros, except for a tell-tale Lyndon-Johnsonism when he says his last name: “Ansurra.” (Hearing it, you almost imagine “Mahh fellow Ansurricans.”) And like Molly Ivins, some high-profile Latinos – especially Tejano and conjunto musicians – are ironically bilingual when it comes to “good ol’ boy/girl” talk. Singer Javier Molina, from Laredo, has a blockbuster hit, “Cowboy Cumbia,” which alternates Spanish verses with lines in English that sound straight from Bob Wills’ mouth. (“One step, two step, three step, four, come on everbuddy, git on th’ floor! Dance, y’all, dance, th’ cowboy cumbia.”)

On the other hand, many Texas Latinos seem to be distancing themselves from Anglo accents altogether, and embracing what they may imagine as a “rootsier” sound. An example is Ph.D. sociologist David Montejano, whose family has lived in San Antonio for generations. Montejano heads the Center for Mexican American Studies at U.T.-Austin. He has written critically about the history of Anglo racism against Tejanos, and lately has been active in defending affirmative action admissions policy at U.T. Montejano is educated and cosmopolitan enough to sound and dress like Henry Cisneros if he wanted to. Instead, he lectures in cowboy boots. But his mouth sends a different message: as a badge of raza pride, perhaps, he says “hiss” for “his,” “jass” instead of “jazz.”

These Spanish-influenced sounds are, of course, as much a part of Lone Star Speech – and just as worthy of celebration – as anything from the mouth of a George Bush or a Molly Ivins. So maybe it’s time to re-examine all those amusing brochures and tourism department slogans about Texans speaking a different language. Maybe it’s time for an edit: along with all the chuckles about y’all, and “bob-war fences,” something should be added about how, in the barrio, you can’t tell an old-fashioned single girl from a fiery-eyed feminist, since “Ms.” on West Commerce Street gets pronounced just the same as “Miss.” Maybe that example is too obscure for tourists. Never mind – you get the idea. Or is it “AHH-dea”?

For an example of how this happened, go ask San Antonio’s famous Maverick family. Their transgenerational accents evoke a new Texas hardly imagined by the clan’s ancestors.

MAVERICKS: A TEXAS CLAN

The Mavericks are practically synonymous with historic Texas. Patriarch Samuel Augustus Maverick was spared from death at the Alamo in 1836 only because he was sent by the garrison to Washington-on-the-Brazos to sign the Texas Declaration of Independence. Samuel, who served twice as mayor of San Antonio, owned vast reaches of nineteenth-century South Texas. His family surname has even entered the dictionary. (Sam neglected to brand his cattle, the story goes; any unbranded cow or steer that strayed from its herd became known as a “maverick.”)

Maury Maverick Sr. was San Antonio’s firebrand, liberal congressman and mayor from the Thirties to early Forties. Lionized at the time for restoring La Villita, he was also demonized for supporting striking Latina pecan shellers under the leadership of Emma Tenayuca. She was a Communist Party member, and when Maverick OK’d a party rally at the Municipal Auditorium in 1939, enraged rioters burned him in effigy. Maury Maverick Sr. was born in 1895 and died in 1954. Today, a tape preserved at the Library of Congress includes Maverick giving a speech in 1935 defending the New Deal and calling for more public school funding. Another recording, archived at the University of Texas, contains an interview with Maverick at the state Democratic convention in 1952.

The Texas accent on these tapes is what contemporary linguists deem archaic. Many Texans born in the late nineteenth century learned to talk in a deep-South, Colonel Sanders style, by habitually dropping their r’s. Maury Maverick Sr. says “Senatah” for “senator,” and he calls $40,000,000 “fawty million dollahs.” Maverick also says “bidness” for business, and “twinty” for twenty. In addition, he floridly displays the trademark Texas monophthong when he says words such as “Ahh’ll’ instead of ‘I’ll.”

Maury Maverick Sr. had two children: Maury Jr. and Terrellita, who both still live in San Antonio. Maury Jr., the venerable Express-News Sunday columnist, is now seventy-nine. Nonetheless, he talks differently than his dad did, despite some similarities. Like his father, he makes “war” rhyme with “far.” He still says “tin” for the number ten, and “idn’t” for “isn’t.” And Maury, Jr. is a big-time monophthonger: in his mouth, “died” comes out “dahhd,” “kind” sounds like “kahhned,” and when he rails at what Joe McCarthy’s witch hunt did to “accused Commonists in Texas,” he laments that they were “indahhted” for “crahhms” they didn’t commit. He still pronounces a few words without r’s (he calls his parents “mothuh” and “fathuh”). Yet with practically all other words, Maury Jr. does say his r’s. And, in a curious evolution from his father’s speech, he says “bisdness” for “business.” That’s an odd pronunciation, but at least the “s” is back.

Maury Jr.’s sister, Terrellita, is five years younger than he is. Apparently, that time lapse is enough to have changed Maury’s “bisdness” to Terrellita’s completely standard “business.” And, unlike Maury Jr., Terrellita always says her “r’s.” Still she retains “duhdn’t” for “doesn’t,” “frind” for “friend,” “war” as a rhyme with “car,” and – of course – the Texas monophthong: mahh, ahh, and bahh for my, I, by.

The speech of Terrellita’s fifty-year-old daughter Lynn Maverick Denzer is much like her seventy-four-year-old mother’s; Lynn’s drawl is more subdued than Terrellita’s, but she still says “Ahh” for “I,” “tin” for ten, and war so that it rhymes with far. The Denzer kids are something else. In many ways, twenty-two-year-old Joel and his seventeen-year-old sister Elizabeth are living in a very different Texas than the one their elders grew up in. Earlier Maverick children resided in all-white, Northside San Antonio neighborhoods and studied in virtually all-white classrooms. But Joel and Elizabeth were raised on the integrated Southside. Their high school, Highlands, has mostly Latino students, as well as whites and blacks. And – unlike their older relatives – Joel and Elizabeth cut their teeth on TV talk.

These factors have apparently combined to produce novel accents in the two young people. Just as his mother, grandmother and great-grandfather might do, Joel calls an icehouse an “ahhss house.” But where his ancestors would all say “gahh” for “guy,” Joel uses the standard, diphthongal pronunciation. Talking about health benefits at his job, he mentions “dintal insurance” – yet he also says “ten” where the old folks would make it “tin.” Further, Joel is resolutely standard with his negative contractions. No “duhdn’t” or “idn’t” for him – it’s always doesn’t and isn’t. He sounds like a youthful, Texas Anglo going through major accent transition.

Then there’s eleventh-grader Elizabeth. Her best friend’s parents are immigrants from south of the border. Her boyfriend’s dad is Anglo and his mom is Latina. Describing her granddaughter’s accent, Terrellita Maverick goes into a puzzled sotto voce: “Elizabeth…she talks like… ahem…a Mexican!”

NEW LONE STAR TALKERS

Indeed, Elizabeth is a new breed of Texas talker. She’s still got some of the traditional Anglo stuff, like “Tinnissee” for the place where Elvis lived. But mostly, the old drawl is gone. When Elizabeth says “I”, there’s absolutely no mistaking it for “ahh.” For her, “guy” is “guy,” and “might” is also, unquestionably, a diphthong. She makes fun of her mother for saying y’all. And you’d never catch Elizabeth rhyming “war” with anything but “four.” But lest you imagine that she takes all her speech cues from MTV, think again. Just when you thought she was imitating Network Standard, Elizabeth says “houssess” for the things people live in. Her brother teases her about it. After all, the Mavericks are not Latinos. They’re some of the state’s Angloest Anglos.

But this is twenty-first-century Texas. Everything’s changing and melding: where we reside, who we live and work with, and finally, how we speak. Once, Anglo “y’all’s” and “mahh fellow Amurricans” were lingua franca in this state. Now, a rainbow chorus has entered the public mix. Tourist slogans still call Texan a different language. But today it’s a polyglot, with many voices mixing in one large Lone Star mouth.

Longtime Texas Observer contributor Debbie Nathan is a writer at the San Antonio Current, where an earlier version of this article appeared.

Debbie Nathan is a Texas native and writer who divides her time between New York City and the border. She is author, most recently, of Sybil Exposed: The Extraordinary Story Behind the Famous Multiple Personality Case.