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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 defor “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 fifteenyear 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 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, Mahh fellow Amurricans THE TEXAS OBSERVER 15 APRIL 28, 2000