December 03, 2003
He's got a pretty good y'all going

Via Ginger, Hope, and Scott comes this story about how Texans talk.

Among the unexpected findings, said Guy Bailey, a linguistics professor at the University of Texas at San Antonio and a leading scholar in the studies with his wife, Jan Tillery, is that in Texas more than elsewhere, how you talk says a lot about how you feel about your home state.

"Those who think Texas is a good place to live adopt the flat `I' it's like the badge of Texas," said Dr. Bailey, 53, provost and executive vice president of the university and a transplanted Alabamian married to a Lubbock native, also 53.

So if you love Texas, they say, be fixin' to say "naht" for "night," "rahd" for "ride" and "raht" for "right."

And by all means say "all" for "oil."

Hmm. My uncle Ed was an exception to that. He certainly had the convert's zeal about Texas, and spent most of his days here in a house he and my aunt Judy built outside of Wichita Falls where he'd have enough land to raise some cattle, but he didn't really have a twang. Maybe some New York accents are harder to overcome than others, I don't know.

At the same time, the speech of rural and urban Texans is diverging, Dr. Bailey said. Texans in Houston, Dallas, Fort Worth and San Antonio are sounding more like other Americans and less like their fellow Texans in Iraan, Red Lick or Old Glory.

This is true. The people with real twangs around here, for the most part, are those who grew up or still live in rural areas. You can still hear a distinctive accent in some big-city natives (my mother-in-law being a prime case in point), but not as much. Or maybe it's that there are so many of us imported Yankees around in the big cities that you just don't run into the real native speakers all that often.

Perhaps the most striking finding, Dr. Tillery said, was the spread of the humble "y'all," ubiquitous in Texas as throughout the South. Y'all, once "you all" but now commonly reduced to a single word, sometimes even spelled "yall," is taking the country by storm, the couple reported in an article written with Tom Wikle of Oklahoma State University and published in 2000 in the Journal of English Linguistics. No one other word, it turns out, can do the job.

Yeah, the word "y'all" is just plain useful and insidiously easy to add to one's vocabulary. I don't care how many times someone tried to tell me that "youse" was the New York equivalent, I've heard a thousand y'alls for every youse. Y'all wins by a mile. You'll also hear "y'alls" as a replacement for "your" or "yours" ("Is that y'alls car?" "Is that car y'alls?"), though I confess it still grates on my ears a bit.

True story: When I was contracting for the large multinational firm which now employs me, the person who handled my timekeeping was in northern Virginia. One day she told my Houston-based boss that she thought I had a "cute Texas accent". My boss, a fellow transplanted Yankee, politely informed her that I'm a native New Yorker, then died laughing. It's still the only example I know of where I was given that designation.

UPDATE: Stephen Bates has a slightly different take on drawls, twangs, and other speech patterns.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on December 03, 2003 to The great state of Texas | TrackBack

I've lived away from Virginia since 1968, but while going to junior high and high school there I picked up "y'all," and if I find myself conversing with anyone with even a hint of a Southern accent it immediately comes back. Ubiquitous indeed.

Posted by: Linkmeister on December 3, 2003 12:55 PM

"Youse" is more likely to be spoken in Queens or Brooklyn, typically by older people. As for me, I've been saying "y'all" for ages.

Ironically, my manager will occasionally say "youse".

Posted by: William Hughes on December 3, 2003 1:23 PM

Y'all is just so dern gramaticly usefull.

Many young Texans don't have much of an accent because most of the speech they hear is from TV. I don't have much of one unless I'm talking to a pretty girl from out of state. New Yorker's, I've found, adore Texas accents.

Posted by: cn on December 3, 2003 2:57 PM

I worked a retail job during my college years. One of my managers was from West Virginia. He used to say "you'ens" when referring to a group. Example: "you'ens come here and give me a hand!"

Posted by: lcl on December 3, 2003 5:22 PM