AUSTIN, Texas — Don Graham, an English professor at the University of Texas at Austin, likes to tell the story of a student who once worked as a cowboy. "Wore hat and boots," Graham says. "He was the real deal."More at that top link.
At the end of the academic year, the student told Graham, "You were the only professor at UT I ever had who spoke English."
"What he meant," Graham says, "was I was the only one who spoke his language."
And by language, the student meant talking Texan — the distinctive twang and drawl that becomes almost an attitude, from the first "howdy" to the last "thank you, kindly." Conversation can be as extreme as the landscape in Texas, where locals will tell you it gets hotter than a stolen tamale and the wind blows like perfume through a prom.
The former cowboy had noticed what Graham, a Texas native who grew up outside Dallas, had also detected over the years. "Texas has always had its own almost national identity," Graham says. "Language was one of the commonalities that bound people together. More and more, I hear fewer people that I talk to who sound like myself."
Research bears out his suspicion: Urbanization, pop culture and an influx of newcomers — including Californians, with a Valley Girl dialect that has wormed its way into American speech since the 1970s — are all eroding the iconic Texas twang.
Many years ago, when I was just a kid, we had a family from Odessa, Texas, move into our neighborhood in Orange, California. This family, named the Bartletts, spoke with the most profound accent I'd ever heard. Unfortunately, the children, faced enormous ridicule because they sounded so different from everyone else. I felt bad for them. They lived just two doors down and we used to pitch and bat tennis balls up against their garage. These people personified "Texan." I don't think they cared much for California; the old man obviously moved out this way to take a job. Maybe they moved back to Odessa. I never heard either way but Lord knows they'd long to return.
In any case, Joshua Treviño's been tweeting up storm about Texas' distinct political culture, but when the language of a region fades, so does much of the cultural uniqueness. I'll tweet this over to Joshua to see what he thinks.