Tips for Talking Texan

It’s Amaze-ing Words Wednesday again! It’s also conference season, and many writers are busy preparing for their trip, classes, pitches, or table-dancing performance. Since we’ll have some non-Texans attending the DFW Writers’ Conference, I thought it was a good time to re-run a post from May of last year. In case you’ll be in the Lone Star State anytime soon, or you just want to decipher want the heck we’re all saying down here, here are my Tips for Talking Texan.

In a prior post, I said that I enjoy mimicking accents, though I am not fluent in any foreign languages.  But I should qualify that some people think my native tongue of Texan is a foreign language.  In fact, an ad for the Texas Tourism Bureau has had a slogan for years to promote travel to the Lone Star state:  “It’s like a whole other country.”

Now I don’t believe I have a strong drawl and, with concentration, I can eliminate it from my speech almost entirely.  But put me in a herd of fellow born-and-bred Texans or get me super-excited about something, and I twang like a dueling banjo.  If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to speak Texan, here are a few pointers from me:

1.  Take It Easy.  First of all, Hollywood totally overdoes it.  DO NOT try to sound like J.R. from Dallas.  If you do, you should get shot.

2.  Use Y’all.  The proper plural of “you” is “y’all.”  It’s the perfect contraction of “you” and “all,” which comes in handy when distinguishing a single Dallas Cowboy cheerleader from the whole scantily-clad cheer squad or one particular misbehaving child from the group of rambunctious hellions.

3.  Be polite.  Our language is infused with Southern courtesy and superfluous manners.  I was downright flummoxed by Senator Barbara Boxer getting her granny panties in a wad over a Brigadier General Michael Walsh calling her “ma’am.”  That’s a compliment and a sign of respect down here.  My children had better not say to some teacher, “Yeah”; they are expected to answer, “Yes, ma’am.”

This goes along with other seemingly over-the-top courtesies, like saying “Hi” or “Howdy” to people you don’t know (you can’t walk the Texas A&M campus without being greeted that way); having a store clerk invite you to “Come back” – meaning you should return to shop sometime in the future, not turn around because you’re being accused of shoplifting; and waving at drivers in other cars if they allow you to pull ahead or pass (okay, that’s not spoken language, but it is communication).

4.  Tex-Mex It.  Throw in words borrowed from Spanish.  Texas has, after all, been under Six Flags in its history – one-third of those being Spanish-speaking nations (Spain and Mexico).  We also have a wonderful population of citizens with Hispanic, or Latino if you prefer, heritage –many of whom are bilingual.  And we sure do like our Tex-Mex food.  (You would too!)  Try out a few like Spanish words like these:  “Everything” becomes “the whole enchilada.”  “Goodbye” is “Adios, muchachos.”  And “Stop parking on your lawn like a hillbilly!” becomes “Loco!”

5.  Channel your Inner Texan.  Mostly though, what you need to remember is to spread your mouth wide, add a syllable or two when there is a long vowel (“lamb” becomes “lā-ă-ĕmb”), and channel your inner Dixie Chick. 

Lyle Lovett, a native, has a great song called That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas, with the next lyrics being “but Texas wants you anyway.”  We’re happy to have anybody identify themselves with the Lone Star State, so take this opportunity to practice a down-south drawl and be an Honorary Texan for a spell. 

Meanwhile, I enjoy hearing accents from all the regions of our union.  Where are you from?  Do you have a strong accent or not?  What are the particular idiosyncrasies of your area’s rendering of English?

Wednesday Words: Talking Texan

In a prior post, I said that I enjoy mimicking accents, though I am not fluent in any foreign languages.  But I should qualify that some people think my native tongue of Texan is a foreign language.  In fact, an ad for the Texas Tourism Bureau has had a slogan for years to promote travel to the Lone Star state:  “It’s like a whole other country.”

Now I don’t believe I have a strong drawl and, with concentration, I can eliminate it from my speech almost entirely.  But put me in a herd of fellow born-and-bred Texans or get me super-excited about something, and I twang like a dueling banjo.  If you’ve ever wondered what it takes to speak Texan, here are a few pointers from me:

1.  Take It Easy.  First of all, Hollywood totally overdoes it.  DO NOT try to sound like J.R. from Dallas.  If you do, you should get shot.

2.  Use Y’all.  The proper plural of “you” is “y’all.”  It’s the perfect contraction of “you” and “all,” which comes in handy when distinguishing a single Dallas Cowboy cheerleader from the whole scantily-clad cheer squad or one particular misbehaving child from the group of rambunctious hellions.

3.  Be polite.  Our language is infused with Southern courtesy and superfluous manners.  I was downright flummoxed by Senator Barbara Boxer getting her granny panties in a wad over a Brigadier General Michael Walsh calling her “ma’am.”  That’s a compliment and a sign of respect down here!  My children had better not say to some teacher, “Yeah!”; they are expected to answer, “Yes, ma’am!”

This goes along with other seemingly over-the-top courtesies, like saying “Hi” or “Howdy” to people you don’t know (you can’t walk the Texas A&M campus without being greeted that way); having a store clerk invite you to “Come back!” – meaning you should return to shop sometime in the future, not turn around because you’re being accused of shoplifting; and waving at drivers in other cars if they allow you to pull ahead or pass (okay, that’s not spoken language, but it is communication).

4.  Tex-Mex It.  Throw in words borrowed from Spanish.  Texas has, after all, been under Six Flags in its history – one-third of those being Spanish-speaking nations (Spain and Mexico).  We also have a wonderful population of citizens with Hispanic, or Latino if you prefer, heritage –many of whom are bilingual.  And we sure do like our Tex-Mex food.  (You would too!)  Try out a few like Spanish words like these:  “Everything” becomes “the whole enchilada.”  “Goodbye” is “Adios, muchachos.”  And “Stop parking on your lawn like a hillbilly!” becomes “Loco!”

5.  Channel your Inner Texan.  Mostly though, what you need to remember is to spread your mouth wide, add a syllable or two when there is a long vowel (“lamb” becomes “lā-ă-ĕmb”), and channel your inner Dixie Chick. 

Lyle Lovett, a native, has a great song called That’s Right, You’re Not from Texas, with the next lyrics being “but Texas wants you anyway.”  We’re happy to have anybody identify themselves with the Lone Star State, so take this opportunity to practice a down-south drawl and be an Honorary Texan for a spell. 

Meanwhile, I enjoy hearing accents from all the regions of our union.  Where are you from?  Do you have a strong accent or not?  What are the particular idiosyncrasies of your area’s rendering of English?

Amusing with Accents

The Beatles at Kennedy Airport, by United Press International [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
I admit to doing accents in front of my kids. I’m rough with some of them, but I try every one I can think of. If we’re listening to a Beatles song, why not deliver my own impression of Paul McCartney? If I’m giving orders, why not shout them like a German commander? If I’m inviting my kid to hang out with me, why not go linguistically Down Under with my “mates”?

I have a fairly good ear for accents and dialects. I also love hearing the fluctuations, intonations, and variations when people from other areas speak. There was a book agent at a conference I recently attended who was on a forum panel. She spoke eloquently about her field, but frankly she could have been giving recipe instructions and I would have loved for her to hog the microphone. She had a South African accent. It was beautifully rich. And it’s an accent I haven’t mastered.

I don’t speak any foreign languages. (Well, I speak Texan–which I understand is a whole other language.) But one time, when I was crooning through a conversation in a French accent, my son asked, “So can you speak like that because you learned French in school?” I had to admit to him that everything I knew about doing a French accent, I’d learned from Inspector Clouseau and Pepé LePew.

Pepe LePew

Maybe you can learn from other people who do this well. One of my personal favorites was Steve Landesberg, known to me for playing Detective Sergeant Arthur Dietrich in the old TV show Barney Miller. He could mimic an amazing number of accents. I’ve picked up a few tips from watching him and others.

There are plenty of accents you can attempt. The Linguistic Society of America cites the most accurate count of languages in the world at over 6,800. Think about that! (And here I am just trying to get my book published in English!) That doesn’t even take into account that people from Toronto; Dublin; Melbourne; Hattiesburg, Mississippi; Atlanta, Georgia; Midland, Texas; Queens, New York; and Boston, Massachusetts are all speaking the same language, but it sure doesn’t sound the same!

I don’t know how to teach anybody to do accents, although my younger son picks them up pretty well and tries them out on his friends at school. His current specialty is Australian. In fact, we recently discovered that “cobber” is another word for an Aussie male friend, so we’ve added it to our repertoire.

Is anyone else doing the same thing? Trying on accents from other regions or countries? What are your favorites? I’d like to know.

While waiting for responses, I think I’ll go watch an episode of Star Wars. I need to work on my Wookie.

Round of Words in 80 Days update:  4,729 of 5,000 words written for the week; 271 more to go!