Texas English Project Logo & Image map

INTRODUCTION

The idea that spoken English dialects are becoming more similar is a persistent myth in American culture[1].  Although American English dialects have certainly changed over the last century, there is still a lot of linguistic variation (e.g., differences in accents, vocabulary, and grammar)—variation both between different dialects and between different speakers of a single dialect.  The dialects of Texas English show both these kinds of variation.  Texas English, as reported in the Atlas of North American English[2], remains distinct from other dialects of American English, including the general “Southern” dialect with which Texan English is often grouped (see Figure 1).  Furthermore, Texas English encompasses a wide range of dialect variation across different regions and ethnic groups around the state[3].

Early work on American English focused on dialect variation as a regional issue only—over time, different places developed different dialects.  But recent research has shown that dialect variation is also a social issue.  We now know that dialect variation (for example, whether or not a speaker pronounces pie as “pah”) are based not only on where a speaker is, but also on who a speaker is— dialect differences can correspond to a speaker’s sex, sexuality, class, or ethnicity, and these differences in dialect can even be related to a speaker’s attitudes—including attitudes about certain topics, people, and even other dialects[4].

The Texas English Project, which began in 2008 at the University of Texas at Austin, aims to discover and understand how these kinds of dialect differences work in Texas.  Our work combines social and linguistic theory with innovative digital research technology to create a repository of data, findings, and reports on Texas English.  When completed, the Texas English Project will provide both an interactive public showcase for video and audio documentaries about Texas English dialects and a professional digital archive for linguistic research.

Our public face, the Texas English Interactive website, is an interactive map-based website committed to heightening dialect awareness in Texas, fostering a sense of pride in Texans’ unique cultural heritage, and capturing a pivotal point in the changing physical, cultural, and linguistic landscape of Texas.  We want the public to view Texas English, in all its forms, as a living social practice that can both reflect and create our interaction with the world around us.  Click the link at the top of the page to try out the Texas English Interactive website!

Our professional face, the Texas English Digital Archive, will be a searchable archive of linguistic data from participants all across Texas.  Data will be taken from a variety of speech settings, including word list readings, passage readings (including Arthur the Rat and The Rainbow Passage[5]), interviews, and observational speech from participants at home and work.  These data will be fully transcribed and annotated for linguistic research.  The Texas English Digital Archive is based on and uses open source software developed for the dialect archive produced by the North Carolina Language and Life Project (NCLLP) at North Carolina State University.  We at the Texas English Project are in close contact with the NCLLP and will be using the archive and server at NC State to house the Texas data.  Once completed, access to these data will be granted by password to those who wish to study Texas English.

Like the NCLLP, the Texas English Project has the potential to raise public awareness about dialectal diversity and wed this awareness to strategies for educating non-standard speakers of English. Documenting and preserving contemporary Texas English is important both for posterity and for fostering public appreciation and maintenance of the dialect.  Such maintenance, in turn, sustains linguistic diversity and the unique contribution Texas English makes to the linguistics of North American English.

 

TEAM MEMBERS

Lars Hinrichs – Project Director
Douglas Bigham – Project Manager
Jessica White Sustaita – Assistant Director
Kathleen Shaw Points – Research Associate
Patrick Schultz – Research Associate


FUNDING & SUPPORT

The Texas English Project is supported by the following grants:
University of Texas at Austin ~Fast-Tex program at the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment (DIIA)
University of Texas at Austin Liberal Arts Instructional Technology Service (LAITS)

 

GOALS (Research & Outreach)

The Texas English Project takes three broad views towards dialect variation in Texas.
(a) First, we want to understand “Texas English” as something that speakers can actively perform to elicit certain responses and attitudes from their audience.
(b) Second, we want to understand how “Texas English” varies across the different ethnic groups of Texas, including Caucasian, Mexican-American, African-American, and American Indian communities.
(c) Third, we want to understand how “Texas English” is different between urban Texans and rural Texans, especially regarding how urban and rural Texans feel about and use Texas English.
These three overarching views are not entirely separate and are often intertwined in interesting ways.  It is our hope that by focusing our studies within these boundaries, we can begin to understand the social significance of “a Texan way of talking” for all the peoples and cultures that make up the Texas landscape.

By the end of 2010, the Texas English Project will officially open to the general public with the launch of the Texas English Interactive website and the premiere of our first major project, the documentary film, Talkin’ the Twang (see below for details).  Films like Talkin’ the Twang, along with student-produced short films about Texas English, provide the backbone for both Texas English Interactive and the Texas English Digital Archive. 

Our research has begun with Caucasian and Mexican-Americans emerging adults[6] living in Austin, Texas.  Within three years, the Texas English Project will expand our research beyond Austin to include additional field-sites like Dallas, El Paso, Houston, as well as smaller towns like Marfa, Lockhart, and Edinburg.  We will also expand our research among different ethnic groups by incorporating and collecting data from African-American and American Indian communities and expand our research among different age groups to begin investigating language change within Texas English.  By year five, Texas English Interactive and the Texas English Digital Archive will house the largest searchable collection of data on Caucasians living in Texas and the largest searchable collection of data on Mexican-Americans and African Americans anywhere.  While the Texas English Project will continue our own research during this stage, we will also aim to incorporate and compare findings from previous research on Texas English[7].

 

CURRENT PROJECTS, PUBLICATIONS, and PRESENTATIONS

Talkin’ the Twang

In the 1990s, Austin’s population grew by 48% and between 2000 and 2006 it was rated as the 3rd most rapidly growing city in America[8].  This rapid growth is expected to continue in the coming years and can be seen simply by comparing the skyline of Austin in 2002 (Fig. 2) to the projected skyline of 2012 (Fig. 3)[9].

Austin, Texas - 2002 Skyline     Austin, Texas - 2012 Skyline

Attitudes towards this expansion vary widely and pilot studies by the Texas English Project have found that these attitudes are often reflected in speakers’ choices between a more standard dialect and a dialect that is more closely associated with Texas speech. Thus, an Austinite with negative attitudes towards the influx of speakers from other areas in the country may embrace the native “y’all” as a sign of local solidarity, whereas those who embrace the influx may switch to the non-local and increasingly standard “you guys”. 

In an effort to give back to the community and increase public awareness regarding dialect diversity, the Texas English Project at the University of Texas at Austin is producing its first major outreach project, Talkin’ the Twang, a 20-minute documentary on language and culture in Austin, Texas.  Focusing on speakers’ attitudes towards the expansion of Austin, their feelings about Texas English, and their use of local “Texan” or “Austinite” dialect features, our work asks: in a modern, expanding, and metropolitan setting like Austin, who uses Texas-accented English, and when?  By 2015, the landscape of Austin will have changed dramatically and the Texas English Project will have been there to document those changes and aid in the preservation of Austin’s unique cultural heritage. 

In the production and methodology of Talkin’ the Twang, we combine the needs of providing superior-quality professional-level linguistics research data with the humanizing and often amusing side of watching people as they use and produce dialect-specific language.  In our research methods, we compare the speech of service workers in three different settings: during interviews with us, as they in interact with the public while at work, and as they perform speech elicitation tasks in the Calhoun Phonetics Laboratory at UT—including a performance of their own notions of Texas English while acting out the story of Arthur the Armadillo (an adaptation of the widely-known dialectology reading passage, Arthur the Rat). 

This documentary represents the public side of the Texas English Project’s pursuits.  Talkin’ the Twang will be accessible on the Texas English Interactive website in both the regular “movie” format and in longer “rough cut” segments which will be annotated to highlight particular dialect features and further engage the viewer.  Through its focus on local life, language, and culture in Austin, our film bridges the gap between public interest and theoretical work in the humanities. Both local residents and others interested in Austin, and Texas more generally, will be able to explore the ways that Texas English is used for stylistic and strategic purposes.

 

REFERENCES

[1]
Wolfram, W. & Schilling-Estes, N.  (2006).  American English (2nd ed).  Oxford: Blackwell.

[2]
Labov, W., Ash, S., & Boberg, C.  (2006).  Atlas of North American English.  Paris: Mouton de Gruyter.

[3]
Bailey, G. (1991). Directions of Change in Texas English. Journal of American Culture, 14(2), 125-134.
Thomas, E.R.  (2001).  An acoustical analysis of vowel variation in New World English.  Publication of the American Dialect Society, (PADS), 85.Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

[4]
Bigham, D.  (2008).  Dialect contact and accommodation among emerging adults in a university setting.  Ph.D. Dissertation, University of Texas at Austin.
Bucholtz, M.  (1999). “Why be normal?”: Language and identity practices in a community of nerd girls.  Language in Society, 28(2), 203-223.
Eckert, P.  (2000).  Linguistic variation as social practice.  Oxford: Blackwell.
Johnston, B. (1999). Use of Southern-sounding speech by contemporary Texas women. Journal of Sociolinguistics, 3(4), 505-522.
Mendoza-Denton, N. (2008). Homegirls: Symbolic practices in the making of Latina youth styles. Malden, MA: Blackwell.

[5]
Full scripts for Arthur the Rat and The Rainbow Passage can be found on the methodology page [coming soon!].

[6]
Arnett, J.J.  (2000).  Emerging adulthood : A theory of development from the late teens through the twenties.  American Psychologist, 55(5), 469-480.
Arnett, J.J.  (2001).  Adolescence and emerging adulthood: A cultural approach.  New Jersey: Prentice Hall.

[7]
Atwood, Bagby.  (1962).  The Regional Vocabulary of Texas.  Austin: University of Texas Press.
Pederson, Lee.  (1986-1992).  Linguistic Atlas of the Gulf States. 7 vols.  Athens, GA: University of Georgia Press.
For more information, see the links section at the Linguistic Atlas Project Homepage at the University of Georgia

[8]
Information and statistics taken from the Austin Chamber of Commerce website at: www.austin-chamber.org

[9]
Images adapted from images, information, and projections found on the City of Austin’s website at: www.ci.austin.tx.us

This page maintained by Douglas S. Bigham; last updated: 5 Jan 2010.