About

Texas English Interactive is an interactive map-based website (utilizing Google Maps) that aims to provide the public with a sense of the geography of Texas English. Texas English Interactive is part of the larger Texas English Project and is 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. This website is still a work in progress and isn't officially ready for use yet, but have fun looking around!

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Website Content and Design developed by:
Kathy Tran, Chiang Leng, & Tucker Bickler - ~FAST-Tex Student Developers
and Douglas S. Bigham, Research Associate for the Texas English Project

This website has been developed with assistance from the University of Texas at Austin:
Department of English, Liberal Arts ITS, and the Division of Instructional Innovation and Assessment's ~FAST-Tex Program

© 2009 by the Texas English Project, University of Texas at Austin

Goals

The Texas English Project aims to investigate dialect variation in Texas and bring our findings to the public through the Texas English Interactive website. By using Texas English Interactive, we want you to become more aware of dialect differences in Texas and take pride in the role that dialects have as part of the unique cultural heritage of Texas. This is undeniably a pivotal point in the changing physical, cultural, and linguistic landscape of Texas, and Texas English Interactive is here to help capture those changes.

Using Austin, Texas as our home-base, our research investigates dialect variation in Texas by examining the following:

  • (a) First, how do speakers perform "Texas English" to both create their own identities and to elicit certain responses and attitudes from their audience?
  • (b) Second, how does "Texas English" vary across different ethnic groups of Texas, including Caucasian, Mexican-American, African-American, and American Indian communities?
  • (c) Third, how is variation in "Texas English" different between urban Texans and rural Texans, especially in terms of how people feel about and use Texas English?
  • This work is inspired by linguistic projects like the West Virginia Dialect Project (WVDP), established by Kirk Hazen at West Virginia University, and the North Carolina Language and Life Project (NCLLP), under the direction of Walt Wolfram at North Carolina State University. We are also inspired by other projects that focus on preserving Texan heritage. For example, here in Austin, Texas, the East Austin Stories website presents films produced by filmmakers at the University of Texas that record the oral histories of residents in Austin's rapidly changing Eastside. Likewise, the Sonic ID Project of the University of Texas radio station, KUT, also presents oral histories across different ethnic and demographic groups in Austin, presenting short snippets of locals' recollections of memories that make Austin special for them. Dialects are a living social practice involving much more than just the way someone speaks. They are a part of our interaction with the material world and cultural context that surrounds us.

    Speaker Categories

    There are many different ways that researchers can categorize people-- whether they're male or female, where they live, how much money they make, how old they are, their race or ethnicity, and many others. At the Texas English Project, we've focused on categorizing based on Age Group, Race or Ethnicity, and Gender (which encompasses a speaker's sex and sexuality). Click on a term for more information.

    Age Groups

    The Texas English Project categorizes a speaker's age group according to the following guidelines:

  • Child ~ Participants in grades K-8.
  • Teen ~ Participants who are in high school and are almost wholly dependent on their parents/guardians for support.
  • Emerging Adult ~ Participants who are beyond parental control, have begun to care for themselves, but have not yet settled into stable adulthood. Generally, "emerging adult" participants are aged 18-28, but can be younger or older, depending on what stage of life a person is in.
  • Junior Adult ~ Like "emerging adults", participants classified as "junior adults" can be any age, but are typically in their 30s and 40s. "Junior adults" are different from "emerging adults" in that "junior adults" have begun to settle into long term patterns in their lives. They are different from "senior adults", however, because they are still new to adulthood-- for example, they have only recently bought a house or settled into a job and they tend to have younger rather than older children.
  • Senior Adult ~ "Senior adult" participants still have the responsibilities of adulthood, but are "old hat" at it by now. Their children are out of the house (or nearly so), but they're still paying off mortgages and have not yet retired from their jobs. Generally, these participants are in their 50s and 60s.
  • Retiree ~ Participants who are in their "golden years". In terms of physical age, the "retiree" age group overlaps almost completely with "senior adult" and "elderly". "Retirees" are participants who are in their 50s, 60s, and 70s, depending on the life course they chose. Retirees are typically, as the name implies, retired; they have paid off their homes and may have recently moved into a smaller dwelling or a new city. They typically have children who are already adults.
  • Elderly ~ Elderly participants are people in their 70s and beyond.
  • Race/Ethnicity

    The Texas English Project uses the following classifications for race/ethnicity: Caucasian, Mexican-American, African-American, American Indian, and Multi-Racial.

    Gender/Sex/Sexuality

    The Texas English Project uses the following terms to classify sex and sexuality: male/female/transgender, gay/straight/bisexual. "Gender" is a social construct that results from the combination of sex and sexuality.

    Dialect Features

    There are a lot of ways that researchers can study dialects. At the Texas English Project, we've divided dialects into four main parts: Accent, Grammar, Vocabulary, and Speaking Style. But this isn't all there is to a dialect; there are many other features that contribute to a speaker's dialect as well. We've collected these under "other dialect features". Click on a term for more information.

    Accent

    TEP Star Click the star to learn about accent!

    Grammar

    Linguists use the term "grammar" differently from most English teachers. To a linguist, "grammar" refers to the rules that speakers unconsciously follow when they put together strings of words to create sentences. These rules aren't learned in school; instead, speakers learn them by instinctively picking out patterns they hear when they're growing up. Just as every language has its own grammatical rules, every dialect has its own rules, too. When linguists say that a phrase or sentence is "grammatical" in a dialect or language, it means that most speakers of that dialect or language would agree that that phrase or sentence sounds correct or is commonly heard.

    For example, in some dialects of Texas English it is grammatical to use might could in a sentence, but only if used correctly. One of the "rules" for using might could seems to be that it can't be used when talking about something that has already happened. So, a speaker can say "I might could go to the store tomorrow." but not "I might could go to the store yesterday." Although might could is ungrammatical for many speakers of English (in other words, it sounds weird), it is perfectly grammatical for the speakers who have it as part of their dialect.

    Vocabulary

    In many ways, "vocabulary" is the most intuitive feature of a dialect. In the past, much dialect research was based on differences in vocabulary alone. Researchers asked subjects if they said things like snap beans or green beans, bucket or pail, cottage cheese or clabber cheese, and everyone's favorites, soda or pop, and you guys or ya'll. These differences were remarkably stable at the time and entire dialect geographies and dialect boundaries could be drawn based completely on lists like these. However, in more modern times, because of the ease of communication and travel across large distances, these dialect-based differences in vocabulary are dying out (...though not completely! Do you say wicked to mean something is cool or awesome? People in the Northeast do!). Although modern dialectology research doesn't rely on vocabulary lists anymore, these word-level differences should not be ignored.

    Speaking Style

    People's "speaking styles" are all the ways that they adjusts their speech to fit different situations. In formal situations, like at church or in court, many people would speak in a fairly formal style-- they would use little or no slang, speak clearly and not mumble, or use more formal forms of address, like 'Sir' or 'Ma'am'. In less formal (more informal) situations--like at a barbecue with friends--their speaking style will be less formal. So, the formality of people's speech usually reflects the formality of the situation they're in. But, where it gets interesting for linguists is that more formal speech tends to reflect "standard" features of a language while less formal speech tends to reflect more "non-standard" or "dialect-specific" features of a language. By studying how people change their speaking style, we gain a window into how they think about "standard" vs. "dialect" forms.

    Beyond such differences between "standard" and "non-standard" speech, other properties can also define a speaking style-- anything that somebody does that is distinctive about a certain way of speaking is a "speaking style". People may have a number of distinctive styles that they use from time to time and using these styles will help them to convey certain additional meanings about themselves, about their attitude toward the situation or the topic of their conversation, about the other speakers, and so on. Speakers and the people they're speaking to, rely not only on the meaning of the things we say, but also the images and contexts they evoke.

    Other Dialect Features

    There are a lot of other aspects of speech that can also show dialect-based differences... too many to list here. Have a look around the website to see some of them!

    Research Materials

    Having people read short passages or lists of words is a common way for researchers to collect data on accents. Since all the participants read the same thing, we can compare just what makes their speech different without worrying about the effects of setting, environment, a speaker's mood, etc. The Texas English Project uses a set of two reading passages and a word list to collect accent data. The two reading passages are The Rainbow Passage and Arthur the Rat, both of which are common for dialect research. For our studies, we've "reinvented" Arthur the Rat and turned it into Arthur the Armadillo to give it a Texas twist!

    Participants also read a list of words, split into four groups to make it easier on the reader. These words have been chosen because together they capture many of the sound changes currently happening in American English. Each group of words ends with a "minimal vowel set"-- a set of 16 words that are made different only by changing the vowel in the middle of the word. There are two of these "minimal vowel sets", one between the h and d consonants, and one between the b and t consonants.

    Jump to Arthur the Armadillo, The Rainbow Passage, Minimal Vowel Set, Word List, and other materials.


    Arthur the Armadillo (aka Arthur the Rat)

    Once there was a young armadillo named Arthur, who lived in a barn in Texas with his aunt Helen. Arthur and Helen shared the barn with a family of bats and a commune of rats. One of the bats, Hank, was Arthur's best friend. Most of the rats were either too young or too old to hang out with Arthur and Hank, except for one angry big-mouth rat named Dawn.

    Nobody really liked Dawn because she could never make up her mind. Whenever Arthur or Hank or her other friends asked her if she would like to go out with them, she would only answer that she "didn't know". She said neither "yes" nor "no". She would always shirk when it came to making a choice. One day Arthur got tired of Dawn's indecision and told her that no one was going to care for her if she carried on like this. Arthur told her that she had no more mind than a blade of grass.

    One rainy day, the bats heard a great noise in the loft. The pine rafters were all rotten, so that the barn was rather unsafe. At last the joists gave way and fell to the ground. The walls shook and all the bats' hair stood on end with fear and horror. Hank, the captain of the bats, decided this wouldn't do and he sent out scouts to search for a new home. Within five hours the ten scouts came back with good news. Hank flew down to tell everybody that the scouts had found a stone house where there would be room and board for everyone. There was also a kindly horse named Nelly, a cow, a calf, and a garden with an elm tree.

    The bats flew down from the rafters to direct the move; but Hank put Arthur in charge of directing the smaller animals. Everyone crawled out of their little houses and stood on the floor in a long line. Just when they were about finished lining up, Arthur saw Dawn. He coarsely ordered her to stop and, of course, asked if she was coming. Dawn told Arthur that she wasn't certain. She told him that she was undaunted because no one really knew if the roof might come down yet or not. Arthur couldn't wait for Dawn to join them, so he made an about face and just marched everyone else off, leaving Dawn behind.

    Dawn stood and watched them hurry away. She thought to herself that she might go tomorrow, or maybe not. She didn't know; it was so nice and snug there in the barn. That night there was a big crash. In the morning some men--with some boys and girls--rode up and looked at the barn. One of them moved a board and he saw a young big-mouthed rat, quite dead, half in and half out of its hole. Thus the shirker got her due.

    The Rainbow Passage

    When the sunlight strikes raindrops in the air, they act as a prism and form a rainbow. The rainbow is a division of white light into many beautiful colors. These take the shape of a long round arch, with its path high above, and its two ends apparently beyond the horizon. There is, according to legend, a boiling pot of gold at one end. People look, but no one ever finds it. When a man looks for something beyond his reach, his friends say he is looking for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Throughout the centuries people have explained the rainbow in various ways. Some have accepted it as a miracle without physical explanation. To the Hebrews it was a token that there would be no more universal floods. The Greeks used to imagine that it was a sign from the gods to foretell war or heavy rain. The Norsemen considered the rainbow as a bridge over which the gods passed from earth to their home in the sky. Others have tried to explain the phenomenon physically. Aristotle thought that the rainbow was caused by reflection of the sun's rays by the rain. Since then physicists have found that it is not reflection, but refraction by the raindrops which causes the rainbows. Many complicated ideas about the rainbow have been formed. The difference in the rainbow depends considerably upon the size of the drops, and the width of the colored band increases as the size of the drops increases. The actual primary rainbow observed is said to be the effect of super-imposition of a number of bows. If the red of the second bow falls upon the green of the first, the result is to give a bow with an abnormally wide yellow band, since red and green light when mixed form yellow. This is a very common type of bow, one showing mainly red and yellow, with little or no green or blue.

    Minimal Vowel Set

    Remember, a vowel sound, or phoneme, can be spelled with more than one letter, but it is still just one vowel sound.

    heed, hid, hayed, head, had, hod, hawed, Hode, hood, who'd, hud, heard, hide, how'd, Hoyt, hewed
    beat, bit, bait, bet, bat, bot, bought, boat, put, boot, butt, Bert, bite, bout, Boyd, butte

    Word List

    Group One
    steal, rye, pull, bomb, district, ant, heed, bet, pin, diet, tan, caught, for, yesterday
    Dawn, coarse, pill, wide, duel, psalms, hod, boot, pet, kin, fine, next, cigar, Jesus
    humble, caller, hud, bought, den, tight, bid, hock, fell, wolf, street, rice, alphabet, bother
    Ted, Kyle, stalk, cord, sighed, jail, hewed, bite, can, fold, stroller, lie, insurance, do, father
    heed, hod, hud, hewed, hid, heard, hawed, hide, hayed, Hode, hood, how'd, Hoyt, had, who'd, head
    bet, bought, boot, bite, bot, put, bait, butte, Boyd, Bert, bat, bit, beat, boat, butt, bout

    Group Two
    still, ride, cold, almost, tid, aunt, white, hid, bot, pan, strict, cot, four, dew, maniac
    wrought, sight, heel, hawed, bait, pat, old, high, just, huge, bad, Sean, pool, simple
    horrible, my, fail, palm, heard, put, lied, hawk, did, straight, Ben, Detroit, mile, get, jungle
    there, mice, hide, butte, ked, mull, guy, tin, cock, strings, card, hell, police, cow, moo
    had, heed, hood, hide, hid, hod, who'd, how'd, hayed, hawed, hud, Hoyt, head, hewed, heard, Hode
    beat, bat, put, bite, bit, bot, boot, bout, bait, bought, but, Boyd, bet, boat, butte, Bert

    Group Three
    photography, right, pen, hayed, bit, almond, tad, bought, lice, hoarse, sell, due, mule, donkey
    Dan, Boyd, Hode, stock, fore, while, they're, hill, Ken, sight, told, restriction, gizmo, Monday, shell
    Bert, tie, stale, immigrant, sign, sawed, torpedo, hail, d.v.d, hood, full, stroke, dead, monkey
    kid, mine, how'd, bat, record, stranded, bed, calm, Don, feed, light, collar, feel, hide, fishing
    head, hawed, who'd, hide, hayed, hod, hood, hewed, hid, had, heard, Hoyt, Hode, hud, how'd, heed
    bait, bot, put, butte, bit, bat, Bert, Boyd, beat, boat, butt, bout, bet, bought, boot, bite

    Group Four
    Shawn, horse, peel, tied, stroking, pin, guitar, Wednesday, had, beat, nice, jinx, ten, Sunday
    dull, who'd, why, folk, stress, mew, boat, fight, din, sod, horde, sale, height, ban, gun
    cad, Hoyt, robot, sigh, butt, their, caulk, Tuesday, fill, t.v., gel, file, dance, balm, exciting
    rot, head, dyed, bout, chemistry, bin, fool, dad, course, buy, hold, powerless, amen
    hayed, hid, hawed, hod, hud, who'd, Hoyt, how'd, heed, Hode, hide, heard, hood, hewed, had
    bit, bait, beat, but, boot, bot, Boyd, bout, butte, bite, Bert, put, boat, bat, bet, bought

    Other Research Materials

    Check back soon for more information about the research material used by the Texas English Project.