Dr. Lars Hinrichs, The University of Texas at Austin – Best Smile

Jan 2, 2014

This week we’ll be featuring five winners of The Academic Minute’s Third Annual Senior Superlatives.

Dr. Lars Hinrichs of the University of Texas at Austin won in the Best Smile category with this Academic Minute that explains why many features of Texas-English are disappearing.

Lars Hinrichs is a linguist and assistant professor in the Department of English at the University of Texas at Austin. His previous research project studied the use of English and Creole in online communication by Jamaicans. He is currently Director of the Texas English Project, which researches the different kinds of English spoken in Texas. He holds a Ph.D. from the University of Freiburg.

About Dr. Hinrichs

Dr. Lars Hinrichs – Disappearing Texasisms

As a linguist coming from Germany who specializes in the English language, I was elated to be offered a job at a university in Texas, an actual English-speaking place, to teach and research English dialects. To me, nothing is more exciting. There's so much to discover in a dialect you haven't studied yet. Vowel qualities, different ways of saying things, and a way of seeing the world that is expressed in the sounds and grammar of the dialect.

Vernacular Texas English is highly recognizable in all those regards of course. I quickly found out that you can't study Texas English without talking about the end of something. 50 years ago, a lot of Texans pronounced the word Washington as if it had an r in it, as in Warshington. Now, there's very few people alive who say it that way. Why is that? -- In Texas, most of the ongoing changes are, in some sense, losses of old, Texas-Twangy forms of speech. The dialect pronounces the white carb-rich side rahs, but most urban Texans in 2012 say rice. What Texans used to call a polecat is now called a skunk. Sure, the twang is going to stick around in rural areas for a while longer. In major cities, however, it's fading quickly. Luckily, it ain't dead yet.

People just choose to use the Twang less frequently. Because our world is getting so highly networked, speakers want to sound like they are a part of mainstream America at some points throughout their day, while they like to express their Texanness at other times. And so, the Twang will stay around as a choice for a while longer. By the way, there is also good news: the most Texan word of them all, y'all, is actually being used more not just by Texans, but by people all over the country.

Production support for the Academic Minute comes from Newman’s Own, giving all profits to charity and pursuing the common good for over 30 years, and from Mount Holyoke College.