I have never felt like more of a disappointment than when a blind date told me he expected I would have an accent. Apparently, being from Texas, I was expected to be a good ol’ Southern boy rather than my true self: An urban, pop culture fanatic who thinks “roughing it” means staying at a Hampton Inn.
Truth is, I’ve never had a Texan accent, nor do I know anyone in my generation who does. But I always assumed that was because I’m from Austin, a more cosmopolitan area than the stereotype might lead you to believe. According to a study by the University of Texas at Austin, the Texas English Project, that began in 2008, Austinites are not the only ones losing their accents.
In the Jan. 28 Austin American-Statesman article by Brenda Bell, titled “Is the Texas twang history?” that reported on the study, the typical Texan accent is becoming extinct as it “is being infiltrated by what linguists call General American English, a more-or-less Midwestern accent, the standard heard on TV and other spoken media.” Accents across the country, from the San Fernando Valley here in California all the way to the Jersey Shore, are being affected by the same trend, which leads those in the younger generations away from traditional speech patterns and toward the homogenized tone that has become so popular in media.
The article states, as expected, metropolitan areas are succumbing more significantly to General American English than rural areas. It also states that in the urban areas, young women are the ones picking up on the speech trends the fastest, causing their use to become more common.
Fascinatingly, the study also shows that, while the Texas drawl is dying out, several phrases and words are staying alive. The article cites one particular subject, Luke Malone, as often saying “thank you kindly” at work despite his bland Midwestern accent. Malone was born and raised in Austin, so using these kinds of phrases is probably a purposeful decision on his part to counteract the Midwestern accent that has replaced the Texas drawl.
One such word choice that isn’t purposeful is “y’all,” possibly the most common differentiation remaining between Southerners and others. The more time spent around those who don’t say “y’all,” however, the quicker the word’s use dies out, just like other regionally-specific phrases and patterns of speech. I know I personally still use the word, but soon enough my life in California will probably make my “y’all” a thing of the past.
It’s a shame that regional American accents are going the way of the dinosaurs, because they really are a way to maintain one’s culture despite geographic distance. Hearing everyone speaking with the same accents all the time is boring and just another way everyone in America can be homogenized. Accents are an unmistakable link to one’s roots, something that can’t just be changed or reappropriated like a flannel shirt or a cowboy hat. If people in our country all spoke the same, dressed the same and looked the same, there wouldn’t be much differentiation, would there?
What if the General American English accent spreads beyond just America? As the world itself becomes more intermingled and intermixed, it’s only natural that globalization would come to include accents as well. The Biblical story of the Tower of Babel says that humanity’s ambition to reach heaven led to everyone being scattered and made to speak different tongues. Are we, as a world population, destined to reach that point where we not only speak the same language but also speak it in the same way?
It’s a long-term concern, and I’m certainly not worried about everyone coming together to build a tower to the heavens, but it might be the eventual cause of the spread of a homogenized accent. All of this, of course, is a massive exaggeration. Ultimately, this problem probably won’t go farther than making everyone in our country sound similar, which is awfully boring. We should be a diverse country – after all, we are all from different states with separate identities.
I don’t particularly like a Texan accent. It’s too slow, and I’m not one who can wait for someone who talks at a snail’s pace. However, I do appreciate the accent for being different, just like all other regional accents in this country. The spread of General American English may be inevitable thanks to shared media like TV and film, but I hope that remnants of accents stay around, if only to make Americans slightly more interesting.
This is the opinion of Kevin O’Keeffe, a sophomore screenwriting major from Austin, Texas. Please send comments to email@example.com