Mebbe we don’t tawk so funnee enny more
Willis Webb

Some folks who visit Texas or who move here to take up residence think we natives “tawk funnee.”

That was perhaps more true two or three decades ago when “Texiz” was the predominant language. The state is large enough that there were even regional versions of our “native tongue.” East Texas, for instance, could have stepped right out of the Old South. West Texans’ drawl fit the lexicon of cowboy-cowgirl.

Second languages also came into play and, of course, even affected regional Texiz accents.

Spanish has long been a prominent language in Texas, starting in the Valley but now spreads pretty much statewide.

In Southeast Texas, along the lower Sabine River and the upper Gulf Coast, spillover from south Louisiana brought a Cajun-Creole flavor.

A number of Central Texas and Hill Country communities have a significant population of German heritage with a somewhat smaller number using Czech as a second language. Polish settlers in Central Texas and the Hill Country provided yet another second language. Then there are those of us who have no second language (unless you count Texiz as second to English).

As a matter of fact, 25 years ago I stood in one of two lines in a Central Texas post office behind two gentlemen who were conversing in German. In the second line there was, for that time in that town, a rarity — two Hispanics and they were conversing in Spanish. The two gentlemen speaking in German stopped and one of them turned to the Hispanic pair and berated them (in English) for speaking in a “foreign language.”

Listening to languages other than English being spoken is a disturbing reminder of an “easy” college quest for a bachelor of science rather than the bachelor of arts degree, which would have required me to take a foreign language.

My Spanish, other than ordering from a Mexican restaurant menu, is limited to less than two dozen words, such as buenas dias (good day, if speaking to a female) or buenos (male) noches (good night).

In French, there is even more of a personal dearth — laissez les bon temps roule (let the good times roll). What else would you need to know for a trip to New Orleans? Worse, with that limited language knowledge, one so lacking would be totally disarmed by a French menu.

Despite some time years ago in an area where first and second generation Czechs held forth, my understanding of that language is limited to “jak se mas” (how are you).

Also, “sprechen sie Deutsche” (do you speak German?) and the answer is “nein.”

One word you learn quickly in a Czech, Polish or German community in Texas is “polka.” It means to become completely worn out dancing.

Of course, as we move into third and fourth generations of Texas settlers with some heritage in one of the aforementioned nationalities, the differences in accent (Texas vs. anywhere else) become less discernible. Unfortunately, it also means some of the legacies of those cultures have been reduced by modernity.

One of the original attractions to Texas for settlers of Czech, Polish or German descent was the promise of success in agriculture, particularly farming.

Over time, the trend from small farms to very large operations quite naturally brought about a migration toward the metropolitan areas where they are being joined by people from other states.

In Houston, for instance, accents become a bit homogenized. “Y’all” becomes “you guys” and, if you dig enough into the census data, you’ll find that a native Houstonian more than 30 years old, is significantly less than a majority. That no doubt applies to Dallas or any other Texas metropolitan area since that is where the significant growth has occurred in the last 25-30 years.

Those who’ve moved here from other states and countries have done so for something Texans say similarly to any other state: e-c-o-n-o-m-y. Business is pretty good in the Lone Star State.

So, mebbe peepul don’t thank we tawk so funnee enny more.

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2011-01-27 digital edition

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