Rant: Accents and Intellect

I’m a Texan.  On any given day, I could say that as a boast or mutter it under my breath in shame.  (Which, incidentally, I just typed “Shame” as if it were a place.  That tells you something about my state of mind.)  For the most part, I like saying I’m a Texan and I like being a Texan and I wear it as a source of pride.  However, some of the things that make Texans stand out from say New Hampshirites are things that can make us a little embarrassed at times or peevish at others. (I had to look Hampshirites up, because no one actually knows what they’re called, because no one calls them.  This is a fact.  I just made it up.)


I have one. You have one.  The only place you don’t have one is likely around the people you grew up with.   Even then, you might still have a distinct accent.  For example, my friend who grew up in Decatur, Texas sounds nothing like his family.  (Jers, that’s my shout-out and I love the sound of your voice.)  My aunt also sounds nothing like my Dad or the rest of her siblings.

Here’s a really great map where you can see just how varied our accents are across the United States.

Huffington Posts: Dialect Map of US Shows How Americans Speak by Region

But let’s get back to being a Texan and our accents (yes plural, look at the map).  As a Texan you get to hear a lot of people on TV and on film take a stab at their impersonation of a Texas accent.  It’s usually cringe-inducing, because it’s almost always heavy-handed and sprinkled with a lot of “Howdy’s” as if we “Howdy” everything as we swagger from the doormat to IH-35.  I don’t “Howdy”. (Nor do I swagger, ride a horse or play with tumbleweed.) In fact, I can only name one bona fide Howdier.  You see, no one “Howdy’s” here that often and if they do they’re trying to sell you something. They’ll probably call you “hon”, too. Don’t trust them.  For the record, I also don’t know anyone name “Pardner” either.  If I saw that as a name, I’d assume it belonged to some kid whose California parents thought the name would be “cool” or “ironic”.

Now the problem is that usually when I hear that pregnant TV/movie Texas accent, I know it’s an overture heralding the movie/show poking fun at how backwards Texans are. I’m rarely disappointed.  You add “reality” + “any place in Texas” and now you’re in for some good ol’ fashioned, ratings-winning, hillbilly shenanigans.  Yee haw! So, let me just say: some people do sound that way depending on where you are in Texas and some people don’t – it really all depends on where you pullover and how big the town is.  The best popular examples I can give where you can hear what I think of as a true Texas accent (and realizing I grew up in a real live city free of cattle stampedes) are those of Tommy Lee Jones and George Eads.  Of course, they’re from areas that I grew up around.

Tommy Lee Jones – The Fugitive:

George Eads Interview:

When you come into my state from wherever the heck you’re from and declare, “you have an accent”.  Remember this: Son, I don’t have an accent in my state.  You do.

Dialect = Intellect

Here’s where the crux of my beef lies – that ignorant assumption that because I have a Texas accent, I am somehow less intelligent.  It’s worse for my Texas brethren in deep East and far West Texas, but still the arrogance gets to me.  It’s as if my dropping the “g” in any given “–ing” word cost me 30 national IQ points.  I have a related story you may have heard me tell before.  Out of college (I gots me one of them degrees and it din’t come in the mails and it ain’t in agriculture or home ec) I started my first full time job where I met this guy from Ohio.  One day I asked him how he decided to come to Texas, because as a Texan I am somewhat arrogant (especially when I forget how we’re depicted in the media) and I was fishing for some story that would make Texas sound like a promise land – that maybe a little halo appeared on the map and angels sang when he was choosing places.  Instead, he said out of college he worked for some company selling some thing and was given a choice of three locales.  He chose Texas because he knew people here were stupid and therefore would be easier marks.  My jaw dropped.  He failed in sales here, by the way.  I can’t imagine how that happened. (Sarcasm) I just stared at him and asked, “you honestly think I’m stupid?” “No, you’re smart.  In fact, you’re the smartest Texan I know.” Such an honor. (Err, sarcasm again – it doesn’t translate so well in writing.) As I became more appalled, he backpedaled and I want to say at some point he doubted that I was actually a Texan, which was his form of a compliment.  “I said you weren’t a Texan.  That’s like the greatest compliment EVER!!!” His brain couldn’t reconcile that someone could be both smart AND a Texan.

I’ve had people, based on my accent, question my education to my face. Rather bold.  Also, rather rude.  I kindly offered to compare our educations – mine, here in Texas to theirs in wherever the fuck they came from – let’s dance, monkey! They became disinterested in the subject.

So let me state again: Dialect does not equal intellect.  In other words, a drawl does not determine your IQ. Words flowing slowly don’t always mean a slow mind.  However, it shows a lack of intellect and really a lack of exposure to a wider world if you fall for that.

This is getting overly long and you’re about to drift off, but just one more tiny rant.

The Right Pronunciation

I distinguish “pen” from “pin” when I speak.  I can say “Harry” in a way that doesn’t invoke an image of fur, while my long “o” sounds would make a Canadian proud. My “get” is questionable, but on most days if I’m awake or not mad there’s more “eh” to it than “ih”.  Do something embarrassing on my front lawn and then you might hear, “git in this house right now before the neighbors see you”, because whatever it was you did shocked the “e” right on out of that word. Now growing up everyone around me said “Chester drawers” (I thought it was a type of drawer you put your clothes in, like a Chesterfield is a couch). It was a huge shock to see “chest of drawers” in an ad one day and have my world rocked.  But the most distinguishing thing I drawl are “oi” words (unless I’m traveling or making an effort). Oil, boil, roil, foil can be said as one syllable.  It’s a one syllable word.  I’ll bust it out occasionally to make my friends laugh, because you see not everyone it Texas says it the way I do.  Did I mention that map of dialects? Go back to that.  I’m ok with the way I say it, but here is my major pet peeves when pressed about it:

“That’s not how it’s pronounced.”  You want to know how I pronounce that? Oh, I pronounce that: BULLSHIT.  It’s pronounced that way in some parts of the country. In fact, there’s some argument that I’ve seen made by linguists that it is actually more correct than the more popular version.  So, let’s just say this.  You find me the person who originated the word, any word – whether it’s Old English, Middle English, Early Modern English, Germanic or in this case Old French and let’s see how they pronounce it.  I’m guessing neither of us would be close, which would make you just as wrong.  Don’t tell me it’s not how it’s pronounced and produce a bunch of people I don’t give a shit about and say “see, they don’t say it that way”.  Well, neither do a lot of people, but then again, so do a lot of people and unless you’re that French guy who originally spoke it, I don’t care.

Always keep in mind that you have an accent, too. Remember, that we backwards little Texans have our own stereotypes about you and they’re not always “Oh, he’s not from Texas?  He must be that brilliant Messiah foretold in our ancient cave drawings that will lead us out of ignorance into the glory of books and a new age of reason. I can finally stop drooling. Praise be! My degree won’t be signed in crayon!”

Oh, and that accent of yours that you find to be so swell and hold above mine?  Well, it’s not so pretty. Texans aren’t dropping to their knees in worship.  In truth, the prettiest accent I’ve ever heard comes from a Russian friend of mine who speaks with a hint of a French accent.  Unless you’re her, your accent? Not so great.

11 thoughts on “Rant: Accents and Intellect

  1. Roanna says:

    I was just thinking about this very topic on my drive up from Austin to Dallas. Not sure how it popped up into my brain — I blame I-35 like I do for most everything else. My accent shifts depending upon the person I’m talking to, where I am when I’m talking, the humidity, and whether or not I have had a martini. If I’m speaking with my Carolinian aunts, everything I say will be inflected like a question. When I’m around family, it’ll lean toward Richardson with a dash of Plano. Funny story: When I worked for The Dallas Opera, they all thought I was from New York. I do, in fact, have what I call a “city” accent. To my own ears, I think my accent is somewhere between George Eads and Elizabeth Taylor as Maggie The Cat from ‘A Cat on a Hot Tin Roof.’ Again, depends on the number of martinis and heat index…

    • Beth says:

      My accent also fluctuates depending on where I am. I remember a friend once dropping her jaw while I was giving directions to a woman in East Texas. Mostly my accent is just sort of a Dallas accent unless the “oil” words come into play and I’m not feeling like trying to correct it.. A friend of mine from Pennsylvania once said that he didn’t pick up much of an accent from me, but I had a very distinct tell – how I ended questions. For example, if I asked “how are you?” I always go up on the “you” putting a stress on that “you”. I suppose I also say “bob wire”, because it’s just too exhausting to get my mouth around “barbed. Plus, whose to say there wasn’t some guy named “Bob” who had some pointy wire to keep cattle from roaming? I also ask for things, which made a New York friend insane, “don’t ask, tell them”. I think the thought there was I made clerks who were helping me feel like I was a little “bless her heart”. We had a discussion over being assertive vs. being rude. Just a culture difference of Manhattan vs. Austin.

  2. toreetotz says:

    I hate my accent … I say car with the grace of a pirate …. arrrrgh I’m a pirate … carrrrgh I’m from Chicago! Trouble is I’m a northsider and talk like a southie … I am mocked by family and strangers alike .. not by friends as I have none … because of my accent …

  3. Tim says:

    A Great article and awesome map, would love to be able to filter layers out to see the areas a little better.

    • Beth says:

      Thank you! When I saw the map on Huffington Post, it inspired me. It’s fascinating to me to see how greatly varied our dialects are across the country (even just across a small state) Thanks for taking the time to read my post and leave a comment.

      • Roger C. says:

        Where did you grow up? I grew up out towards Greenwood and Slidell, near Decatur.

      • Beth says:

        I lived in Dallas until I was 8 and I grew up in Austin. My Mom’s family is primarily from Georgia (so there’s still a hint of that accent with the older relatives). Dad’s family is from East Texas and Alabama. My accent was doomed from early on. I have a really good friend from Decatur – who oddly enough has always sounded like he was from New York. He finally moved there. None of his family shared his accent.

  4. Roger C. says:

    Wonder if I know him. I went to Decatur schools, K-4, from 1980 till 1985.

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