Dialect

Texans Have A Funny Relationship With The Letter ‘R’

Texas Monthly once described the joke I’m about to tell you as THE TEXAS JOKE because of its staying power over many decades: A married couple from out of state were driving across Texas and saw a sign that said “Mexia 22 miles.” They got into a bit of an argument over how to say the name of the town. He said it was likely “Mex-ee-ah” and she thought it was pronounced more like the country “Meh-ee-co” and would thus be “Meh-hee-ah.” The argument persisted and he said, “We can’t settle this. Tell you what. First place we come to in town we’ll pull over and ask them.” So they did. They pulled in at the first place and went up the girl at the counter and he said, “Can you tell us how to say the name of this place? And say it slow so we can hear it clearly.” The girl thought the request was crazy but she leaned forward and said, “Day-ree-queeeen.”

That’s an old joke, I know, but I use it as a segue to get to where I’m going. Of course nobody says “Meh-hee-ah” or “Mex-ee-ah.” “Muh-hay-ah” is common but so is “Muh-hair.” That’s right, many people around those parts call it “Muh-hair.” Don’t know why. There’s no “r” in the word, but in Texas there’s something about an “r” that we adore.

We do this to Refugio, too. Again, there is no second “R” in Refugio. It’s a Spanish word, Refugio, meaning refuge, but we find it dialectically comfortable to exchange the “g” for an “r.”

There’s a well known and much traveled street in Houston that everyone pronounces as “Kirk-in-doll.” There is no “r” in the word at all. We could send in crack troops on a search and rescue mission and they’d never find an “r”. We just throw one in there for the hell of it, I guess.

And if we are not adding an “r” we simply move it to where it’s more convenient for us. In the Hill Country, it is a river named the Pedernales River. Again a Spanish word, Pedernales. It means flints. We could just anglicize it to Pedernales but we find that “r’’ to be inconveniently located so we move it up front where we can keep an eye on it and make sure it doesn’t get away from us. We say, “Perdenales.”

Go on down south of Refugio about 100 miles you will come to Riviera. Well, that’s the way it ought to be pronounced because it is spelled just like the Riviera in France, for which it was named — perhaps just an attempt at good marketing. True, it has a few million less people, no rivers, no film festival and no world class beaches. But it’s not pronounced the same either. It is pronounced “Ra-veer-ah.” So the “r” is still there but we get rid of that annoying detour caused by the unwanted “i” and replace it with an “e” to compliment that other “e” – to streamline our way to the “r.” Much better. Otherwise we might sound French. It’s a confusing adjustment because mostly we Texans have never met a diphthong we didn’t like, but in this case we seem in a hurry to get to the “r” so we straighten out the approach.

Though not a place, we do something similar with “Brahmer.” It’s Brahman, of course, technically, but we like the aesthetics of the word better if we exchange the “n” for an “r”: “That’s a beautiful Brahmer bull you got there.”

And we must include “Whataburger,” too, often pronounced “Water-burger.” Gotta get in the extra “r”.

And many of us do it with prostate, saying prostrate cancer instead of prostate cancer. Extra “r” slipped in. I think that “r” is borrowed from the notion of lying prostrate.

Yes, something about an “r.” We put ‘em where they’re not. We move them within the word. We streamline our way to them and make exchanges that better suit our Texas style, irregardless (there’s another one) of what may be thought of as formally proper.

You Talk White (Ep. 1)

Delve into the history of the “black southern dialect” and hear about the insecurities and expectations when speaking in white or intellectual spaces. DaLyah and Jackie discuss the shaming that comes from friends and family when not speaking “black” enough. Their guest is the author of “Sista, Speak! Black Women Kinfolk Talk About Language and Literacy,” Dr. Sonja L. Lanehart.

Might Oughta Talk About Texas Grammar

In Texas we are mighty big on the word “mighty.” Mighty is used as a ubiquitous adjective. Mighty pretty, mighty ugly, mighty expensive, etc. The word “might” (mighty’s cousin) is popular, too. It is used in place of maybe. Instead of saying, “maybe I can help you Sunday,” we say, “I might be able to help you on Sunday.” “Might” works with verbs to give us an impressive menu of options for conditional expressions like might could, might would better, might oughta, might’ve used to, and even the steroidal conditional tense: might woulda had oughta.

Taken out of context they can sound odd and even wrong, but when heard in conversation, they come to life and seem, well, mighty normal to many of us. I want to point out that Texas is a diverse state of varied dialects. Many Texans would never use this folksy grammar, but there are many who prefer it’s adorned utility. And there are many who would never talk this way at work, but slip into these comfortable rhythms when they get home. Some of us are bi-dialectal.

Let’s begin with “might could.” It is often used to answer a question:

“Would you go with me to the movies Friday night?” “Might could.”
“You figure you can fix the starter on my truck?” “Might could.”

“Might would better” has a good deal of appeal. It is used often as a command. You hear it in Western movies:

“Sherriff, you might would better think long and hard ‘fore you pick up that gun.”

Or you can use it as a self-directed, thinking out loud, suggestion:

“Well, I might would better get on to bed. Long day tomorrow.”

“Might would better” is also a future tense conditional verb, something that might be done differently in the near future.

“On second thought, I think they might would better drive on down here Friday night.”

“Tell you what, she might would better just divorce that man.”

“Might oughta” is often used in kind of shaking one’s head over poor choices:

She might oughta thought about those bills before she quit a job without havin’ another.
He might oughta known not to tease a rattlesnake, especially with a short stick.

For an uncertain memory, we have, “might have used to.”

“I might have used to stay there when I was in Dallas, but I can’t say for certain. “

Or:

“I’m sure I might have used to know how many feet was in a mile, but now that you ask, I can’t recall.”

And here’s the mighty king of the conditional tense: might woulda had oughta. Linguists call this modal stacking, like verbal legos – just keep piling on verbs to see how high you can stack them. “Might woulda had oughta” is way outside the bounds of standard English.
When my wife, an English prof and proud member of the Grammar Police, hears such verbal anarchy, she wants to call in the swat team. But I find “might woulda had oughta” admirably creative. It’s like watching Lebron James fly to the basket and do a mid-air spin to reverse dunk between two defenders. Magic.

In redneck culture, it’s comfort grammar. Here’s an example:

“They might woulda had oughta sold that house about ten years ago before it fell apart on ‘em.”

“They might woulda had oughta listened to me when I told ‘em not to buy a used pickup that was owned by a teenager.”

The famous southern linguist Jeff Foxworthy has pointed out how useful “used to could” is in Southern speech. He says people ask, “Do you dance?” Some respond: “Used to could.” Even “used to could” is used in modal stacking. “Might have” often precedes it. “You know how to program the TV remote?” “Might have used to could, but not anymore.” See? Saves you from unwanted work. Here’s another instructive example: “Can you tune up my 98 GMC Z-71?” Well, I might have used to could, but mighty doubtful about it now.”

I’m W. F. Strong. These are Stories from Texas. Some of them are mighty true.

Texas Standard: August 6, 2015

Texas’s strict voter ID law struck down? Not so fast. Despite what you may have heard, voters are still very much in limbo. Also, deja vu for an embattled attorney general who faces even more legal trouble, this time possible contempt over same sex marriage laws. We’ll explain. And the FCC may well cut the cord on the telephone, we’ll hear what it means for Texans.
Plus, turning the dialect on and off…for southern politicians, indeed southerners at large ..is it phony or something subconscious?