language

Texas Standard: February 23, 2021

After a death from hypothermia, a Conroe family among the many filing suit against Texas electric grid manager. But can ERCOT be sued? Under the doctrine of sovereign immunity, a governmental entity cannot be sued without its consent. But ERCOT, a private non-profit corporation, claims it is protected too. What’s behind the claims and counterclaims mounting across the Lone Star State? Also, could technology embraced during the pandemic lead to and end to snow days for schools across Texas?Plus another lingering effect of the storm, the rise of so-called Buy Nothing groups. All those stories and a whole lot more coming up today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: January 26, 2021

In Texas’ most populous metro area, a rethink of how the COVID-19 vaccine is being distributed, we’ll have the latest. Plus, when the Texas capitol city cut the budget for its police department by almost a third last year, Texas’ governor warned there would be a price to pay. Now, with the Texas legislature in session, what the governor plans to do to keep other Texas cities from following Austin’s move. And the Biden administration’s plan to increase the minimum wage. Is now the right time and do the numbers add up? Those stories and more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: January 15, 2020

The Democratic presidential debate: the last before voting begins in this years contest. We’ll explore whether anything might have made a difference to voters in the Lone Star State. Also, wage violations: a new law likely to insulate some of America’s biggest franchises. And a unique way of talking among many Texans: has Spanglish become a language all its own? All those stores plus a Politifact check and more today on the Standard:

Texas Standard: November 27, 2019

Flu season is back in full swing… and some experts are concerned about one especially vulnerable population. Why they’re not getting shots- today on the Texas Standard.

The man behind a 3D gun blueprint company is taking the reigns again after a brush with the law. We’ll explore the legal grey area.

Landowners in the Texas Hill Country continue to fight plans for a pipeline- what they’re up against.

Plus, a language update that was 75 years overdue. The new art exhibit meant to challenge what we mean by communication. And the little-known story behind one word also used as a measurement.

Texas Standard: May 10, 2019

It’s a new rule designed to answer concerns about sex abuse in the Catholic church, although some victims say it’s nowhere near enough. We’ll have the latest. And do you remember acid rain? Problems in the Permian with a new warning from a national environmental group says recent reports by the energy industry itself indicate dangerous and illegal amounts of sulphur dioxide in west Texas, we’ll take a look. And so so-called good samaritans at the border with Mexico arrested. Those stories and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: April 3, 2019

Just two weeks after the petrochemical disaster in Deer Park, another chemical fire at a plant outside of Houston: this one deadly. We’ll have the latest. Plus: 9 dead, 20 injured, nearly 200 arrested and 4 years later, all cases dismissed yesterday without a single conviction. What happened after the Waco biker shootout? And what are the lessons? Plus, a warning about a quarter of Texas’ dams, we’ll take a look. And they call it the Rio Grande Valley, but where are the mountains? Our commentator W.F. Strong on an etymological mystery and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

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.

How We Learn Language (Rebroadcast)

Can you remember what it was like for you to learn your native language?  Probably not, but why is that?

As humans, we begin learning to speak our native language during the earliest stages of our lives, in infancy.  Most people don’t have many accessible memories from this period of development. How do we do that?

If we can learn a language in our infant stages of life, why is it so difficult to learn a second language later in life?

On this week’s episode of Two Guys on Your Head, Art Markman and Bob Duke explore how we learn a language.

Endangered Words

We have many endangered species in the world. Among the better-known at-risk animals are snow leopards, Asian elephants and orangutans. In Texas, we have the gray wolf and ocelot as endangered animals, among others. Endangered reptiles here include the Texas indigo snake and the horned lizard.

But that’s not my focus today. That’s just a segue to talk about something else that’s on my mind, and that’s endangered words. They are words that, through lack of use, or through use seemingly restricted to the more senior of us Texans, run the risk of dying out when we do. Now “y’all” and “fixin’ to” and the like are safe. They have vast popularity. They have even been observed migrating up north. My endangered list is comprised of words that are becoming scarce and may disappear altogether, only to be seen caged up in old dictionaries in the future.

I want to make sure to clarify that I’m not claiming the following words are endangered for everyone. Many Texans still use them daily. I’m just claiming that they are becoming far less common than they once were.

Mosey is one such word. It used to be quite popular and still is used often among octogenarians. But you never see it or hear it venturing out among those under 40. Often when you do hear it from someone under 40, it is used in caricature.

Reckon is another word I reckon is headed for true scarcity in the next few decades. That would be a shame because it does have a wonderful place in the linguistic ecosystem. It fills a niche and is not easily replaced. One can say “I guess,” or “I suppose,” but neither have the beautiful contemplative nature of “I reckon,” when said with eyebrows raised and tipping your hat back. It is the pronouncement of agreement reluctantly concluded.

Supper. This used to be the dominant word for the evening meal. Dinner was at noon. But as we’ve become more urban, supper has been pushed out by dinner.

Ice house and ice box. Ice house used to be a common expression for running to the convenience store or making a beer run: “Gonna run over to the ice house a minute.” Ice box is a synonym for the fridge: “Martha, we got any Blue Bell in the ice box?”

Yonder. “It seems that yonder is most popular out yonder in the country.”

To make sure I was on the right track, I conducted a survey on the net and found a few more words folks agreed seemed to be endangered:

Britches refers to pants, of course: “Get your work britches on and let’s get goin’” Britches is still used among those over 60, but not so popular among the under 30 crowd.

Cattywampus for catty-cornered. Cattywampus is one word and catty-cornered is hyphenated. Both are spelled with two t’s and neither has anything to do with cats: “The flower shop is cattywampus to the Exxon station.”

Cotton pickin.’ “Just a cotton pickin’ minute!” There could be lots of reasons for this. Many Texans over 50 or so, have memories of pickin’ cotton. Even though combines mostly took over decades ago, the expression remains. “In high cotton,” too, hangs on. It means “having it easy.”

Dreckly – sometimes said “di-rectly” – has nothing to do with direction or going straight to something. It is about time and in Texas, has the meaning of manana in Spanish. “Yeah, I’ll be gettin’ to mowin’ that lawn dreckly,” which may well mean in a few hours when I “finish watchin’ the Astros play.”

Sam Hill. “What the Sam Hill is going on here?!” My father said it so often I thought Sam Hill was a relative I’d never met, but I hoped to. Seemed that he lived an exciting life. But it was just a euphemism for “hell.” It’s used in place of “What the hell is goin’ on here?!” and since I can now say hell on the radio, you can see why Sam Hill is endangered.

Fair to middlin’ is interesting. It’s fading away as a common expression but perhaps finding a second wind by means of its malaprop. Some Texans have taken to saying “fair to Midland,” which makes sense if you are driving from El Paso, or maybe from Abilene. Fair to Midland, rain in Odessa.

And some words that many people said they believed were dying out – and sadly so – were these:

Please and thank you.

I hope not. I’ll do what I can right now to help. Thank you for listening. Please stay tuned to The Texas Standard.

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.

Texas Standard: December 7, 2017

Should a gun license be treated like a drivers license? So one could carry anywhere in the US? The house green lights a landmark gun bill, we’ll have the latest. Also, he may not be a seasoned politician, but politics has long been part of his life. The son of a former governor becomes the second democrat in as many days to announce a challenge to Texas Governor Abbott. And a warning for parents using portable electronics as pacifiers: the digital playland’s not nearly as safe as some would have you believe. Plus a major Texas newspaper calls on Texas lawmakers to shutdown the government to force the issue of funding post hurricane Harvey. Those stories and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Standard: October 27, 2017

Were the Dallas police behind the JFK assassination? Khrushchev thought so. We’ll explore what we’re learning 54 years later. Also, an undocumented 10 year old with cerebral palsy undergoes surgery in Corpus Christi and is detained by Border Patrol agents waiting outside the hospital. We’ll hear from her attorney. And non disclosure agreements are part of everyday business, but are the enabling the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world? A law professor says Texas lawmakers need to take a closer look. Plus the way we talk about disasters, the week in politics and so much more today on the Texas Standard:

Texas Contractions

Anytime I hear someone say something like this: “Y’all ‘bout fixin’ to head out?” I think it’s highly likely that they are from Texas. You have y’all and fixin’ to in the same sentence and a couple of contractions. We do love our contractions, which, if you don’t recall from your halcyon days of grammar school, are words squeezed together to make shorter ones, with apostrophes standing in for what’s missing.

“Y’all” of course, is our most famous contraction. But we have even extended its usefulness by placing “all” in front of it to form “all y’all.” It is well known that y’all describes two or more and all y’all could mean five or 500. And we even use all y’all possessively as in “y’alls’s.” I heard this sentence at a barbecue two weeks ago: “Y’all need to move all y’alls’s trucks so Carlos can leave.”

Now that y’all have heard this, I know y’all are gonna start wanting to practice your possessives, but try to wait till the lesson is finished. I’ll let you go in two minutes.

We can also use an interesting contraction for something that is owned by at least two people. “Whose dog is this?”

“Oh, that yorkie is our’n.” Our’n is a contraction of our own. It’s our’n. The expression is a bit archaic – on its last legs, so to speak – but still around if you listen carefully.

The king of contractions I believe is y’all’d’ve. It has three apostrophes in it. Three! You have to admire the muscular nature of that contraction. y’all’d’ve. You all would have. And here’s how you use it: “y’all’d’ve loved it if y’all’d’ve come.” Now just stand back and take in the magnificence of that sentence. 12 words reduced to six! That, ladies and gentlemen, is the very soul of linguistic efficiency.

Cousins of y’all’d’ve are she’d’ve and he’d’ve. She would have or he would have. “I figure she’d’ve married him if he wudn’t such a ne’er-do-well.” Or, for a more modern take, “He’d’ve already lost 20 pounds, if he’d’ve stuck with that low carb diet.”

I’m sure you’ve heard of “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” as a kind of mantra of regret over what might have been. My father was fond of it. It was his way of teaching me that I could not change the past, but the future was quite pliable.

Similar to a contraction is a hybrid word, or as my friend and linguistics professor Lars Hinrichs calls them, portmanteau words. These words are comprised of two words. “tumped” is one such word. “I tumped over my coke.” It is a combination of tipped and dumped – tumped. I don’t say it myself, but it is common in Texas and throughout the South.

“Spanglish” is a portmanteau word. It combines the words Spanish and English to describe the tendency to merge the two languages with expressions like mandar un mail (send an email) or googlear – to google something.

Hangry is a modern portmanteau, combining, of course, hungry and angry. “I’m mighty hangry for a Whataburger.” Certainly a useful word. Chillax, too, is quite in vogue these days.

And for a more Texcentric take on these hybrids we have: “texplain” – to explain Texas to others; “texpatriate” – one who lives outside of Texas but still longs for home; and “texcellent,” which needs no explanation.

That’s our linguistics lesson for today. Y’all’d’ve liked it a lot more if y’all’d’ve been listening instead of repeating everything for your immediate amusement, but that’s okay. As long as all y’all had a good time.

Nouns

Popular linguistic theories like, Sapir–Whorf hypothesis, give us the idea that language determines how and what we think. However, looking at the psychology behind how we use language points in another direction.

In this edition of Two Guys on Your Head, Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke talk about how nouns can teach us a lot about how our brains create and influence how we use language.

Texas Standard: May 10, 2017

Nixonian or something else? Texans and their political leaders come to terms with an historic move by the White House, we’ll explore. Also more on the surprise firing of the FBI director, reaction from across Texas and what comes next. Plus, new medical facilities sprouting like weeds across Texas, but are they really good for Texas’ health? We’ll hear the controversy. And a law in force since the mid sixties, one which has been largely ignored by cities across the lone star state for decades.Although now, some are speaking a different language. We’ll explain. All of that and a whole lot more today on the Texas Standard:

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.

Dyslexia

Experts estimate that between 15 and 20 percent of the general population has dyslexia in some form. Reading and writing are different experiences for those with the language-based learning disability – and we learn more about it all the time.

Tongue Twisters and Rhymes

Why rhymes are so appealing, and what makes for a good tongue twister, in this episode of Two Guys on Your Head with Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke.

How We Learn Language

How we learn language as infants and what that process can teach us about learning new languages later in life in this edition of Two Guys on Your Head with Dr. Art Markman and Dr. Bob Duke.