AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:
From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.
MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:
And I'm Melissa Block. Think about Texas and what makes a Texan. One of the first things that might come to mind is the twang, the way Lyndon Johnson spoke or the late Texas Governor Ann Richards.
GOVERNOR ANN RICHARDS: After all, Ginger Rogers did everything that Fred Astaire did. She just did it backwards and in high heels.
BLOCK: Well, as Matt Largey reports from member station KUT in Austin, these days, talking Texan sounds a lot different.
(SOUNDBITE OF GUNSHOTS)
MATT LARGEY, BYLINE: At Laurel Robertson's house outside Austin, she's in front of her TV.
LAUREL ROBERTSON: We're watching an NBC documentary shot in 1962 that was about my family in Amarillo, Texas.
LARGEY: And we're listening to how her family talks, including her sister, who back then has this deep Texas twang.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: This room is on top of the den, and it was built the same time the den was built.
ROBERTSON: It's hysterical. She doesn't talk like that anymore.
LARGEY: In fact, Laurel says no one in her family talks like that now. Turns out, the same goes for more and more Texans.
LARS HINRICHS: What's changed over the past few decades is that you don't automatically have a twang because you're from here.
LARGEY: Lars Hinrichs is a linguistics professor at the University of Texas. He leads the Texas English Project and, yes, that's a German accent you're picking up there. He has been comparing recordings of the way Texans used to talk decades ago to how they sound now. He's got hundreds of tapes, like this one made in the mid '80s.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: I've lived in Texas all my life. I was born in Titus County. And when I was 5 we moved to a farm near Whitehouse, which is southeast of Tyler.
ROBERTSON: Back then, students went out and recorded native Texans. Each of them started by reading the same passage.
HINRICHS: And it was a passage that had a lot of I vowels, you know, Tyler, five, Whitehouse.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN 2: In the spring, I'd fly a kite and on summer nights, we'd catch fireflies. But we called them lightening bugs.
HINRICHS: The issue back then was to study how many, and how frequently, speakers turned that 'I' vowel into an 'AH' vowel. So the AH is the more traditional Texas pronunciation.
ROBERTSON: So, Hinrichs had his students go out again in the last few years to record native Texans reading the same passage.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: I've lived in Texas all my life. I was born in Titus County. And when I was 5 we moved to a farm near Whitehouse, which is southwest of Tyler.
LARGEY: Hear the difference? And it's not just that AH vowel.
HINRICHS: For example, a more old-time pronunciation of face would be "faice" Did I do that well? A more old-time pronunciation of goose would be "gewse."
LARGEY: Both of those pronunciations are getting used less, too. But the twang isn't the only accent seeing changes. Kara Becker is a linguist at Reed College. Several years ago, she went to New York City's Lower East Side. People there have their own linguistic quirks.
KARA BECKER: One is the vowel in the word like coffee or dog. And it gets pronounced in New York like "cooauffee" or "dooaug."
LARGEY: You might have heard Mike Myers do it on "Saturday Night Live" in the '90s.
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MIKE MYERS: Welcome to "Coffee Talk." I'm your host, Linda Richmond.
LARGEY: But Kara Becker found those pronunciations, too, are also falling out of use. Now it's coffee and dog, but why? Of course, there's the media and migration, but Becker says some New Yorkers also have what's called linguistic insecurity.
BECKER: Which means that they're sort of aware that other people don't like their accent, and they might themselves not be so excited about their accent.
LARGEY: So they be consciously trying to stop doing the "Coffee Talk." The same thing goes for some Texans. Back at Laurel Robertson's house, she says people would laugh at her when she moved from Amarillo to Austin.
ROBERTSON: I said see-ment. And I said um-brella. You know, put that accent on the first syllable. And I had to consciously learn not to do that.
LARGEY: But at the same time, Texans are also really proud of the twang. It's part of them. And even if they don't use it all the time, Lars Hinrichs says they do use it when they think it's more appropriate, around family or friends. He doesn't think the twang is going to go extinct or anything. But, like a lot of regional accents, it is changing.
Especially in Texas, where more than 1,000 new people move to the state every day. For NPR News, I'm Matt Largey in Austin.