A Primer on Speaking Texan

Texas Flag map copyWhen my niece accompanied my aging mother from California to Texas to see me graduate with my doctorate about 12 years ago, she was amazed. “It’s so green!” she said. “Everyone has swimming pools and the houses are so big!” I asked her if she expected cowboy boots and tumbleweeds, and from her look I suspected the answer was yes.

Texas is a land of surprises. It is about as varied as the United States is. We have mountains (and snow!), deserts, prairies, swamps, forests and big cities. And much of who Texans are and how they behave is directly tied to their history. They have a long record of self-sufficiency going all the way back to the Alamo. During the Civil War, when all the men were away fighting in Virginia and Tennessee, Comanches raided the frontier again and again, and that war didn’t end until 1875.

But even if you don’t know much Texas history, it doesn’t hurt to know some of the basic rules of speaking like a true Texan.

1. If you are from anywhere out of state, you are a Yankee. I moved here from Idaho 18 years ago, and they still consider me a Yankee.

2. Small towns and big cities speak differently. Most metro people speak with no accent, with a few keeping a faint accent. If you want traditional Texas dialect and vocabulary, you need to visit some small Texas towns like Marfa, Rainbow and English.

3. Y’all. I had a graduate professor tell me that “you guys” wasn’t proper English; the correct term was “y’all.” A week after we arrived in Texas, a local radio station explained: “‘Y’all’ is singular, ‘All Y’all’ is plural, and ‘Y’all’s’ is possessive.”

4. Courtesy. If you’re addressed by an Texan below the age of 21, don’t be surprised to hear them say, “Yes, ma’am,” and “Yes, sir,” regardless of whether they know you or not. That’s instilled in them since they’ve been able to talk. If you’re addressed by an adult–especially a waitress–don’t be surprised to be called “Darlin'” and “Sweetheart” regardless of age or gender.

5. Common colloquialisms.

a. Fixin’. You don’t say, “I am planning on doing it.” It’s “I’m fixin‘ to do it.”

b. You’re gonna wanna. Don’t say, “Turn left here.” Instead say, “You’re gonna wanna turn left here.”

6. Geography. Texas is not in the South. Most Texans don’t even think of the state being in the Southwest. That’s because Texas used to be its own country at one time. Texas is Texas, as many residents will remind you. I went with a college group to Canada years ago. Someone asked us, “Are you from the U.S.?” I answered, “No, we’re from Texas.”

Courtesy and friendliness are a big thing here. When  I moved to Illinois from California, I had a hard time fitting into what I considered an eastern, restrained culture. You had to be known before you were accepted, or so it seemed. Texas is very western. People here, for the most part (you can always find jerks wherever you live) are very friendly. My next door neighbor, someone I haven’t even learned the first name of, insisted that I use his brand new riding mower even though I have one of my own. And, as I said earlier, much of that comes from a history of living on the frontier where neighbors had to help each other constantly.

Texas takes a while to grow on you, especially if you arrive in the summer, like we did. But it has some great parts too. And it’s big: huge. After 18 years, we still haven’t explored all of it. And even though I am still considered a Yankee, Texas is my home.