HOUSTON, Sept. 25, 2012 — -- J.R. and Sue Ellen had it on "Dallas." The Texas twang. The "y'all" and the "howdy" -- that slow drawl that is part Southern charm, part Western swagger and pure Texas.
Yes, oil is still king in Texas, and it's easy to find a Longhorn (cow or football player), cowboys and a rodeo if you are in the mood. Neil Armstrong's first words from the Moon were "Houston, Tranquility Base here, the Eagle has landed."
Barbara Voyce is a transplant from Illinois, and she quickly learned how to say "y'all." "It replaces the Midwestern 'you guys,'" she says. Her two children grew up saying "y'all." At her favorite coffee shop, pretty much everyone she meets has learned to adapt.
But the accent is fading, as people move here from elsewhere, and as media homogenize all regional accents into one American English sound.
Stephen Murdoch, a Rice University professor who once ran the U.S. Census Bureau, understands the demographics of what has happened in Texas.
"The population in Texas has exploded because of migration from other states and other countries," he said. "It most certainly affects the Texas twang because so many of the newcomers are Hispanic and live in the urban cities of Houston, Dallas, Austin and San Antonio."
But says Murdoch, if you are really longing for a down home Texas accent, go west to towns like Amarillo or Lubbock. The rural areas of Texas that depend on ranching and farming and oil exploration haven't grown as rapidly so you are more likely to hear a drawl.
Country star George Strait understands the power of the Texas twang -- it is integral to his music and his identity. His lyrics celebrate the Lone Star State's identity:
"There wouldn't be no Alamo
No Cowboys in the Super Bowl
No 'Lonesome Dove,' no 'Yellow Rose'
If it wasn't for Texas."
Blame the economy. It is so much better in Texas than other parts of the country. Because of the oil and natural gas boom, people are flocking to Texas for jobs. The lure of jobs makes up for the traffic and the 100-degree summer heat.
Politicians understood the power of the drawl -- on both sides of the aisle, from President Lyndon Johnson to former Speaker of the House Tom DeLay to Gov. Rick Perry. Former Gov. Ann Richards delighted the Democratic National Convention in 1988 with this zinger about the Republican presidential candidate, George H.W. Bush: "Poor George, he can't help it. He was born with a silver foot in his mouth." It was her Texas accent that made the punch line so memorable.
Yes, real Texans do talk like that. Lyle Lovett certainly does. Not so much actors like Jim Parsons, who hails from Houston, or Renee Zellwegger, from the town of Katy, Texas. Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith of "Charlie's Angels" were both Houston girls but didn't really drawl. But they were actors, so it didn't pay off as much as it does for a musician or a politician to maintain that Texas persona.
The beauty of a state like Texas is this: It embraces all comers. Come on down, make yourself at home, get a job, and make a fortune.
So even though most of the newcomers to Texas don't drawl yet, there is still time to learn the lingo. You know the saying, "I may not have been born in Texas, but I got here as fast as I could." Which means you still have time to learn how to say y'all? Repeat after me. Y'all. It's easy, and it will get you good service if you say it with a smile and remember what your mama taught you about please and thank you.