How to Do a Texas AccentMar 01, 2021
The Texas accent comes up time and time again in film and television. Perhaps it’s due to the continuing myth of the old-school cowboy turning westerns into an entire film genre. Or maybe it’s because Texas seems to symbolize the American dream on steroids — “everything is bigger in Texas,” afterall.
Recent acclaimed Texas films include Dallas Buyers Club, No Country for Old Men, and Boyhood. Because Texas is the largest state in the continental USA (excluding Alaska) it makes sense that stories from Texas are here to stay. But beyond that, Texas is an incredibly diverse state with almost 30 million people. That’s 30 million different stories living in Texas, waiting to be told on stage and screen.
Read on for tips on how to perfect that quintessential Texas sound, including tips on vocabulary and pronunciation:
What Is The Texas Accent?
The Texas accent is probably the most identifiable accent out of all of the Southern states. In fact, it may be so distinct that we could classify it as its own unique dialect world.
However, Texas can be broken up into 2 specific dialect areas. The first is the Lowland accent, which can be heard in the east and on the gulf, such as in and around Houston. The second is the Inland accent which can be heard in central Texas and in west Texas, like in Dallas and San Antonio.
Be sure you get specific on which Texas sound you are going for, as the accent can vary wildly in a state that is roughly the size of France!
The Texas accent’s mouth setting tends to sit in a wide posture, with the lips corners spreading at the sides as if in a small smile. In fact, the lips themselves do very little work in this accent. Instead it’s the tongue that is the leader. It may feel as if you have a ball of energy sitting on the middle and back of your tongue as you work, and you can activate that image in your mind’s eye in order to access the sound. A slightly bunched and swallowed back of the tongue will help you launch into the accent, particularly on the consonants R & L.
The key to the Texas accent is that all of the energy must run through the vowel sounds. It will feel like the vowel sounds are drawn out, as if you are kneading bread in the accent. You can even choose to physicalize this sensation by imagining that you are actually kneading bread as you practice. Really get your body into the action of kneading bread, I promise it will help!
You may also want to feel your voice vibrating on the bridge of the nose and on the cheeks. This lends itself to that classic Texas twang, which is key to the resonant placement, particularly in the east of the state.
The Consonants R & L
The consonant R & L are both made through a distinct bunching action at the back of the tongue. This action is what creates the classic ‘molar R’ and ‘dark L’. It may almost feel as if the R and the L are a bit chewy on the back of the tongue. You can cultivate this by practicing tongue bunching in a mirror. Watch as the muscle fibers of the tongue come together towards the midline. It is the same shape we make when pointing our tongue out at someone like a small child on the playground! Try this bunched “swallowed sensation” action out on a practice sentence:
Her mother opened the letter addressed to her father.
/a/ as in PRICE
The vowel ‘i’ as in PRICE changes to a monophthong, meaning one singular vowel. This means that the mouth is held in one position and does not glide to a second vowel sound like in a diphthong. Try keeping your mouth stable on the sound /a/. It may feel as if you’re cupping a small coin on the front of your tongue. Try this out on a practice sentence:
The bride tried not to cry while her guy walked up the aisle.
Attention though! Many Texas speakers only do this when the PRICE vowel is followed by a voiced consonant. So words like life, like & dice would retain a more General American-style diphthong /aɪ/ vowel.
/ə/ as in STRUT
The vowel UH as in the word STRUT flattens out and the tongue moves forward in the mouth in order to realize the vowel. It may even feel as if the mouth itself is quite closed. Think of this like the sound you make when someone asks you ‘What do you want to watch on TV?’ and your response is ‘uhhhh…. Uhhh…’. Yeah. that sound. Try this practice sentence:
I’ve had enough of that – trust me. It’ll be fun.
Drawing Out The Vowels
Many short vowels may feel as if they are drawn out, almost as if pulling the vowel apart into 2 pieces. This is where the term “Southern drawl” comes from! In this case the vowel /ɪ/ as in KIT becomes ee → uh. The vowel /ɛ/ as in DRESS becomes eh → yuh and the vowel /æ/ as in TRAP becomes ay → yuh. Try this out on a few practice sentences:
KIT: I wish you’d get it finished.
DRESS: Kevin’s already headed to bed.
TRAP: Pat didn’t ask until afterwards.
-EN Words Become -IN Words
My favorite rule regarding the Texas accent is that ‘-en’ words will change pronunciation to sound like ‘in’. This includes:
Pen sounding like Pin
When sounding like Win
Men sounding like Min
Texas Accent Examples
Here are a few examples to get you started. I’ve include a range of Texans from different parts of the state, of varying ages, and from different walks of life:
Matthew McConaughey on Pet Peeves, First Kiss and His Dad’s Shady Deals
Ann Richards’ 1988 DNC Speech
Texas Governor Greg Abbott blames power grid operator for winter storm disaster
How Kacey Musgraves stayed true to herself - with a big payoff
There is of course diversity within Texas accents, including:
A Day in the Life of Megan Thee Stallion
Selena interview, 1994
Jamie Foxx Funny Moments on the Graham Norton Show
Master the Accent
The best way to master any accent is to listen, listen, listen. Get your ears on as many real-life Texas podcasts, recordings, and interviews. Then start to mimic. You can start slowly at first, but speaking aloud is key here. It’s necessary to take the accent on the road a bit so the more practice you have, the better.
If you want to really perfect the accent, the easiest way to do that is with a dialect coach. A coach will be able to point you in the right direction and give you specific actionable tips personal to YOU. Even 1 hour can point you in the right direction. You can find more info about 1:1 sessions with me on my website.