In gubernatorial race, accents change by locations

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Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

Although the accents of gubernatorial candidates Wendy Davis and Greg Abbott are different, both of their ways of speaking have been molded by the same demographic: teenage girls. 

According to Lars Hinrichs, English associate professor and director of the Texas English Project, political candidates have tendencies to take on the accent of the location in which they are running. 

The Texas English Project came to its conclusion on the accents and dialects of Davis and Abbott after analyzing YouTube videos featuring the candidates. 

“Since we have two candidates that have to brand themselves publicly — for the first time — we thought we’d look at how they use Texas English,” Hinrichs said. 

The Texas English Project looked for whose accent varied more across different mediums. Essentially, the research was trying to determine who sounded more “Texan.”

“Abbott is closer, on average, to the Texan end of the spectrum,” Hinrichs said. “Davis is more versatile.”

The study found the extent of Davis’ Texas accent depended on where she was speaking.

“In her campaign announcements, she doesn’t sound Texan at all,” Hinrichs said. “She sounds the most Texan at local rallies.”

Through the study, the project discovered Davis is catching on to a new trend in which the “eh” vowel is pronounced at a lower pitch.

“She consistently overshoots the neutral [accent],” Hinrichs said. “[Her pronunciation is] not just mainstream low. [It is] lower than low. She says ‘bad’ for ‘bed’ and ‘taxes’ for ‘Texas.’ It’s a young, feminine style.”

Hinrichs said women are more likely to pick up new linguistic trends, but research has yet to show how they perceive these trends. 

“In perception studies, you see women having stronger opinions about the symbolic value of linguistic forms,” Hinrichs said. “It’s probably not what’s going to make someone decide if they’re going to vote Democrat or Republican, but it can inform how you perceive somebody.” 

Tony Hernandez, government freshman and intern for the Texas Democratic Party, said he thinks people tend to vote for whom they can relate to more, but he personally sees the role of a candidate’s accent as irrelevant. 

“I never pay attention to accents,” Hernandez said. “The most important thing is the points you are discussing.”

Shooter Russell, government freshman and intern for the Republican Party of Texas, said a candidate’s ability to speak well is more important than the accent.

“People tend to vote for the person that sounds more confident,” Hernandez said.

Russell said he believes a speaker who knows his audience has the ability to sway an election in his favor. 

“Being a relatable orator is better than being confident, but the two do overlap,” Russell said.

Politics aside, the Texas English Project is also researching differences between East and West Texas accents and has found that the differences are scarce. 

“We think it might be at the level of speech rhythm,” Hinrichs said. “[Those from West Texas] tend to be more choppy.”

Hinrichs said the project’s study of the gubernatorial candidates is not intended to sway votes one direction or the other.

“It can’t help you make your decision — unless all you want is a straight-talking Texan,” Hinrichs said.