Kaitlyn Alanis, Wichita Eagle, June 13, 2018
Residents in southwest Kansas are starting to speak with a distinct, new accent as the Latino population continues to grow — and the accent is most prominent among young people.
A research team at Kansas State University has found that as demographics change in the region, the way people speak English also changes.
The team is calling this new way of speaking a “Liberal accent” or “Liberal sound.” Liberal is a Seward County, Kansas, town of about 25,000 people. About 59 percent of the town’s population was Hispanic or Latino in 2010, according to the U.S. Census. Just a couple of decades ago, Liberal’s population was about 20 percent Latino, the K-State news release says.
The sound change, which lead researcher Mary Kohn calls a “Latino-English” sound, is more prominent in youths — including those who do not speak Spanish.
Kohn told K-State that the patterns she has noticed are on a phonetic level. That means it deals with sounds.
In a video, Kohn said there is a distinction in the pronunciation of “aaa” or “nnn” sounds. As an example, in varieties of English, there’s a distinction between the “aaa” sound in “hat” and “hand,” Kohn said. The sound change happens as speakers raise their tongue.
But in Liberal and other southwest Kansas communities where the accent is developing, Kohn said the sound doesn’t have a distinction in words like “hat” and hand.” That’s because the mouth is still in an open-jaw position, she said.
The research is part of K-State’s Kansas Speaks Project, which is documenting language change throughout the state. The team is focusing on southwest Kansas because of rapidly-changing demographics, the release states.
She said the patterns happening in Liberal are also happening in other U.S. regions, including rural communities in Texas, California, New York and Florida. Latino populations are rapidly growing in those areas as well, according to K-State. It’s also similar to how the Minnesota accent developed through “northern European immigration to the region.”
“It’s something that we see all over the U.S., and it’s characteristic of what happens when you have large immigration patterns affect the demographic of the region,” Kohn said.
The difference, though, is that in southwest Kansas, younger European Americans are speaking English that also mimics the “rapid and evenly timed sounds” of the Spanish language, K-State reported.