Study: Kansas develops new accent as demographics shift

"Latino-English" is more prominent in youths

June 17, 2018 - 10:24 am
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As the Latino population grows in southwest Kansas, its residents are beginning to talk with a new accent — even those who do not speak Spanish, a study has found.

Kansas State University said in a news release the research is part of its Kansas Speaks Project, which is documenting language change because of rapidly changing demographics.

Its researchers have found that as demographics change in the region so too does the way people speak English, The Wichita Eagle reports .

They are 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 patterns happening in Liberal are also happening in other parts of the country, 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," said lead researcher Mary Kohn.

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.

Kohn, a linguist, called it a "Latino-English" sound, and says it is more prominent in youths.

"So what we are dealing with here is a distinct accent," she said. "It's not so much that we have completely radical new ways of speaking in Liberal, as it is there is a distinctive Liberal sound that is emerging."

Kohn and students Trevin Garcia and Addison Dickens interviewed more than 90 people across the state for the project.

"For us, it's just really exciting to watch these demographic shifts happening," Kohn said in the news release. "There are changes to the demography of the region and there are linguistic changes as well. It's a real testing ground of what happens when you bring different language backgrounds together within a community in an immediate and present way."

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