In this edition of “Texan Translation,” Lars Hinrichs, professor of English at the University of Texas at Austin and the director of the Texas English Linguistics Lab, tells us what’s significant about the accent of baseball legend Ernie Banks.
Banks was born in Dallas in 1931, and was raised there during segregation. He then went on to have a Hall of Fame career with the Kansas City Monarchs, of baseball’s Negro Leagues, and with the Chicago Cubs. In a video clip from the National Visionary Leadership Project, banks talked about playing professional baseball during segregation.
“We slept on the bus. Go to the store, get some sardines, peanut butter and crackers. Get back on the bus, sit in the back, and then, when the bus was ready to go, you’d start eating and goin’ to the next town,” Banks said.
Hinrichs says Banks used a variety of English dialects, and that unique combination is what defines his accent. One of the things Banks did, for example, is omit the “t” in “slept.”
“We call that consonant cluster reduction,” Hinrichs says. “All dialects of English have some form of that where, like, multiple consonants in a row get reduced to just one or two.”
But he says that’s more common to so-called African-American English than to the way many Southern, English-speaking white folks talk.
Here’s another quote from Banks in 1977, when he was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame:
“I once read that a person’s success is dependent upon not only the talent that God gave him, but also upon the people who believed in him. This is certainly true as it concerns my own personal baseball career. Sure, I was the one who played the games. But if it not had been for people who believed in me and gave me encouragement, there would be no games, and I would not be here today,” Banks said.
Hinrichs says what stands out to him is how Banks said “career” – he dropped the “r” at the end. But also, the way he pronounced the “e” is indicative of a conservative, formal Southern accent.
“It sounds a little like in old movies. It’s again his specific mix of – you hear he’s African-American, you’ll hear he grew up in the South, and this is one of those more general Southern features,” Hinrichs says.
In one clip of Banks talking about spring training, Banks’ Southern accent really comes out.
“Then you get to the ballpark, and again you meet. And you know, you just kinda get familiar with each other and you start getting on the field, running – mostly running, a lot of running. Throwing, catching, getting into your position. Doing things you would do during the regular season, but following the manager’s guideline,” Banks said.
Hinrichs says the way he said “guideline,” in particular, is very Southern: he emphasized the syllable “line,” and morphed the “i” into more of an “aye” sound. He also dropped the “ing” from the end of words like “running,” turning it into “runnin’.”
“He sounds so relaxed and informal,” Hinrichs says. “But not anti-formal; he doesn’t speak any slang.”
All this reflects Banks’ upbringing as an African-American in Texas, Hinrichs says.
Later in life, Banks had three children, and lived in California with his fourth wife, Liz. He died in 2015.
Written by Caroline Covington.