Say you’re a young person living in Liberal, Kansas—a small town in the southwestern part of the state, home to about 20,000 people—and someone you know does something fun without you. “I told my friends from Liberal that I had gone to Vancouver to present some research,” says Trevin Garcia, who just graduated from Kansas State University. “As soon as I said that, they were like, ‘Oh yeah, TFTI.’”
“TFTI”—pronounced “tifty”—stands for “Thanks for the invite,” Garcia explains. It’s used in a sarcastic way: “Someone does something that the other person would have liked to get in on, but didn’t find out until afterwards.” Ironically, he adds, it’s a bit of an exclusive phrase itself: “It’s very rarely that I find someone from outside of Liberal using TFTI.”
The kids from Liberal are doing something else unique, too. According to new research from KSU, they’re beginning to develop a distinctive new accent. Garcia and his advisor, linguist Mary Kohn, studied the speech of people from Liberal, and compared it with the speech of Kansans from other parts of the state. They found that, likely because of the increasing number of Hispanic residents, people in Liberal are now speaking English with certain Spanish inflections. This is true even of residents who don’t speak Spanish.
Garcia, who graduated from Kansas State University this past May, spent most of his young life in Liberal. “It’s a really interesting community, just because of how fast it went from being majority white to majority Hispanic,” he says. Kansas overall is quickly becoming more diverse, and meatpacking plants in the Southwest continue to draw many immigrants from Mexico. In 1980, 20 percent of Liberal’s residents were Hispanic; today, that number is 60 percent. “It’s a huge demographic shift in a really short amount of time,” says Garcia.
Read more: Atlas Obscura