LINGUIST List 7.1128

Sun Aug 11 1996

Disc: Race and accent

Editor for this issue: T. Daniel Seely <>


  1. Peter Daniels, Re: 7.1104, Sum: race and accent

Message 1: Re: 7.1104, Sum: race and accent

Date: Sun, 04 Aug 1996 12:35:33 CDT
From: Peter Daniels <>
Subject: Re: 7.1104, Sum: race and accent
A useful diagnostic for African-American English: even in speech that
is otherwise indistinguishable from Standard General American (or
whatever), African Americans often maintain syllable-final obstruent
devoicing. When I first came to Chicago, I started listening to the
local CBS radio all-news operation, and after a few weeks I had the
impression that the morning anchor, Felicia Middlebrooks, was black.
Eventually I realized that the devoicing was what I was noticing;
years later, I saw a photo of her, and it turned out she is indeed
African American. I have observed this feature frequently in speakers 
otherwise unidentifiable as to race.

Once in a while, the topic of Black English comes up on talk radio, 
and educated black speakers call in to explain how they've mastered
Standard English for use in the business world, etc.; almost always,
they are referring only to grammar and lexicon and to the familiar
"markers" (Labov's term); almost never do they realize that they con-
tinue final devoicing; often, they maintain a vocalic system different
from that of the local Standard variety.

Another observation regarding final devoicing: long ago (in summer camp.
1964-65), one of the Directors--Italian American male--had a speech
peculiarity that I later realized consisted of interchanging the voicing
of final obstruents--his voicelesses were voiced as well as his voiceds
being voiceless.
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