MLK tidbit

Nancy Elliott nelliott1 at EARTHLINK.NET
Mon Jan 15 16:02:42 UTC 2001

For Martin Luther King Day, here's a linguistic tidbit about Southern AAVE

In MLK's 1963 "I have a dream" speech, King (born in Atlanta) is 85% r-less,
115 out of 135 tokens (the rhotic pronunciations are virtually all in a
stressed or unstressed central V).  Compare Miami-born actor Sydney Poitier
in Patch of Blue (1965) at 69% and in Guess Who's Coming to Dinner (1967) at
62%... versus Philadelphian Bill Cosby in Mother Jugs & Speed (1976) at 11%.

Thirty-seven years later, Jesse Jackson (born in South Carolina) was still
79% r-less in his speech at the 2000 Democratic National Convention -
187/237 tokens - (but rather than being purely phonologically conditioned,
it looks like his rhotic tokens are mainly a few lexical items such as
'workers' - both syllables, 'center, deferred, surplus').   A fun contrast
to him is Ted Kennedy, whose r-less rate in his DNC-2000 speech was 11%
(27/252 tokens), confined mainly to the words 'mother,' 'brother(s),' and
'seniors' - but not 'father.'  (Oh, and Caroline Kennedy's address at the
DNC was 0% r-less.)  I'll eventually get to the other African-American DNC
speakers (M and F) so I can compare them.

Happy Martin Luther King Day,

Nancy Elliott
Southern Oregon University

More information about the Ads-l mailing list