seeking AAVE/SAE matched guise speech samples

Dennis R. Preston preston at PILOT.MSU.EDU
Fri Sep 7 12:46:16 UTC 2001

The difference between southern white and black speech is of
long-standing linguistic interest. These recent messages overlook a
couple of intereting line sof enquirey.

1) Why would African slaves have simply learned Southern white
English? Why wouldn't they (in such large numbers) have contributed
to the development of the variety?

2) What we know suggests that the present-day Southern variety of US
English is not a long-standing one at all. That is, fairly recent
changes have brought about what we think of today as Southern.

3) The ability to distinguish one ethnic group from another on the
basis of speech may not always lie in the characteristics most often
studied by dialactologists (although recent work by John Baugh in his
work on "linguistic profiling" shows that distinctive features of
pronunciatrion are indeed salient in such identification). Different
voice settings (e.g., creaky voice), different intonation patternms
(woefully understudied in US dialectology), and different "ways of
speaking" (various poragmatic features) may be much more important
than vowels and consonants.

I leave lexicon, morphology, and syntax out of it, although all play
important roles, but this discussion sees to have focused on


PS: Would somebody send me some tapes of General American? It's the
only US dialect I don't have in my collection. I'd love to be able to
play it for students.

>In a message dated 9/6/01 1:31:17 PM Eastern Daylight Time, bergdahl at OHIO.EDU
>>  ... and anecdotal evidence from the older generation of linguists, e.g.
>>   Raven I. McDavid, attested to the fact that white southerners were often
>>   "heard" in the the north as "black" on the telephone.
>This makes sense.  Most African-to-be-American slaves were imported into the
>Southern US, and the distinct phonetics of the AAVE "accent" could have
>arisen from people speaking West African languages learning the "cornpone and
>magnolia" English of the US South.  Hence AAVE would be closer to Southern
>than to General American.
>Is the above correct?
>(Hmmm.  We now have another synonym for AAVE: "cornpone and cassava")
>I am hardly an expert on dialects, but having grown up in Kentucky I have no
>trouble distinguishing Southern from AAVE.  (Also from such unusual dialects
>as Mountaineer.  Then there is my brother-in-law, who is from Oldham County.
>Every once in a while we have to explain, "No, he's not drunk.  That's the
>way they speak in Oldham County.")
>I guess many Northerners just are not as familiar with Southern English as
>they think they are.
>         - Jim Landau (normally tin-eared, but not always)

Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
East Lansing MI 48824-1027 USA
preston at
Office: (517)353-0740
Fax: (517)432-2736

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