Grammar Girl's "needs done" survey

victor steinbok aardvark66 at GMAIL.COM
Thu Sep 8 07:42:02 UTC 2011

IIRC, Powell's family roots are Jamaican--in fact, his parents were Jamaican
immigrants who moved to Harlem, then to South Bronx--at least in part to
escape the local culture. Powell's entire career has been built on answering
*white* superiors, all the way from My Lai (actually, he was already a major
by then) to the Cabinet. But Wiki says something else--he had learned
Yiddish while working at a store (in high school) and he graduated from
CCNY, so in his formative years he appears to have been mostly surrounded by
NYC Jews. In this context, lack of Ivy education is irrelevant.

The reality is that Obama's "folksiness" only comes out in some speeches and
not others and appears (to me, at least) to be an example of code
switching--something that Bill Clinton was far more adapt at, but Obama
certainly does not shy away from. If he is a fluent AAVE practitioner, he
would have had to pick it up largely after law school. His political career
may well have dependent on his mastering of AAVE while in Chicago (or, at
least, the right cadence), while Powell did not have a political career at
all, as he never ran for office. That alone may explain the difference.

And here is another one, if you want to see an idiot's take on the issue (by
a person who probably has the most annoying speaking voice for TV and radio
and can't tell accent from dialect from simple cadence):


On Wed, Sep 7, 2011 at 2:18 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:

> ...
> BTW, you've no doubt noticed that Obama talks a lot less white than
> Colin Powell does. Of course, Powell doesn't have the advantage of an
> Ivy League background, probably has to go all the way back to old
> master in order to find any purely-European ancestry and is most
> definitely, by his own admission an Affirmative-Action baby. Hence, he
> probably feels much greater preaaure not to come off sounding like
> some random, ignorant-assed nigger in front of the white folk.
> ...

The American Dialect Society -

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