Colin Powell

Alice Faber faber at HASKINS.YALE.EDU
Thu Sep 8 18:50:44 UTC 2011

And I think we've previously discussed on this list the (in)famous City
College speech screening and classes, even in my father's day, in the
30's, more like what we might call accent reduction, though they were
tinged with a lot of unfortunate assumptions about what constituted
proper speech.

On 9/8/11 2:43 PM, victor steinbok wrote:
> Powell was born when his family was living in Harlem, but his family moved
> to South Bronx within a couple of years. I saw a TV program that profiled
> him a while ago and they did mention that his parents deliberately moved out
> of Harlem because of the kids whom they wanted to grow up in a different
> culture (from Harlem, not from their own).
> I don't know about pure English, but the 1950s and 60s City College/CUNY
> produced many of the future top US scientists, including several Nobel
> laureates. So, intellectually, I would say, it was not behind the Ivies. As
> for accents, I am just guessing that Colin Powell was largely shut out from
> AAVE most of his life--perhaps deliberately by his parents, more than likely
> at City College, and certainly within the US Military command structure. He
> was also largely an administrator and a central staffer during his entire
> military career, so I don't believe he had a field command--that would mean
> that he did not interact much with the enlisted men either. I am not going
> to speculate where, precisely, he polished his accent. All I am saying is
> that he would not have had an opportunity to develop full-blown AAVE or a
> corresponding accent (New York or otherwise). I'm sure Wilson will berate me
> for speaking about something I know nothing about...
> In some ways, I can actually relate to a part of Powell's bio. I was not
> just a child of immigrants--I was an immigrant. I tended to limit
> interactions with the respective immigrant group (outside the family), as
> did my sister (but she's 10 years younger). After spending two years in
> Chicago, most of my English was developed at MIT, where I was exposed to a
> rather diverse group of accents. Most people cannot place my current accent
> at all, although a few do spot hints of the original accent in certain
> words. But they are baffled as to where the whole accent package came from.
> It's fairly standard--sort of the national TV-anchor NJ/CA blend. After
> having lived in Boston Suburbia (Cambridge, Belmont, Brookline, Newton,
> Needham) for 22 out of the last 28 years, I've picked up little to no
> characteristic local accent (any of them, really). I am not sure how much of
> it was due to some sort of conscious monitoring--the majority of people I
> interact with on regular basis did not grow up in the Boston area.
> VS-)
> On Thu, Sep 8, 2011 at 11:33 AM, Joel S. Berson<Berson at>  wrote:
>> At 9/8/2011 03:42 AM, victor steinbok wrote:
>>> 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.
>> Which local culture was his family escaping?
>>> 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)
>> Those were presumably the days when there were still some Jews in the
>> South Bronx.  (Powell graduated from Morris High in 1954.)
>>> 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.
>> Of course -- a NYC Jew is the equal of any Ivy graduate -- and speaks
>> as pure an English.
>> Joel
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society -

Alice Faber                                    faber at
Haskins Laboratories                           tel: (203) 865-6163 x258
New Haven, CT 06511 USA                        fax (203) 865-8963

The American Dialect Society -

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