voice and race recognition

Johanna Rubba jrubba at calpoly.edu
Tue Dec 28 16:32:06 UTC 2010

I suggest you look into language attitudes research. A good start is  
Ellen Bouchard Ryan and Howard Giles' classic book _Attitudes towards  
language variation_, 1982, Edward Arnold publ., ISBN  0713161957.

There has been a great deal of research on impressions made on people  
by hearing a voice. I conducted my own little experiment once in  my  
classes. I took clips from a radio story on welfare in which various  
people were interviewed -- a black man, a Hispanic woman, a white  
man, a white older woman (all unemployed), and a white college  
professor commenting on the situation. I did my best to use clips  
that did not give away the person's socioeconomic situation. My  
students were able to identify the ethnicity of the speakers (the  
white man spoke nonstandard English) and even speculated (correctly)  
on their education level. You may even find a similar study regarding  
matching voice to photos.  One of the most revealing tests is the  
"matched guise" test, in which a fully bidialectal reader reads a  
text in each dialect. That reader's readings are mixed in with a  
number of distractors so that the listeners don't recognize the voice  
when they hear it the second time. Sure enough, the listeners rate  
that speaker differently depending on the dialect of the reading.  
Tests have been given asking people to rate speakers on intelligence,  
reliability, attractiveness (I think), friendliness, etc. The  
attractiveness element might affect the choice of photo in a test  
like the on you're looking at.

Voice isn't the only cue people use. I read about a study in which  
stories told by schoolchildren of various ethnicities were read by an  
adult reader onto a recording, which was then played for a number of  
teachers. Their task was to estimate the child's chances for success  
in school based on the structure of the story. One of the children  
was an African-American girl who told a story in a style different  
from the mainstream style (which, by the way, is taught and enforced  
in school). The black teachers rated the girl very highly; some said  
hers was the best story. The white teachers rated her story very low,  
and predicted that she would do poorly in school and maybe even have  
emotional problems!! The story is featured in Lisa Delpit's _Other  
People's Children_, a book on the impact of cultural differences on  
both school instruction and teacher education.

Good luck with it!

Dr. Johanna Rubba, Ph. D.
Professor, Linguistics
Linguistics Minor Advisor
English Dept.
Cal Poly State University San Luis Obispo
San Luis Obispo, CA 93407
Ofc. tel. : 805-756-2184
Dept. tel.: 805-756-2596
Dept. fax: 805-756-6374
E-mail: jrubba at calpoly.edu
URL: http://cla.calpoly.edu/~jrubba

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