voice and race recognition

Angus B. Grieve-Smith grvsmth at panix.com
Tue Dec 28 17:43:54 UTC 2010

On 12/28/2010 12:06 PM, Johanna Rubba wrote:
> I'm not sure I'd recognize that Barack Obama was (half) AA merely by 
> his voice. I certainly have mistaken black speakers for white any 
> number of times. I just listened to some clips of his speeches on 
> YouTube and I do hear the voice quality I think John is talking about. 
> He monophthongizes his /ai/'s sometimes, but also does Canadian 
> raising on them. I don't detect any of the other cues that usually 
> flag an AA voice for me (e.g., glottal stop at the end of words that 
> end in /t/).
     Obama is also a fluent speaker of Hawaiian Pidgin:


     My impression is that Obama has incorporated just enough features 
of Black English into his speech to say "I'm black!" but not enough to 
justify criticism for speaking "bad English."  I'm sure that his Kansas 
background played a big role in his election wins in Plains states, and 
I wouldn't be surprised if there were a linguistic element to that.  It 
would be interesting to see a systematic study of this.

     I'm also intrigued by the idea that there may be anatomical 
differences.  Obviously, they wouldn't be common to everyone with 
African ancestry, given the tremendous anatomic variation within the 
African continent, but they may be prevalent among the African-American 

				-Angus B. Grieve-Smith
				grvsmth at panix.com

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