voice and race recognition

john at research.haifa.ac.il john at research.haifa.ac.il
Tue Dec 28 17:54:15 UTC 2010

Forgot to mention--Obama's 'Canadian raising' is presumably from Hawaiian
English (ultimately Hawaiian substratum), best-known from the way that
natives say the name of the state.

Quoting Johanna Rubba <jrubba at calpoly.edu>:

> As to identifying African Americans by their speech, I heard once
> that the structure of most AA men's larynx is different from that of
> whites, and this was responsible, first of all, for a deeper voice in
> many cases, and second of all, for that elusive quality that John
> refers to. I immediately pegged this as incredibly racist, but
> apparently, according to someone I respected, it was legitimate
> science. This was a long time ago. and I don't remember the details.
> This could account for a difference between black men and women.
> 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/).
> You've probably heard of John Baugh's personal experiment of calling
> about apartments for rent, sometimes using AA English, and sometimes
> standard English. He gets far more callbacks when using his "white"
> voice.
> I'm a regular NPR listener and I often speculate on both the
> ethnicity and the personal appearance of their speakers. There are
> photos of all of the speakers (and some of the people you don't hear,
> like Kee Malesky and Doug Berman) on the NPR website, and I have
> checked several of the speakers that I suspected were AA. I was right
> about Korva Coleman, Cheryl Corely, Audie Cornish, Alison Keyes, and
> Juan Williams, but wrong about Ann Taylor, Barbara Bradley Hagerty,
> and Paul Brown. In general, most of the people I've checked don't
> look at all like I would have expected. Terri Gross and the Magliozzi
> brothers look pretty much like what I would have expected, but others
> do not look at all like I expected. Interestingly, I had pegged Steve
> Innskeep as being attractive, and got pretty close to his facial type.
> A cool little experiment. Try it sometime!
> 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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