voice and race recognition

Moore, John moorej at ucsd.edu
Thu Dec 30 17:58:27 UTC 2010

I was an external member on a music qualifying exam many years ago, where the proposal was to investigate exactly this.  The student described it as a distinctive 'timber'.  However, in the exam it because clear that neither she, nor anyone else on the committee were able to understand that phonological features of different speech varieties and timber might be different things (it surprised me as 'timber' has a clear technical meaning in music).  Try as I might, I couldn't get the idea across that, for example,  AAVE vowel quality, was different from 'timber', in the musical sense (although in the phonetic sense it does all come down to formants, but that was far beyond that discussion).  After the qualifying exam I was replaced with someone with more background in race theory.  


On the other hand, Andre Cooper, who's a phonetician and Black and a big opera
fan, once told me that no matter how much Black woman are trained as opera
singers, there's always something distinctive about their voice quality
(although obviously we're dealing with a pretty small sample here).

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