McWhorter on "Negro English"

Herb Stahlke hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 15 03:11:06 UTC 2010

Retroflexion of /s/ in /str/ and even /spr/ onsets is fairly common
across American dialects, but I've noticed it more consistently in the
speech of African-American speakers like both Obamas, Powell, Rice,
Eugene Robinson, Clarence Page, etc.  Is it a marker of a social
variant of African-American speech?  Or has it simply spread widely
enough that it doesn't mark much of anything?


On Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 5:44 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
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> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Wilson Gray <hwgray at GMAIL.COM>
> Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro English"
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Stick to your guns, Terry! I'm with you. If people feel that the
> opinion of any random BE speaker from the 'hood fails to meet their
> academic standards, let them talk to to the Johns, Baugh and Rickford.
> McWhorter is the academic equivalent of Michael Steele, the titular
> head of the Republican party. They both probably sleep with The Bell
> Curve under their pillows and cry themselves to sleep.
> As I've said before, considering Obama's background, IMO, his speech
> patterns are surprisingly black, whatever the circumstances under
> which he may have cause to open his mouth in public. The fact that I
> don't like McWhorter for my own reasons doesn't prevent me from
> acknowledging that his more-or-less pointing out that, for most
> non-blacks, a black person who doesn't sound like Steppin  Fetchit,
> Andy Brown, or Willie Best is speaking the
> non-existent-except-in-Fowler "standard" English is spot on. Have the
> speech patterns of Gen. Colin Powell already been forgotten? Did
> nobody pay attention to the way that he spoke as well to what he
> spoke? In contrast to Powell, Obama sounds downright Chicago
> inner-city, beyond any doubt. You don't have to see him in order to
> notice this. His speech is, therefore, unworthy of any special notice
> as though it were, somehow, distinct from the speech of any relatively
> well-educated Northern black man. But, somehow, the speech of Powell,
> IMO, all but non-distinct from the speech of any well-educated
> Northern *white* man, drew - and draws - no comment, AFAIK.
> If you, as a white person, find anything "articulate" in the speech of
> Obama distinct from the speech of any other black person, but notice
> nothing worthy of note WRT about the pattern of Powell's speech, you
> are, then, consciously or subconsciously, racist WRT your concept of
> what constitutes black speech or maybe even WRT what constitutes a
> black person. Isn't Powell a well-known speaker of English generally
> regarded as a black man and not as a white man? So, where's the
> discussion, the comparison and contrast, of their speech patterns?
> 'N' why *didn'* none a yawl never notice nuthin' special 'bout Powell speech?
> Well, as a reasonably late-comer to the set, perhaps I should search
> the archives before posting. But, like Willie, I gits ti'ed.
> -Wilson
> On Wed, Jan 13, 2010 at 3:05 PM, Terry Irons <t.irons at> wrote:
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>> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>> Poster:       Terry Irons <t.irons at MOREHEADSTATE.EDU>
>> Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro English"
>> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
>> I retract my comments about his view on AAVE.  It is more his
>> conservative views on victimology  and race that I find troublesome. In
>> that context, citing the passage from Matthew is appropriate for him.  I
>> think he fails to see that sometimes the log in the other guy's eye is
>> more the problem than the speck in my own.
>> Gordon, Matthew J. wrote:
>>>I'm not sure where you got that impression, Terry. McWhorter's views are pretty much in line with the received wisdom within linguistics. For example in the  piece linked in this thread, he says, "Black English is as systematic as standard English, and what we hear as "mistakes" are just variations, not denigrations."
>>>-Matt Gordon
>>>On 1/13/10 1:13 PM, "Terry Irons" <t.irons at MOREHEADSTATE.EDU> wrote:
>>>See Matthew 7:4-6 or Luke 6: 41-42.
>>>While McWhorter is well published, he views AAVE as a degenerate form of
>>>standard English, not a legitimate variety of language.
>>>The American Dialect Society -
>> --
>> Fraternally, Terry
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>> Terry Lynn Irons        t.irons at
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>> The American Dialect Society -
> --
> -Wilson
> –––
> All say, "How hard it is that we have to die!"––a strange complaint to
> come from the mouths of people who have had to live.
> –Mark Twain
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