McWhorter on "Negro English"

Laurence Horn laurence.horn at YALE.EDU
Fri Jan 15 04:44:54 UTC 2010

At 11:27 PM -0500 1/14/10, Wilson Gray wrote:
>I've not noticed this in BE, myself, though I find it to be quite
>common in the speech of whites.

We have discussed this in the past, I'm pretty
sure--reading Herb's and Wilson's comments I get
the strong feeling of déjà lu, so I'll add what I
no doubt did on other occasions, which is that
I've noticed this retroflexion in the speech
patterns of a number of white New York City area
speakers including those from areas (like Long
Beach on the south shore of Long Island, where I
went to high school) where I didn't notice
hearing it 40 years ago.  A number of speakers
who have the "shchreet" pronunciation seem to be
of Italian-American backgrounds (e.g. both Mike
[Francesa] and the Mad Dog [Chris Russo] back
when they were together on sports talk radio) but
I have no way of knowing whether this was
statistically significant.  On the other hand,
another Italian-American sports talk host on the
same station, Joe Benigno, doesn't (I don't
think) have the retroflex clusters but, on the
other hand, he does have positive "anymore",
which always strikes me as going oddly with his
non-rhotic delivery...


>  Unfortunately, now that this claim has
>been made, there's no way for me to check it in my own speech, because
>I'll be monitoring it. As a WAG, I'll say that it's not present in my
>speech, because the act of retroflexion appears to require special
>effort and, no doubt, if that was a normal feature of my speech, the
>retroflexion would be automatic and, therefore, would seem to require
>no special effort at all. But, of course, you never know.
>I have the horrible example of my friend who says "skreek," unless I
>bring it to his attention. Then he says "street" and maintains that he
>never uses any other pronunciation, apparently with no conscious
>knowledge of the way that he speaks when he's not monitoring himself.
>On Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 10:11 PM, Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at> wrote:
>>  ---------------------- Information from the
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>>  Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
>>  Poster:       Herb Stahlke <hfwstahlke at GMAIL.COM>
>>  Subject:      Re: McWhorter on "Negro English"
>>  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?
>>  Herb
>>  On Thu, Jan 14, 2010 at 5:44 PM, Wilson Gray <hwgray at> wrote:
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>>>mail header -----------------------
>>>  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:
>>>>  ---------------------- Information from the
>>>>mail header -----------------------
>>>>  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
>>>>  (*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)
>>>>  Terry Lynn Irons        t.irons at
>>>>  Voice Mail:             (606) 783-5164
>>>>  Snail Mail:             150 University BLVD UPO 604 Morehead, KY 40351
>>>>  (*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)=(*)
>>>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>>  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
>>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>>  The American Dialect Society -
>>  ------------------------------------------------------------
>>  The American Dialect Society -
>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
>The American Dialect Society -

The American Dialect Society -

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