Sounding Black


Friday, October 16, 2009

Black is not just a skin color; it's a quality of voice. Sarah Jones, the Tony Award-winning performer, talks with linguist John McWhorter about what it means to sound black today. They look at how Barack Obama has used his "blaccent" to drive audiences wild. Produced by Studio 360's Derek John.

    Music Playlist
  1. Do You Know What I'm Sayin'
    Artist: Ugly Duckling
    Album: Fresh Mode
    Label: Fontana
    Purchase: Amazon
  2. Dmi We Meet Again?
    Artist: Jon Brion
    Album: Synecdoche, New York Soundtrack
    Label: Lakeshore Records
    Purchase: Amazon


Derek John

Comments [11]

Aliza Hausman

Wow, that was so great. As a bilingual speaker (English/Spanish), I could really relate to the comments on code-switching.

Oct. 27 2009 12:41 PM
Agnes Liem from New York, NY

I loved this piece, what a wonderful and eye opening article! I live in one of the most diverse and open cities in the world. I've now realized that when conversing with friends of mine who are black, they speak to me in meticulous English without any accents but switch to their "Black-cent" when speaking to other African Americans...just like President Obama. I wonder if he realized that he was code switching?

Oct. 19 2009 09:23 AM
Jack Leggett from Chestertown, Ny

I've been using the term 'blaccent' for years and I'm so glad to hear that it is in fact an acceptable term in linguistics! I've always pondered the source and reason for a blaccent and I found this episode absolutely enthralling, plus I'm blown over by Sarah Jones's ability to imitate the various voices.

Oct. 18 2009 11:07 PM
Nancy from Croton, NY

What a terrific piece. I listened in the car on the way home from the vet, and just sprinted (with sick cat) into the house to catch the end of it. Perhaps we'll hear another Jones/McWhorter conversation someday?

Oct. 18 2009 11:46 AM
David Brown from NW Georgia

John McWhorter's assertion that the American southern accent is attibutable to the historic presence of African slaves, is a huge oversimplification. I come from a race of Scots-Irish mountaineers who never owned slaves and probably never saw an African unless they went down to the coast. The interaction and influence of the confluence of many cultures worked both ways. Many African slaves at first spoke no English at all. The south had Native, Spanish, French, German, Swiss, Dutch, and English groups, just to name a few.


Oct. 18 2009 09:16 AM

Loved this! It's a shame that the way our society is built necessitates code switching, but it's also fascinating how people of color can switch on a dime, like being bilingual in one's own language.

Oct. 18 2009 06:18 AM
C. Rowley from Baltimore, Maryland

Outstanding piece. I was instantly drawn in as I was driving this afternoon and listening. Too bad I had to get out my car (I came here to download it)! A "black-cent", my new favorite term.

Oct. 18 2009 12:28 AM
Ashton Spann from Manhattan, New York, NY

Well, y'all jus' shut my mouth! LOL

Oct. 17 2009 04:34 PM
regaliz from The Netherlands

Very interesting to hear a 'name' for something most people know and hear, but never knew about it having a definition something like 'black sense' (is this well written?). Very interesting item for giving us listeners some thoughts about things we know, but are not aware off. And enjoyable to listen to!

Oct. 17 2009 04:17 AM
Mim Golub Scalin from Richmond, Virginia

I really enjoyed this piece. Yes, code switching, and Sarah and John sounded like they really enjoyed their conversation together.

Oct. 17 2009 12:15 AM
David Atkinsond from Bethesda, MD

Too good!

Oct. 16 2009 06:35 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.