Date: Thu, 13 Jul 1995 14:10:14 -0400


Subject: Re: oj trial

On Thu, 13 Jul 1995, Salikoko Mufwene wrote:

In message Thu, 13 Jul 1995 08:55:51 +0100, debaron[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]UIUC.EDU writes:

I heard an nth-hand report that the attorneys in the OJ trial and Judge

Ito clashed yesterday over a prosecution question about whether some

witness overheard someone "who sounded black."

I saw the news segment on CNN HEADDLINE NEWS in which Attorney

Cochran(?) was reported to have taken offense at this characterization.

I thought "sounding black/African American" was a common phrase even among

African Americans. So I was shocked by the reaction. I remember

participating in a symposium on AAVE in which an African American linguist

was trying to articulate a distinction between "sounding black" and

"talking black." But I suppose there may be a legal dimension that I have

not perceived yet.


The witness, whose first language by the way is French, denied making any

such statement. But even if he did, the legal question becomes,

what is "sounding black"?

CNN interviewed Edward Finegan on the subject today, and Finegan did not

address any intonational/grammatical characteristics of sounding black.

He did, however, suggest that cultural social differences may manifest

themselves in the way people speak. I don't know if he was trying to say

that there is no such thing as "sounding black" as a linguistic

difference, but it came across that way. He offered no further specifics.

Although we may be able to identify stable elements that characterize

AAVE, if a non-linguist says someone "sounds black," is that person

reacting to these identifiable elements or is that person appealing to

some (perhaps bigoted) stereotypical impression? That is the legal


Do any of the subjective reaction tests reported in the literature (for

example, Houck & Davis recent article on sounding hoosier) address this


Terry Irons

P.S. Perhaps for Natalie. Usually when I reply to a posting from the

list (using either pine or elm--why are mail programs named after

trees?), the reply goes to the list. In replying to Sali's posting,

however, the reply goes first to him and then to ADS-L as a cc. Any

explanations out there?


Terry Lynn Irons t.irons[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]

Voice Mail: (606) 783-5164

Snail Mail: UPO 604 Morehead, KY 40351