Is your money where your mouth is? Hiring managers' attitudes toward African -American Vernacular English

Anita Louise Henderson, University of Pennsylvania


This is a two part study about language-focused discrimination against speakers of African-American Vernacular English (AAVE). Language-focused discrimination is viewed as part of the general social structure in America which maintains that African-Americans are inferior to Whites. The first part of the study explores phonetic correlates in perceptions of race of speakers. Judges were able to correctly identify the race of 89% of the eighteen taped speakers counting from 1 to 20. Pronunciation differences between the speakers were compared to explore the salient cues that subjects may use to identify Black and White speakers. In the second part of the study, hiring managers (“subjects”) in the Philadelphia area evaluated tapes of speakers of English for personal characteristics and suitability for jobs ranked by perceived speaking ability (from Trial Attorney to Cook). Speakers include White speakers of Standard English (SE) who are both British and American; non-native, accented speakers of English, and African-Americans who perform four guises each—SE similar to that spoken by Whites, Black phonology in which no AAVE lexical items or grammatical constructions are used, Black grammar which reflects some of the unique grammatical constructions of AAVE, and Black lexical items [æks] and [pó.lis]. Results show that hiring managers of different races and backgrounds are in general agreement in their interpretation of the linguistic marketplace insofar as employment is concerned. It is best to sound like a White American who speaks SE. Those who sound Black are rated as less intelligent and ambitious and less favorably in job level. Among the nonnative speakers of English, Asian and Hispanic speakers are also severely downgraded and the French speakers less so.

Subject Area

Modern language|Black studies|Management|Occupational psychology|Labor relations|African American Studies

Recommended Citation

Henderson, Anita Louise, "Is your money where your mouth is? Hiring managers' attitudes toward African -American Vernacular English" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3003635.