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University of Pennsylvania Working Papers in Linguistics

Abstract

It is known that listeners map speakers’ voices to racial categories and that such identification can have harmful social, political, and economic consequences for African American Vernacular English (AAVE) speakers (Baugh 2003, Grogger 2009, Rickford and King 2016). While this work has focused on the production of linguistic cues used to perceive speakers’ race, recent research on the white listening subject (Flores and Rosa 2015) has advocated investigating listeners’ raciolinguistic ideologies, regardless of whether speakers command standardized or stigmatized varieties (Rosa and Flores 2017). This paper explores social perceptions of a bidialectal African American speaker when he uses African American Vernacular English (AAVE) compared to Mainstream American English (MAE). The speaker, a 32-year-old African American professor from California, recorded AAVE and MAE versions of a (2 minute) passage accounting his weekend activities, made to resemble an alibi in a criminal justice proceeding. Utilizing a matched-guise design, 116 undergraduate participants were randomly assigned to hear the account spoken in either AAVE or MAE, without background information about the speaker. A majority of participants identified the speaker as Black, as having less than a college degree, and as coming from a lower/working-class background, though listeners hearing the AAVE guise were more likely to perceive the speaker as Black and less educated than those in the MAE guise. Further, participants in the AAVE condition perceived the speaker as more likely to be involved in a gang compared to the MAE condition. That the speaker’s codeswitching resulted in racialized differences in some ratings (e.g., race, education, gang status), but not in others (e.g., class, credibility, trustworthiness) raises questions about whether codeswitching can ameliorate the well-established consequences of anti-Black stereotypes for AAVE speakers. Regardless of the presence or absence of AAVE features, ideologies attached to Black voices can still yield associations with legible Black tropes.

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