Language and Societies

ANT/LIN 5320 at Wayne State University

In Front of the White People: Black Speech, White Perceptions, and the Effects on African American Health

In Front of the White People: Black Speech, White Perceptions, and the Effects on African American Health

Glenda Wyatt-Franklin

Black speech or African American Vernacular English (AAVE), a variation of Standard American English (SAE) commonly attributed to African Americans, has been a volatile topic in recent decades. Despite wide disagreement about its use, there is a general consensus that Black speech is perceived negatively among many people in the United States. These perceptions translate into assumptions that often result in practices such as housing and employment discrimination. Though it can be argued that substandard housing and lack of viable employment opportunities have an indirect effect on health, it is probable that American standard language ideology permeates the views of health care professionals, resulting in more direct health effects. This paper proposes to investigate whether the use of Black speech may have implications for the delivery of health care and for health outcomes. A review of the literature shows that treatment decisions among physicians are commonly influenced by race-based bias. However little (if any) scholarship has been produced that explores the effects of the use of Black speech in the health care setting and whether it contributes to biased assumptions that impact treatment. Do health care professionals have more favorable perceptions of African American patients who use Standard American English or who lack (or suppress) a Black accent? Does the race of the clinician influence these perceptions? How might these perceptions impact care? This paper does not intend to answer these questions, but rather to establish the need for research that can provide answers as well as spark related questions.


April 6, 2015 - Posted by | abstract


  1. This topic really touches home for me because when I am around other individuals that are African American I have been accused on trying to sound different or in their terms “more white” and it is not the case that I am trying to suppress a black accent, I just never really lived around that accent and therefore never talk with a “black accent.” I do agree that the accents we have can really affect our employment status. The issue you are talking about is a common concern in the black community. I know a few relatives that claim to have this issue.

    Comment by Theia | April 20, 2015 | Reply

  2. It is an interesting topic worth studying. Accents, dialects or speech can determine the tribe you belong to and the region you come from and based on that many assumptions can be made from society, of course some of these assumptions are biased and not true! For example, in my country, it can clearly be determined from your accent if you belong to a tribe, originally from the country, or if you are an immigrant. Sadly, many people from the western side of the country, who have a heavy accent, try to hide their accent if they are applying for a job in the capital city, where more tribal people live. It gives them more chances to get the job or get a raise. The accent or the way you speak is definitly linked with power. Its sad that I have tried to change my accent when I used to work in a hospital just because people around me didn’t think that its a legitimate language to speak with.

    Comment by Suha | April 26, 2015 | Reply

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