Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Do you speak Asian?

Why yes, I probably do!

A CUNY paper presented last week (by a white guy) at Experimental Approaches to Perception and Production of Language Variation (how this conference name collapses neatly into ExAPP2010 is unknown to me) suggests that native English speaking Pacific Asian Americans are racially identifiable by voice, even if the linguistic "differentiation may not rise to the level of a systematic dialect" (Newman).

While other speech communities may have more salient dialectal differences, Asian Americans are not without distinguishing linguistic behaviors. Cues (non-determinative) may include vowel quality, breathiness, syllable cadence, and voice quality. None of these provide strong evidence for AA-ness on its own.

A set of eight (2 Chinese Americans, 2 Korean Americans, 2 white Americans, 1 Latino, and 1 African American) women, and the same distribution in another set of men, were asked to read the same super exciting passage:
A wily coyote led sharpshooters armed with tranquilizer guns on a merry chase through Central Park before being captured on Wednesday. At one point, authorities tried to corner the animal in the southeast corner of the park, by Wollman Rink. The clever creature jumped into the water, ducked under a bridge, then scampered through the rink ground and ran off.
 Men were more successfully identified than women were, and Asians were the least accurately identified.

More from Michael Newman:

  • "Native Asian American English: the recognition and acoustic correlates of Asian American speech"
  • "Can New Yorkers identify Asian-American speech? A case of perceptual dialectology"

This kinda thing boils my nerd blood. I would love to have been a part of this study. I've long wondered about and suspected the findings. After all, it's usually pretty easy to tell when a singer is Asian.

1 comment:

  1. I've also noticed that Asian-American guys often speak differently, and wondered why. Often their pronunciations are a bit more effeminate, though differently than the stereotypical gay guy. I'd like to hear you read that paragraph!