May 04, 2004

From black to black

Following up on this post, Julia Moore emailed with another story about cross-dialect misunderstanding:

I just read your Language Log post about puzzling accents. When I came across this line,

"Bill Labov has some impressive demonstrations of Chicago-area speech in which "socks" sounds to outsiders like"sacks", "block" sounds like "black", "steady" sounds like "study", "head" sounds like "had", and so on"

immediately I remembered a time that this happened to me.

I live in Chicago, and one night I was watching a news report about the successful capture of a man who had been robbing deaf people in a particular Chicago neighborhood. The reporter interviewed a Chicago police officer who had a strong Chicago accent as part of the segment. She (the officer) was describing how the police caught the guy and said, "We just went from black to black until we caught the guy."

I was horrified. It appeared to be a brazen admission of racial profiling in detective work caught on videotape. Then I realized that what she had actually said was, "We just went from BLOCK to BLOCK until we caught the guy." Whew!




Posted by Mark Liberman at May 4, 2004 02:06 PM