In an interview with the BBC World Service, which aired on August 12, Linguistics graduate student Kelly Wright discusses a study in which she adopts different accents during telephone conversations and measures people’s responses.
“In 30 milliseconds--in the space of a breath--we can place age, gender [and] race in a voice,” explains Wright in the interview. “What my research shows is that we also hear trustworthiness, level of education… basically compatibility… and that affects how we interact with a person going forward.”
The research is particularly timely in light of two new films--Spike Lee’s “BlacKkKlansman” and Boots Riley’s satire “Sorry to Bother You”--in which black characters adopt specific dialects to achieve particular outcomes.
In her own research, Wright calls upon her ability to speak using various dialects.
“It’s not performance,” says Wright. “These voices are part of who I am. They represent where I’m from and what I do. It’s basically the same thing as being bilingual. Multidialectalism--it’s a mouthful, but it’s a necessity of American life.”
Listen to the full interview with the BBC World Service.