STEP

NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

  • 1.  NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-16-2019 10:17 AM

    A new study, scheduled for publication in June in the linguistic journal Language, provides insight on how using black dialect could also impact African-Americans in courtrooms. As the story indicates "If the court reporters are missing the story," "the jurors are missing the story." What are your thoughts?

    Read the Story
    https://www.nytimes.com/2019/01/25/us/black-dialect-courtrooms.html



    ------------------------------
    Andrea "Deedee" Moxley
    Rockville, MD
    ------------------------------


  • 2.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-16-2019 11:04 AM
    ​This is not a new problem. We talked about this very phenomenon back in the mid-80's when I was a Justice major at the University of Alaska; except the population that we were speaking of was Native Alaskan defendants. There were no official research studies at the time, this was just based on the experiences of some of the police officers in the room. One of them said "We haven't learned to  listen to what they are actually saying, we hear Native speech with White brains." He talked about arresting people whom he thought had admitted to committing a crime, but then finding out that what they said meant something quite different than what he thought they had said.

    Standard American English has always seemed like a fictitious construct to me. I don't think there is a standard. I sure don't use the same dialect as someone from New Hampshire, or Maine, or Wisconsin, or Mississippi. Even in my own state there are significant dialectical differences; it isn't too difficult to tell whether a person is from the city of Boston, the city of Worcester, the city of Fall River, or the city of Pittsfield based on something as simple as asking them to read the sentence "Bobby and I drove over the mountain in our car to get some water."

    ------------------------------
    Katya Bowen
    Pittsfield, MA
    ------------------------------



  • 3.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 08:10 AM
    I agree that this is not a new problem; however, it is an issue that many believe does not exist. As a black woman, this article simply highlights much of what black people and other people of color are exhausted to fight (not me😂), as it has been said time and time again.

    I've read this article and it solidifies the need for communication specialists in all areas simply because hearing and comprehension are not the same. We know that!! As no person's testimony nor personal communication should be left up to interpretation of the listener, it's silly to believe that all communication is the same even if we are saying the same words. There are times when words are what they are and meaning is indicated by all of the rules of Prosody and suprasegmentals, but we know that dialectal interpretation can not be done by people who don't know the dialect. Courtroom stenographers have to be fast, but there must be a way that they can document what was said rather than their or someone else's interpretation of what was said. 🤷🏾‍♀️

    Communication gets misconstrued in daily life. Such is true of any relationship: two people using the same language can, at timest easily misinterpret what the other is saying. Why is the court system or any other judicial communication any different?

    And why is it that there has not been any uproar about this sooner?The answer is that any issue of racial disparity will continue if governed and controlled by those with little belief in racial disparity and their refusal to do anything about it. You can't fix something that you don't believe exists.

    The solution is always to have people at the table with the  ability to hear AND comprehend.

    ------------------------------
    Jasmine Young
    Guntersville, AL
    ------------------------------



  • 4.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 08:35 AM
    ​Jasmine, you are absolutely correct.

    One of my thoughts then, and now, is why we are relying on courtroom stenographers when digital recording can be so precise? If a transcription is needed, then fine; have a "live" courtroom stenographer, and then have another, separate person listen to the recording and transcribe it. If there is a discrepancy then it needs to be investigated. This seems pretty simple, but it astonishes me that we continue to rely just on the auditory processing capability (and lack of bias) of one individual in matters of such great importance.

    The fact that we do such a thing further underscores your point because it means that they don't do it because they don't think it is needed. If they don't think it is needed, then they are not recognizing--which is ridiculous--that the issue of dialectical variation has a direct impact on the outcome of trials for people who don't speak the dialect of the predominant power group, i.e. S.A.E; or, even worse, they are choosing not to acknowledge it because the predominant power group never has to worry about such things.



    ------------------------------
    Katya Bowen
    Pittsfield, MA
    ------------------------------



  • 5.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 09:04 AM
    I completely agree with the process of court stenographers needing to be changed.  I have sent this article to my aunt who is a stenographer and am eagerly waiting her response.  I do know that she transcribes the cases live using a shorthand (the stereotypical typewriter like thing with the long receipts), and then at home goes through the short hand while listening to a recording to write the full transcription.  There is a slight allowance for correction in this method, but still allows for significant human error.  I've previously asked her how it is possible for so much of her job to be completely from home, because she only goes to court rooms once a week, the rest are completed with her listening and transcribing over the phone.  I can only imagine the further errors this creates.

    I feel this topic of concern exists outside of the courtroom as well though.  I work in a SNF in a very low income area, so more than half of my caseload is a minority of some sort, however, the staff does not share the same ratio.  I frequently get referrals for cognitive concerns from social work and admissions for patients with an AA dialect, and more often then not there is absolutely no reason for this referral.  I frequently edu staff, however, this continues to be a concern.  I have even gotten referrals for patients who are bilingual and make substitution errors between the two languages.  I often feel my education falls on deaf ears but unfortunately don't know how to make a change beyond frequent education.

    ------------------------------
    Brittany Mikajlo
    Somers Point, NJ
    ------------------------------



  • 6.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 11:38 AM


    This is a very important topic.  I believe it would significantly affect not just speakers of African Amercan Dialect--the article title is a misnomer, in my opinion and highlights race rather than ethnicity.  There is an equally likely chance that accented-English is misunderstood as well. 


    Sincerely, 


    Nola T. Radford, Ph.D. CCC-SLP, BCS-F
    Professor & Director of Clinical Education & Clinical Research
    University of Tennessee Health Science Center
    Department Of Audiology and Speech Pathology
    Board Certified Specialist-Fluency
    American Board of Fluency and Fluency Disorders

    Hearing & Speech Center
    1600 Peyton Manning
    PH: 865-974-2672







  • 7.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 01:03 PM
    So I spoke to my aunt who is a stenographer about the article and she agrees with the article endorsing the need for training in dialects in school. She explained that the written part of the transcription is the focus and they are never taught about understanding what they hear or dialects. She also explained that some court reporters add grammar to make it grammatically correct, but they do it naturally and don't even realize it. She lives in Long Island and works in NYC, which is obviously diverse. She explained that the company she works for tries to have AA or Hispanic court reporters assigned to cases with those dialects/accents to decrease risk of errors, but she did explain a couple of interesting examples that she has experienced that seemed relevant.

    One was recently she had a case that involved a child. She couldn't figure out if the child was saying white or wet and actually had to stop him to clarify because she didn't want it to be wrong.

    The second example she gave was one of the cases she was doing over the phone. One of the witnesses was a doctor who has an electrolarynx, so not only did she have the experience of transcribing speech in a manner she had never heard before, it had the added distortion of the phone.

    I did also learn that my above comment was incorrect as far as what is recorded. It is the phone cases which can be recorded and can be reviewed, in person ones are not. Apparently it is a source of debate among court reporters because having a recording actually decreases transcription accuracy because of background noise and possible equipment malfunction. She said that there have been cases thrown out because of using audiovisual recording and then not being able to be accurately deciphered.

    ---------------------------------
    Brittany Mikajlo
    Somers Point, NJ
    ---------------------------------





  • 8.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 02:38 PM

    This is such an IMPORTANT topic! So glad this discussion is taking place!






  • 9.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 09:49 AM
    In response to the discussions being held pertaining to the article, as a white woman who has worked in predominantly Title I schools (for those who are not familiar with the educational system, Title I is lower SES) and served these communities over the past 30 years, I am very aware that the words used often do not represent the intent of the speaker.  Many dialects, including those of the southern states vary vary among each state and subsection of the state. I am in total agreement that a person from the state and is knowledgeable of the dialect should be part of the judicial team when documents are reviewed prior to any conviction or sentencing.  I do know that the court reporter writes exactly what is said so it is critical to have that document reviewed for meaning.

    I am not  saying there is a need for a certified speech pathologist be the part of the judicial team (heaven's knows we are already critically short), but it should be a person with extensive knowledge in dialect being spoken. This will assure the intended meaning of the transcription review is the actual meaning of the individual who spoke the words.  Coming from Florida (the south east coast) there are so many dialects her and include a wide array of Spanish-English, varying northern (NY, NJ) on the east side and on the gulf side Mid-West), as well as southern dialects mid state to more typical of states neighboring near the panhandle as well as the considered African-American differences within each region since this too varies.  This is a great example of the need for specific needs just within one state.

    ------------------------------
    Debee Tanzer
    Deerfield Beach, FL

    If there are no dogs in heaven,
    When I die, I want to go where they went!
    Mark Twain
    ------------------------------



  • 10.  RE: NY Times Article: Speaking Black Dialect in Courtrooms Can Have Striking Consequences

    Posted 05-17-2019 10:25 AM
    Debee Tanzer, I completely agree and I'm not sure how you do it in such a diverse setting as Florida state.

    This is a constant discussion in Phonetics class when discussing dialects and looking at the American Voices map of dialects. Florida is always a question from my students and we always enjoy a robust discussion about "why" Florida is an outlier. Haha! So, thank you for what you do! It's important to have specialists in these areas.

    I agree, we are overloaded as a discipline!

    I just want to place special attention on the last, laughable, paragraph in the article that the person wanted a "lawyer dog". You don't have to know dialect to understand that was NOT the intent. Any time watching the original American Idol could help you learn that. *Insert hard eye roll! :)

    ------------------------------
    Jasmine Young
    Guntersville, AL
    ------------------------------