What defines being “articulate”

First day out on the presidential campaign trail, Senator Joe Biden of Delaware unknowingly steps on a racial land mind by depicting his most formidable competitor, Senator Barack Obama, “articulate.”?

The reaction to his blunder has brought out politically correct histrionics by politicians and has also bought up historical baggage for many African Americans.

A seemingly innocuous word “articulate,”? however, has become a loaded word today in our cultural lexicon. Depending on the users’ tone, tenor, and intent the word can be received as a compliment. But when it is not, the word is unquestionably a put-down suggesting a speech disability due to a person’s race, accent, and even U.S. region they reside in.

For example, many African- Americans are offended when whites use the word “articulate”? as a back-handed compliment to express their astonishment by our masterful elocution of standard English. And regardless of our varied class, educational and professional backgrounds Black English, pejoratively called Ebonics, is thought to be our native tongue.

But the word “articulate”? is also far out of reach in depicting folks with strong regional accents. And the regional North-South divide on the issue of which accents sound pleasant to the ears or are linguistically correct has created a cacophony of completing opinions and very little middle ground. While many southern accents, for the most part, are stigmatized and mocked, nothing is more linguistically recognizable than the southern drawl associated with the Deep South. Its lengthening of certain vowels has come to be derogatorily depicted as a slow and lazy speech pattern attributed to the region’s heat, where people commonly say “y’all”? instead of “you all”? when addressing a group of people.

But as a girl from Brooklyn, where our accent competes mightily with New Jersey’s, I was shamed out of my accent when I left home to attend an elite Ivy-League college in New England, and forced to adopted an acceptable accentless tone, free of regional characteristics. I began to sound like I came from nowhere, but now I was perceived by my peers as “articulate.”?

There is a cadence to all accents that makes language musical and colorful. And having one does not make you less articulate than not having one- but there is nonetheless a bias. And for Biden, Obama’s isn’t associated with the group he identifies with. That’s where Biden messed up.

Published in The Metro and Black Commentator, March 1, 2007.

Comments are closed.