[I]nviting a gay man to talk about how his voice conveys gay-maleness is (scientifically speaking) just as valid as asking a straight man to talk about how his voice conveys straight-maleness, how a white person’s voice conveys whiteness, how a middle class person’s voice conveys middle class-ness, how a college-educated person’s voice conveys education, etc. But I can say I’ve never heard of such an interview from your program or any program; this is only something that gets asked of women, gay men, African Americans, immigrants, and other people who are in a socially un(der)privileged position. The questions that get asked are “why do gay people/women have to talk like that?” or “why can’t blacks speak (what we consider) proper English?” instead of “why do straight people/men have to talk like that?” or “why don’t whites know how to speak (any variety of) African American English?”, etc. There is no logical reason why we should ask the questions like the former two and not questions like the latter two.
Mark Liberman on the politics of language.
The problem is not that people use language and speech patterns to identify in-group status; that’s a given, literally everyone does it. The problem is the way the issue gets framed as a “right speaking” versus “wrong speaking”, and who gets assigned to which label.
“People speak different, brah” is, incidentally, is one of those Things Writers Have To Learn, because it’s one of those things you need to be able to leverage in prose so that not every single one of your characters sounds identical on the page. I shouldn’t be giving the same dialogue to, say, a fratboy that I would to an awkward nerd type, for example. This is a “‘Sup, bro?” versus “M-may I help you?” thing (without even touching the issue of writing out accents phonetically which is a whole other issue in and of itself). Awkward Nerd and Fratboy may very well be demographically identical in every other way,1 but they use language differently.
Oh, and incidentally? If you’re going to do this? Don’t use it purely as a differentiator between “good” characters versus “bad” characters, hey (cough every American-made thing ever cough). Protip for you there.
- Or not… but you’re imagining them both as middle class white boys in their early 20s, aren’t you? Yeah, thought so. [↩]