Black people’s vocal intonation vs Whites’ vocal intonation

January 13, 2024
3 mins read

So you say “I talk white”
By Ambra Nykol
Another way a person can be accused of “talking white” is solely based on their vocal intonation. God’s humanity is so deep and wide, we’d all be fools if we thought every last one of us would come out of the womb sounding the same.
I don’t think it’s racist, inflammatory, or insensitive to suggest that as a whole, black people (like many other races) have a distinct sound to their voice.
Even being raised in the same surroundings, two people of different ethnic backgrounds are not guaranteed to sound the same. There are times I can talk to someone on the phone or hear them on the radio and tell they’re sure enough “a brotha” based on the sound of their voice alone.
This is of course, not always the case. When someone breaks this stereotype *cough* Alan Keyes, we brand them as “white-sounding”. In a few cases, I would concur, but it usually has absolutely nothing to do with words, intellect or rhetoric. It’s purely based on vocal intonation.
Language is an interesting thing. For whatever reason, as a society we’ve decided on what is socially acceptable and what is not. This is fine, since that is of course the inherent nature and purpose of a society. However, I think the idea of language is in desperate need of more intelligent discourse. We need to do a little bit of talking about talking.
Based on my above definitions, I don’t “talk white”.
I speak in proper English most of the time. There is nothing about proper English that equates itself to whiteness. In addition, I tailor the English language to fit me or whatever idea I’m out to express.
I like to throw in common slang in the midst of plain old words. I’m one of those people who can change up my language style in a matter of seconds. I have a preferred way of speaking, however being thrown from environment to environment has given me a broad scope of language and its uses.
Two people of different ethnic backgrounds raised in the same neighbourhood are not guaranteed to sound the same
Depending on the situation, certain protocol is in order. When I’m at the office and I answer my phone, I recognize what’s appropriate. When I’m addressing a group of young people, I can often get their attention by dropping a loose expression they wouldn’t expect me to know (conservative nerd that I am) in the midst of standard English.
I am a firm believer in the prolific nature of the English language. Most people haven’t even mastered that. Everyone should have the foundation of standard English and an understanding of its grammatical elements.
However, from there on, people should be free to choose the manner in which they choose to express themselves at any given time, yet knowing that there are consequences for their choice of speech in any given situation.
Teaching standardized English effectively is the biggest hurdle for our school systems to jump. Even in a perfect world, with a mass of students well-versed in standardized English, black kids will still be accused of “talking white”.
The bigger picture is human nature’s continual attempt to make distinctions. The distinctions are there, but they have less to do with education and intellect, and more to do with environment and expression.
A few weeks ago, I came upon a jewel on the internet called the Urban Dictionary. I was enthralled for about two hours. It’s probably one of the more intelligent things I’ve come across in awhile.
People were dissecting street slang, and other commonly socially-unacceptable expressions with grammatical elements. Not only do you have to be creative to do this, you have to be smart too.
The focus on equipping this next generation with an understanding of standardized English will be important. Nevertheless, I caution us that when we do this, we should expect to see even more slang and butchering of our highly revered lexicon as my generation is intent on breaking out of the box in everything. Language will be one of them.
Editor’s note: The first part of this piece was published yesterday

Ambra Nykol is a columnist for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer,, Seaspot magazine and Modestly Yours. She owns and blogs at
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