Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Political codeswitching?

Was just listening to Randi Rhodes Show — which I seldom do — and she was on a tear about Oprah's speeches in support of Obama. She's slamming Oprah for "turning into a Black preacher", calling it "an act", "creepy", among other things. "It's just not the way Oprah speaks", etc.

Now, I don't actually know Oprah Winfrey personally, and never watch her show. But I gather that switching how she talks is part of who she is. Consider this chunk from a blog post giving her far more grief than Randi Rhodes on a wide range of topics:
Irritating quality number 617: Oprah's constant dialect shift. Never content to accept her crown as the voice of the goods-crazed white mother, Oprah is known to shift in between several different dialects, accents, and speech patterns during a single broadcast. A somber, intellectual tone is replaced two seconds later with a southern drawl in the midst of Paula Deen. The white Oprah will turn on a dime to morph into black Oprah without the aid of a phone booth for changing purposes.
This writer claims to do closed captioning for Oprah's show, and if that's so, has paid close attention to Oprah's speech. I take that to suggest that Oprah's repertoire does include this kind of style.

Rhodes has gone into great detail comparing this to Hillary Clinton's "pandering" with a switch to African-American tinged speech. Leaving aside the wrinkles in that story (long story short: Clinton was mostly reciting lyrics). Clinton surely doesn't speak the variety she was referencing and it's at least plausible that Oprah speaks the one she was using natively or near-natively.


Anonymous said...

The conversation on Randi's show has lasted two hours. Everyone has been talking about it. Randi herself has said she wanted only to spend 10 minutes on it. It's so telling that this should get so much play that we desperately need to have this conversation about race...

Mr. Verb said...

Two hours? Glad I had to shovel a ton of snow (probably LITERALLY a ton of snow).

And yeah, we really need to have this conversation about race, class and language -- all tightly intertwined in this one little matter.