Abstract

Abstract:

The 1968 Fair Housing Act protects consumers from discrimination based on membership in protected classes, such as their gender, race, and ability. There is a large gap, however, between what this policy seeks to protect and the lived experiences of certain individuals, since many listeners continue to link the production of non-Standard speech varieties with social stereotypes. In light of the findings of Purnell et al. (1999), who demonstrated that such judgments negatively affect housing access, this study was designed to determine if linguistic profiling remains observable in the contemporary housing market. Through an audit of ninety publicly listed rental properties in three demographically heterogeneous Knoxville, TN, neighborhoods, the study analyzed the effects of using three different American dialects: African American Language (AAL), Mainstream US English (MUSE), and Southern American (SA). A single, multidialectal speaker asked property managers questions about each unit and neighborhood. The outcomes were assessed in terms of (i) the caller’s success in gaining an appointment to view the property and (ii) the relation of dialect and neighborhood to the phenomenon of local prestige.

A key finding is that using non-Standard voices produces significantly better outcomes in neighborhoods with demographics that match those of the indexed social characteristics of the given non-Standard speech variety (e.g. Blackness with AAL in zip code 37914). Results from an attribute assessment are also reported, revealing how general listeners categorize and respond to speech used in the audit study. Analyses of attribute assessments reveal that three very different character profiles emerge from a single person’s speech varieties. These results have stark policy implications, as these linguistic profiles develop without listeners having made accurate or consistent identification of social information—like the race of the speaker—in their percepts. Federal antidiscrimination policy must be adjusted to protect individuals who experience voice-based oppression—in the housing market and across institutions. This study adds to the growing evidence such individuals can use to challenge FHA violations in voice-only contexts.

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