I notice that Hillary Clinton has come in for some criticism for slipping into a Southern accent when talking at a black church. It sounds horribly fake, to be sure.
Still, I have a bit of sympathy. I've done the same sort of thing myself, as have friends of mine. One of my best friends from college ("M") is from a small town in rural Georgia. My wife always makes fun of me because whenever I talk to M on the phone, or hang out with him, I start talking in a deeper Southern accent. She says it sounds fake, but I don't even notice that I'm doing it -- it just slips right out.
And I've seen M do the same thing himself. Last year, when the family visited Georgia, I hung out with M one night. We looked up another old friend -- "T." T is black, and he grew up with M in that same rural Georgia town (they were later roommates in college, which is how I got to know T -- in fact, I wrote about T before, in this post
Anyway, the phone rings; M answers; and soon as M says, "Hey, man
!," with about three syllables in each word, I knew that it was T on the other end. Whenever M is around T, he starts talking black.
Black people do it
too, all the time -- that is, switch between standard English and black vernacular English
, depending on the audience. Linguists call it "code-switching
," which seems to be a fancy term for, "talking like the people you're hanging out with."
It's a natural urge: When in Rome, talk as the Romans do. Some people expressly promote the use of verbal "mirroring"
, so as to build rapport. Indeed, the failure to talk like your audience can sometimes be dangerous
All of which is to say that I can't blame Hillary Clinton -- she may well not have even intended
to talk that way at all; it just might have come out that way under the circumstances.