Review: How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do—And What It Says About You

How You Say It: Why You Talk the Way You Do—And What It Says About You by Katherine D. Kinzler

Katherine Kinzler's How You Say It is an engaging dive into language and perception.

We are all familiar with the impact of race and gender discrimination, but if you are like me you don't often think about how our perceptions of each other can be negatively impacted by bias toward non-standard versus standard dialects, or biases toward accents, of both native and non-native speakers.

Kinzler, a professor of psychology at the University of Chicago, digs pretty deeply into a number of facets of linguistics - both how we speak and how we listen - with an absence of jargon that keeps the book accessible to the lay reader. She makes a compelling case that bias based on accents or dialect does exist and should be a concern for society to address. Kinzler argues for legal remedies to linguistic bias similar to those for bias due to race, gender or national origin.

Perhaps the most well known example of linguistic bias she brings forward is in the trial of George Zimmerman for the killing of Trayvon Martin. In the trial, compelling testimony was given by a friend of Trayvon's, Rachel Jeantel, as to his state of mind at the time of the killing. Her testimony was so compelling that it should have swayed the jury against Zimmerman, who claimed to have been threatened by Trayvon and to have acted in self defense. But, because Jeantel spoke in an African American dialect, most of the White jurors found her not to be credible, thus they discounted her testimony, leading to what many consider to be a miscarriage of justice in Zimmerman's acquittal.

I found the first part of the book to be the most interesting. This is where Kinzler marshals facts from studies (some of which she had a hand in) to demonstrate how dialects and accents work and how they impact formation of groups and "who's in / who's out" thinking. The second part, where she argues for a legal approach to linguistic bias, while convincingly argued, was not enough to completely win me over, though it did make me think.

I rate How You Say It 4 Stars ⭐⭐⭐⭐ - I really liked it and was glad I read it. I learned quite a bit from it and it's caused me to ponder my own subconscious perceptions of accents and dialects. I recommend it.

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