The Atlantic

Could Black English Mean a Prison Sentence?

Court stenographers often misunderstand Black English, and their mistakes could affect people’s lives at crucial junctures.
Source: Haraz Ghanbari / AP

A black man on the phone from a jail in San Francisco said, in 2015, “He come tell ’bout I’m gonna take the TV,” which meant that this man was not going to do so. The transcriber listening in couldn’t understand the first part, apparently, and recorded the whole statement as “I’m gonna take the TV.”

It’s impossible to know how often mistakes of this sort occur, but chances are they’re common. An upcoming study in the linguistics journal found that 27 Philadelphia stenographers, presented with recordings of Black English grammatical patterns, made transcription errors on average in two out of every

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