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A Content Analysis of the Style of Speeches of Black College Students

By Evans, A. L.; Gardner, L. et al. | Journal of Instructional Psychology, September 2000 | Go to article overview

A Content Analysis of the Style of Speeches of Black College Students


Evans, A. L., Gardner, L., Lamar, O. S., Evans, A., Evans, V., Journal of Instructional Psychology


A stylistic content analysis of speeches of black college students was conducted in 1999, the results of which were compared to a stylistic content analysis of speeches of two groups of college students conducted in 1979. In 1999, one group of 30 speeches of black college students at a historically black university in the Southeast was compared to content analyses of two groups of speeches of black college students, one group of 25 speeches of 25 black college students at the historically black university and the other group of 21 speeches of 21 black college students at the nearby historically white university, conducted in 1979.

In 1999, 30 speeches of 30 students were randomly selected from among 179 self-introduction speeches of black college students to be content analyzed for stylistic features, such as number of words per sentence, number of sentences, number of adjectives to verbs, number of black dialect syntax, and the readability level according to words per sentence. The means of the selected stylistic features of the 30 speeches were compared to the means of the stylistic features of the 25 speeches of black college students at the historically black university and the means of the 21 speeches of the black college students at the historically white university in 1979; however, the 1979 study involved many more stylistic features than in the 1999 stylistic content analysis study.

The results indicated that the 1999 group of speeches and the 1979 groups of speeches were significantly different in sentence length and approached significance in word length and black dialect syntax.

The hoopla about the Oakland School Board on-again, off-again requirement that black children who speak Ebonics be managed as if they should speak another language (Linguists find the debate over Ebonics uninformed, 1997; California: Oakland says it will teach standard English, 1997; The man who coined the term `Ebonics," 1997) provided an opportunity to revisit the issue of the style in the speeches of black college students. What is the style in the speeches of black college students? Is the style descriptive? Is black dialect syntax plentiful in such speeches? Has the style of black college students changed in the last twenty years?

Style may be defined as "the choice and use of words" (Reinard, 1998, p. 176). Devito (1967b) defined style as the selection and arrangement of those linguistic features that are open to choice. Specifically, he (Devito, 1967b) defined style as that element of speech pertaining to grammar, sentence length, diversity and complexity of sentences, and other such aspects. The purpose of this study was to analyze speeches of black college students for selected stylistic features, such as word length, sentence length, Adjective-Verb Quotient, readability level, and black dialect syntax. Furthermore, the results of the stylistic content analysis were compared to the stylistic content analysis conducted twenty years ago, 1979, by one of the researchers (Evans, 1980).

Background Studies

The style of speech has been observed more than 5,000 years ago; however, the most popular record occurred during the Classical period (Osborn and Motley, 1999). The style of black students has been a focus more than twenty years ago when Williams (1968), Labor (1969b) Style (1969), Davis (1970), and Taylor (1971) noted differences in the speech of black students. Evans (1980) noted differences in the stylistic features of speeches of black students in two different settings. The stylistic features she examined were word length, sentence length, adjective-verb Quotient, main and subordinate clauses, readability, human interest, nonfluency, and black dialect. The present study examined speeches of black students in one setting for word length, sentence length, Adjective-verb Quotient, readability, and black dialect syntax.

Since Evans' study (1980), the focus of many studies has been on the comparison of speaking and writing styles of black students, the employability of black speakers, and the perceptions of teachers of black dialect.

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