How did I guess this woman's ethnicity? (Probably for British Dopers)

When listening to the presenter of this program (Yvonne), I realised that I pictured her in my head as a black woman. I got curious enough to Google and indeed, she is black. But I have no idea how I knew that. I can easily identify black British slang, but to my ears she doesn’t have a marked accent. So what could I have picked up on? Any ideas?

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Well of course, you could have just hit lucky. But I think there are maybe a few clues there. She says, for example, “accordin’ to recent research”. Now, I realise that people of all ethnicities do that, but it is a characteristic of “black” dialects, the way she says it.
I don’t know, it’s hard to say if I would have noticed it if you hadn’t already prompted me to pay attention to her speech.

True, and I intended to put that in the OP and forgot.

I’m not sure I would have identified her as black without being told beforehand, but the one thing that stuck out to me was her ‘ng’ sounds, which came out as simply 'n’s (in articulatory terms: nasal velar stop->nasal alveolar stop). Also maybe the dipthong in “smile” was a bit distinctive. I’m American, and only mildly familiar with British accents/dialects, so I might be missing something else or conversely be misidentifying these sounds as distinctive.

Your life experience with different cultures and ethnicities and speech patterns

To me the tip off to being black is the sound of words like “sayins” for sayings. I’ve heard a number of West Indians with this sound. But be careful…I have a friend from Barbados who sounds like that, especially after returning to the US after visiting home. And she is white.

I can never find this link anymore, but the University of San Francisco (I think) did a study around 20-30 years ago which found that listeners could distinguish between black speakers and white speakers with virtually 100% accuracy even if the black speaker had no discernible “accent”.

Obviously there’s a cultural aspect to this. White Americans often say they can tell black American voices but not black English voices. Since living in Ireland for over a decade (and hence being exposed to a lot of British media) I can also usually pick out a black English voice, but when I go back to the US, I find it harder to pick out black American voices than I used to.

I’m not sure it’s ever been firmly established why this is possible, but it pretty clearly is.

To me (an american) this is common in word endings (according becomes accordin’) for many people, but it is more characteristic of black speech when it happens within words (sayings becomes sayin’s).

You should listen to Neil Nunes’s voice.

I don’t think it’s her accent - ‘sayins’ isn’t a feature that stands out to me when combined with a British accent and that came halfway through the programme. It’s something about the tone of voice.

It’s be interesting to see how different culture/ethnicities can be discerned through their speech. Back east, you could often tell the difference between Italian Americans and Irish Americans even if their families had been here for several generations. Out west that distinction just doesn’t exist because there aren’t as many Irish and Italian neighborhoods.

I guess there’s elements of her accent that sound slightly Caribbean: the way she pronounces “good” near the start; the way she enunciates hard C sounds from the back of the throat so they have a slightly click-y element to them; the way she says “really” near the start, dulling the R so it’s closer to a W. I know girls who are English but of Caribbean descent who have those kind of elements in their accent.

But to be honest I would’ve guessed she was white unless you’d pointed it out to me. It might just have been a lucky guess?

I agree.

As a singer, I’ve noticed what I think it is that lets people tell people’s ethnicity, even if they don’t have an “accent”: resonant spaces. Every ethnicity seems to have a characteristic resonance that even people mimicking their ethnicity rarely get right.

Granted, it’s harder for me to hear it in someone in accent I don’t hear very often, and I probably wouldn’t have noticed it if I wasn’t listening for it. But I do hear the same thing I hear from Freema Agyeman (Martha Jones on Doctor Who), the first black English female I can remember by name.