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Fighting over WordsLanguage and Civil Law Cases$
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Roger W. Shuy

Print publication date: 2008

Print ISBN-13: 9780195328837

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2008

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195328837.001.0001

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Racial Steering in Real Estate

Racial Steering in Real Estate

Peter Koehn v. Continental Casualty Company

(p.145) CHAPTER 13 Racial Steering in Real Estate
Fighting over Words

Roger W. Shuy (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

A nonprofit organization created to eliminate unlawful, discriminatory housing routinely investigates complaints by black citizens who complain about being steered to all-black areas of housing. This organization routinely uses “testers” of both races to determine the adequacy of the complaints in telephone inquiries about available apartments and houses. One instance of this procedure led to a discrimination suit against a real estate firm. The plaintiffs lost the case because the statute of limitations had run out relating to the specific incident. The appeals court then reversed the decision, noting that the realtors' practice was a pervasive, ongoing event rather than a single instance. The linguistic issue then became whether the race of Vernacular Black English speakers could be identified in telephone conversations. Nine sample phone calls made by both black and white speakers were used in a study made by the nonprofit group. The linguist was asked to identify the phonological, grammatical, and lexical features that were characteristic of the racially mixed speakers on tapes of these conversations. The linguist also called on the literature on this subject regarding both the linguistic feature of VBE and the subjective reaction research in Detroit that showed how both black and white listeners were able to identify race approximately 80 percent of the time.

Keywords:   discrimination, racial steering, phonological, grammatical, lexical, Vernacular Black English, subjective reaction research

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