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Run and Tell That! (Part Two)

October 8, 2010

Antoine Dodson is STILL in the news and all over the blogosphere. What’s more, people are showing mad love for his use of language. Recently, we  looked at some of the African American English verbal strategies that Antoine uses in his popular “bed intruder” rant, and now we’re really going to break it down again by looking at some  of the  phonological (speech sound) and syntactic (sentence structure) features of AAE that appear in this video.

So watch again and listen closely:

“Well, obviously, we have a rapist in Lincoln Park. He’s climbing in your windows, he’s snatching your people up, trying to rape them, so y’all need to hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband, cause they raping everybody out here. We got your t-shirt. You done left fingerprints and all. You are so dumb. You are really dumb. For real. You don’t have to come and confess that you did it. We’re looking for you. We gon find you. I’m letting you know now. So you can run and tell that, homeboy.”*

Phonological Features

Realization of final ng as n (in gerunds, verb+ing)

  • “He’s climbing in your windows, he’s snatching your people up”
  • “I’m letting you know now”

Monophthongal pronunciations of Standard English diphthongs (ay–>ah, ow–>ah)

  • “He’s climbing in your windows” (pronounced as clahm-in)
  • trying to rape them” (trah-na)
  • Hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband” (hahd)
  • “I’m letting you know now” (nah)

Second person plural y’all (for Standard English plural ‘you’)

  • Y’all need to hide your kids”

l absence (after a vowel sound, l is either not produced, or is also pronounced as a vowel-like sound)

  • Well, obviously”
  • “Snatching your people up”
  • Y’all need to hide your kids”

r absence (after a vowel sound, r is either not produced, or is also pronounced as a vowel-like sound)

  • “Hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband”
  • they raping everybody out here
  • “We got your t-shirt

Syllable deletion (unstressed initial and medial syllables are not produced)

  • Cause they raping everybody out here” (’cause’ for Standard English ‘because’)
  • “Cause they raping everybody out here” (pronounced ehh-body instead of Standard English ev-ry-body)

Syntactic features

Copula absence (absence of is and are, for present tense states and actions)

  • they raping everybody out here”
  • We gon find you”

Possessive verb ‘got’ (for Standard English ‘have’)

  • “We got your t-shirt”

Aspectual marker ‘done’ (emphasizes the competed nature of an action)

  • “You done left fingerprints and all”

Future participle ‘gon’ (marks future tense)

  • “We gon find you”


Finally, check out the iTunes version of the famous Bed Intruder Song:

Now run and tell that!

*(Note that we don’t consider sexual assault of any kind to be a laughing matter, or one to be taken lightly. In this post, we are merely commenting on the linguistic facts about this excerpt, not the social ones. For a fuller discussion of the controversial aspects of this clip, please see our previous post.)

16 Comments leave one →
  1. Daniel Ezra Johnson permalink
    October 8, 2010 1:02 pm

    This is a useful inventory but I think it would be informative for many readers if features unique to (or very much associated with) AAVE were distinguished from near-universal features of casual spoken Southern American English, such as ’cause, -in’, /ah/ for /ay/, y’all, and got. Of course, from one point of view, these are AAVE features, but if you include them, where do you draw the line?

  2. African American English permalink*
    October 9, 2010 3:04 pm

    Sure. Like we mention in a lot of our posts, many of the features that are associated with AAE also appear in other varieties of English, including Southern American English. The same holds true here.

  3. Lindsey Kay permalink
    October 20, 2010 1:22 pm

    It could just be because I’ve heard the song and can’t unhear it but when Dodson is speaking, it sounds very much like it could just as easily be sung. There seems to be a presence of rhythm and an inflection or tone that isn’t what I would consider normal (in Standard English, at least) for conversation. Could this possibly have something to do with the use of falsetto in AAE as described by Professor Singler? Regarding the seemingly-sonorant quality (if it actually exists and is not just a side effect of having heard the song), does that bear a relationship to the sacred/secular qualities of AAE and if so, what sort of connection might that be?

    • Catherine C. permalink
      October 29, 2010 10:44 pm

      I agree, even in the original video I can almost hear the song. As for a possible connection to sacred/secular qualities, I think the overall tone of Dodson’s statements is one of righteous anger, which could certainly evoke a sort of “fire and brimstone” preaching style – Dodson wants the attacker to know that he will be found and punished for his crimes, just as a preacher might warn his congregation that they will be punished for their sins.

    • Elise H permalink
      November 1, 2010 4:54 pm

      I don’t think he’s using falsetto, but he is using the wide tonal variation that we talked about in class– in the other post it was mentioned that the man who remixed it for the song said he could hear what he said as a centerpoint to the song, without having to bring in any other beats to make it more musical. I think it definitely does a lot to intensify the emotion in what he’s saying, especially in contrast to the news anchors, who are using a more standard, professional range.

  4. Sarah K permalink
    October 26, 2010 10:18 pm

    I found his wide range of tonal inflection that we discussed as a characteristic of AAE to be very expressive of his emotion and emphasized in contrast to the monotonic voices of the white news anchors. I also thought it tied into the more sacred qualities of his speech, such as where he pauses, emphasis through listing kids, wife, husband, directly addressing the community, “y’all” and the assaulter, and creating an omniscient presence “we” that is “gon find” the assaulter.

  5. Sarah YJ Moon permalink
    October 27, 2010 11:50 pm

    It was interesting for me to see that his way of speech was different from his sister’s, although they come from the same family and live in the same house.
    (When people live together or hang out together for a really long time, there tends to be a merge in some features. This always happens to be. My style of speech seems to be heavily influenced by the people I hang out with. When I used to go to school in Japan, I started talking like them and picked up English words/abbreviations that aren’t even used here, like “MAKU” for McDonald’s)
    Going back on the article/video, I noticed that his style or speech seemed a bit exaggerated, but it is probably the most natural form of it since a danger of death question may have been asked for the interview, bringing out an emotional or natural state. I would like to know what has influenced his speech. Do people in the area talk like him?

    I just saw today that he even has a new iPod/iPhone APP to find sex offenders.

    How and WHY did he get so big!?!?

  6. A. Chiu permalink
    October 28, 2010 3:42 pm

    I find that in addition to the word-by-word phonological and syntactic differences, there’s also a patterning to his speech that is much less common in SAE. “Hide your kids, hide your wife and hide your husband” obviously makes sense and is grammatical in SAE, whichever way you pronounce hide, but if I wrote or said that in the presence of any of my English language instructors, they would tell me, “That’s good, but you can do better. Say ‘hide your kids, wife and husband’ instead. It means the same thing but gets your message across better.” But Antoine’s tonal inflections indicate that he _didn’t_ mean to say “hide your kids, wife and husband”–it may just be an effect of someone not used to AAE picking up on an unfamiliar monophthongal pronunciation, but I feel that he was putting a stressed tone especially on “hide”, making the rhythm just as essential to his message as the content of his words.

  7. Lindsey Kay permalink
    November 1, 2010 12:46 am

    A friend and I got into an interesting debate about this along the lines of “how does this make Antoine (and furthermore, his recently-attacked sister) feel?”. As evidenced by Labov’s work with the blind woman and her daughter who were particularly sensitive to speech (though as Labov showed, not as aware as they may have thought), people tend to feel strongly about the way they speak. In the documentary America Speaks, several people mentioned that their varieties of English (particularly those from the south and midwest) were commonly associated with the uneducated which, not only offended these people fundamentally, but apparently really hurt them.

    So the few questions I wanted to bring up regarding this are:
    1) Has the video/song become a sensation because people can relate or because those who watch are, in some way, belittling the speech/speaker? (Basically, are we laughing at him or with him?)
    2) Has this overshadowed or brought more attention to the real issue, which was his sister’s attack. On the one hand, this kind of publicity certainly encourages police to keep the case open (and hopefully, since Antoine pointed out the abundance of evidence, they are getting close to solving the crime). On the other hand, has attention to the use of AAE and all the connotations/judgments attached to it obscured the crime that was committed and, in a way, dehumanized the Dodsons
    3) What could this mean with regards to his continued publicity and the fact that he seems to be proud of his status in the media? He seems to have a very rare privilege of being somewhat in control of his meme and had profited from it (thanks to itunes and the creators of the Bed Intruder Song). Since, he has done interview indicating pride in his success and has been part of another video as seen here which leads into yet another question…
    4) Since the speech was natural in the original interview, what, if any, distinctions are made in this new video regarding the iphone app? Was this written by him or someone else? Does that matter? To me, it sounds scripted and rehearsed – does the reduced authenticity change the way the audience interprets/reacts to it.( Personally I’m much more hesitant to laugh at this than at the original.) It seems like a speaker acting (more explicitly, “faking”) his own speech. Are there any social ramifications of this, ie if one “acts” as himself, does he lose respect of people who know that he is using [being laughed at for being himself] as a publicity stunt?

  8. L. Gardner permalink
    November 1, 2010 2:25 pm

    I agree with Lindsey in the above comment that Antoine Dodson’s speech seemed “fake” in the new video when compared to the original interview. I think this is because the level of attention has changed from one situation to the other and caused intraspeaker variation. It is interesting because usually when the speaker’s level of attention is increased, people speak more formally and closer to SAE than they do without this level of attention. But Dodson seems to be taking advantage of the popularity his inattentive speech has gotten and is now trying carefully to recreate the same speech, so although his attention is heightened, it is focused on AAE features and not SAE features, resulting in a speech that is heavy with AAE features but at the same time does not sound as natural as his inattentive speech. In the first interview he is incredibly emotionally charged and this mental state brings out natural speech, making the words come out quickly and heatedly, demonstrating many characteristics of sacred style (such as exaggerated language and even a taste of braggadocio) because of the urgency of the situation.

  9. K. Goo permalink
    November 1, 2010 7:43 pm

    I won’t lie, when I first watched the news footage of Antoine, I too laughed hysterically. And I laughed even harder at the auto-tuned song version(s). However, after reading this post, it is actually interesting to see (on paper) how linguistically rich the footage really is. Moreover, it is interesting to look at the use of the vernacular in relation to the given circumstances that Antoine was in. As “funny” and joke-like that this video has become, the reality of the actual situation is not funny nor is it a joke in any way. And with that in mind, one could pose the question asking “Would Antoine have spoke in the same manner had he been in a formal interview, post crime-day, that he had time to actually prepare for?” No one knows, but it would be interesting to find out.

  10. S Gil permalink
    November 1, 2010 8:45 pm

    Perhaps I’m alone in thinking this way, but to be perfectly honest, from the very first time I saw this video, I have felt that Antoine Dodson’s speech in the interviews comes across almost as an exaggeration – perhaps even a caricature – of AAE, rather than a reflection of how Dodson actually speaks to his family and friends in his everyday life. I know from watching many of his personal videos that he does make use of a variety of features of AAE in his everyday speech, but I wonder if in this particular situation he wasn’t exaggerating these features for a certain rhetorical effect.

    I got this feeling listening to his entire rant, but especially at the use of the word “homeboy,” which he added at the very end of his warning to the intruder. Perhaps the word is still in common use in his neighborhood, but speaking from my own personal experience in New York, I have not heard anyone use the word “homeboy” seriously in years; if it is used, more often than not the speaker intends it almost as a joke – he or she knows that the word isn’t “cool” anymore and that it will elicit a laugh from listeners.

    Personally, Dodson’s use of such words, as well as how extreme his pronunciation often becomes, actually lead me to believe that he was adopting an exaggerated form of AAE, perhaps to imitate how he imagined the intruder might speak and to convey his disdain for the man. That’s one of the main reasons why I can understand why people may have found his rant humorous, despite the grave subject matter. I wonder if anyone else got a similar impression.

  11. Caroline C. permalink
    November 1, 2010 9:32 pm

    After reading this description of the many features characteristic of AAE that are present in Dodson’s speech, it has become even more interesting to me. I just watched the video two more times just to hear all the features mentioned in action. As much as the news clip and music video portray so much about AAE and the aspects of it that are systematically used for particular purposes, unfortunately I think the majority of the people watching it are not interested in the linguistic features Dodson uses. In fact, as I was just watching it, my roommate came into the room and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was watching a video for my linguistics class and asked if she had seen the Bed Intruder video. She immediately started laughing and singing it. I said how interesting I thought it was to hear the way the speaks and how easily it could be turned into a song, and her response was that she thought it was hilarious “how dumb he is and how weird he talks.” Needless to say, I don’t think we take interest in the videos for the same reasons. Her view was quite upsetting to me, especially given our recent focus on AAE and its roots and use, but I know that she is far from the only person that feels the way she does. It is too bad that a video so rich in African American culture that should have the power to educate people about the style and use of AAE is instead being laughed at and parodied. Hopefully anyone who reads this blog will think twice about their views. I will definitely be giving my roommate the URL.

  12. J. Finn permalink
    November 2, 2010 6:24 pm

    In particular, I had questions similar to that of Lindsay’s. For one, I personally feel that the video has become such a sensation because of the song, and not because anyone can really relate to him. I’ve seen the video before, and I have friends who have watched it over and over again just to laugh at what he is saying. And as much as his AAEV features are promoting him in the media, I do not think they helping the status of AAE in society. Not to say that I think Antoine is responsible for people rejecting AAE as a serious dialect of English, but I just feel that people like the video for the wrong reasons, and almost see it as a joke. Everyone knows “hide ya kids, hide ya wife,” but no one actually seems concerned about his sister or the unidentified rapist. So even though this video originated from a crime scene interview, I feel that it has become completely detached from that, and is now succeeding on its own as something entirely different, and that people don’t take it seriously at all. So while AAE may be making in the media and news lately, I don’ think it’s gaining in ground in becoming respected amongst all English speakers.

  13. Devin D. Moss permalink
    March 24, 2011 9:20 pm

    I love Mr. Dotson. I think he does prove the case for the language. Furthermore, I believe he is doing something with the language that is rooted in a twist of sexuality and gender. I say this because you would not traditionally find a heterosexual male saying the same sentences in the manner that Antoine is using them. However, you would find a female using the same aggressive structures. For example, “I’m letting you know now” is a phrase many of my aunts use while gossiping about random stuff. I do not have anything but my experience growing up in Mississippi to prove this; however,such a line would never happen with my uncles because it is too “gossip” like which translates to being too feminine. The over all tone and slurred speech is overwhelmingly “feminine” based on the delivery, dramatics, and structure. This performance is without doubt Black English, but it becomes feminine gendered speech in the way Antoine does it.

  14. Jake F. permalink
    May 5, 2011 11:43 am

    In reading all the comments, I’m surprised the overarching trend of African American English as a source of comedy in viral videos went relatively undiscussed. Off the top of my head, I can think of three videos that I’ve been shown countless times that very directly use African American English as a source of humor – the leprechaun in Mobile, Alabama, Mr. Chi City’s refrigerator, and the Greg Jennings Madden video. Here are the three links.

    This isn’t to mention the Dodson video here, the 7 hear old taking a joyride, “my push up bra will help me get my man”, and thousands more. Though I find many of these videos funny, and in a lot of ways empowering through their use of dialect, it’s difficult to avoid worrying that elements of minstrelsy are present. For some reason, minstrelsy has and continues to be an intensely popular source of entertainment — if de jure in the media, than de facto on YouTube. Because YouTube is so unregulated, it can be an interesting (and in many ways, deeply depressing and disgusting) truth-teller in what many people truly want to see. What’s most destructive is that many of these videos have become so popular that advertisements are put before they air. Compared to the relatively quieted history of minstrelsy-for-profit pre-1960s, it’s hard not to wonder: what’s the big difference?

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