Philadelphia court reporters regularly made errors in transcribing sentences that were spoken in African American English (AAE), according to a forthcoming study in the journal Language that has been featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer and the New York Times. For the study, "Testifying While Black," Taylor Jones, Jessica Kalbfeld, Ryan Hancock, and Robin Clark tested 27 court reporters to see how they handled the distinctions in grammar and pronunciation of AAE speakers, which Jones explains is "a valid, coherent, rule-governed dialect that has more complicated grammar than standard classroom English in some respects."
The study points to a 2007 dissenting opinion from a judge in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit reports the Inquirer. The judge had listened to a recording from a 911 call and argued that it was not possible to know whether “he finna shoot me” was present or past tense. (“Finna” is a contraction of “fixing to.”) But the judge made a grammatical mistake: In African American English it is impossible for “he finna” to be in the past tense. The judge had consulted the site Urban Dictionary and still got it wrong.