An ADS evaluation of dialects in movies?

Beverly Flanigan flanigan at OAK.CATS.OHIOU.EDU
Fri Nov 19 18:54:35 UTC 1999

I gather you looked not only at "outsiders" playing Americans (and vice
versa?) but also at Americans representing Americans.  Apparently you
correlated degree of r-lessness with both the region/locale of the film
plot and the  regional origin of the character in question?  Did you also
consider social class, education, and age?  (You considered gender, as you
note.)  The steady decline from 1930 to 1970 would go along with Labov's
findings on post-WWII New York (for some classes); but what about Boston or
Deep South settings?  Ray Milland could play a prototypical middle-class
New Yorker of our parents' or grandparents' generation; Kevin Spacey of
"Midnight in..." represents a younger but upper class Southerner
(post-'70s, of course).  And John Wayne's 4% r-lessness would be reasonable
in light of Hartman's (19??) suggestion of semi-r-lessness in the Southwest
(Wayne's cowboy country).  Only 3 American "authentics" (my term) seems low
to me.  But I'm assuming you looked at all these sociolinguistic
factors!  Where did you do the dissertation?

At 09:41 AM 11/19/99 -0500, you wrote:
>I'm just finishing my dissertation on the subject of rhoticity in American
>film speech from the 30's to the 70's. I collected data on about 50
>subjects per decade (4-year period in a decade's midpoint) and got a
>decade average from each subject's percentage of r-lessness. The decade
>average decreases steadily from the 30's to the 70's (59 -> 43 -> 33 -> 22
>-> 7), with interesting differences between female and male subjects.
>(Correction: Ray Milland's r-less rate is 92, not 98. And John Wayne's,
>incidentally, is 4.)
>Nancy Elliott
>On Thu, 18 Nov 1999, Beverly Flanigan wrote:
> > Very interesting!  Where did you get your percentages on r-lessness, and
> > have you published anything on your 40-year analysis?
> >
> > At 04:51 PM 11/18/99 -0500, you wrote:
> > >Anthony Hopkins only gets half a star for his accent as Nixon.
> > >
> > >Of the American films I've studied (1930's to 70's) that have overtly
> > >specified regional origins for a character, I found only three (US) actors
> > >that made any kind of attempt to sound like that was where they were from.
> > >
> > >Of the Brits in American roles, Angela Lansbury is extremely successful --
> > >of course she came to NY to study acting at the age of 15. Stephen Boyd
> > >(Fantastic Voyage) gets 4 stars; I only heard a couple of Belfast vowels
> > >from him. Ray Milland (The Lost Weekend ) didn't sound Welsh in the
> > >1940's; the only remarkable thing I found about his speech was that he was
> > >98% r-less, compared to an average of 42% for male American actors of that
> > >decade.
> > >
> > >And then there's Cary Grant...
> > >
> > >Nancy Elliott
> >

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