dialects in movies

urszula majchrzak umajchrzak at GMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 1 22:22:22 UTC 2008

Thank you very much for taking your time to answer my e-mail in so much
detail :-)...
I'm actually trying to look at dialects as perceived mostly by Americans (or
people able to detect even slight traces of a regional dialect/accent). The
interesting claim that I came upon was that movie producers (movies)
reinforce stereotypes of people from some regions by choosing certain
dialects to depict specific traits of personality (stock characters)... It's
probably clearly visible in animated movies but I think there are plenty
examples in other genres as well...
I'm trying to make up a list of movies that make an abundant use of
dialects... I know the WW II movies should have a lot of stereotypical usage
of dialects but I'm looking for more clues as to specific movies that would
be valuable in this respect. I'm also wondering if it's a thing of the past
and doesn't happen in "politically correct" movie industry these days, or
it's still a noticeable phenomenon...
Thank you for your help!


On Sun, Mar 30, 2008 at 6:20 PM, Damien Hall <halldj at babel.ling.upenn.edu>

> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
> -----------------------
> Sender:       American Dialect Society <ADS-L at LISTSERV.UGA.EDU>
> Poster:       Damien Hall <halldj at BABEL.LING.UPENN.EDU>
> Subject:      dialects in movies
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> Dear Ula
> > More specifically, I'm searching for the use of stereotypes based on
> dialects
> > and trying to determine how much the use of dialects in the movies
> influence
> our
> > view of people.
> What national perspective (if any) are you doing it from?  It's a question
> of
> interest because it seems to me (a Brit who's lived for four years in
> Philadelphia) that the view that the average movie-goer gets of a
> character,
> based on the character's dialect, is fundamentally different depending on
> the
> place of origin of the movie-goer.  That is, an American will probably be
> able
> to distinguish between, say, (at least) a NYC accent, a Northern Cities
> accent,
> a Midwest-ish accent, various types of Southern accent, and something that
> maybe
> has none of the distinguishing features of the accents I've named (like,
> for
> example, the phonology of a lot of the West).
> A Brit, on the other hand, will be seeing the same movies, but the average
> Brit
> will not be able to distinguish so many American accents, and will
> therefore be
> able to make much less use of a character's accent to nuance their view of
> that
> character.
> Of course, I'm a linguist, not a lay-person in that sense, so my
> intuitions
> about non-linguists' views of American accents are to be taken with a
> pinch of
> salt.  It's certainly true, though, that the vast majority of Brits have
> this
> concept of an 'American accent' (just one, monolithic).  I haven't done
> the
> research to know what the features of it are (maybe someone else has), but
> it
> seems to me that its principal characteristic is r-fulness, and maybe the
> cot-caught merger.  It's obviously not a very detailed conception in a
> linguist's sense.
> FWIW, I think that the average Brit will probably be able to hear the
> difference
> between 'General American', Forrest Gump's accent, a stereotypical NYC
> (maybe
> Italian) accent, and maybe a Northern Cities accent (this last because of
> the
> extreme raising of /ae/).  The stereotypes associated with these are:
> - 'General American':  neutral, maybe no stereotype, since the others need
> somewhere to react against
> - Forrest Gump:  stupid.  But this is because he speaks slowly, not
> because they
> think he's from the South and see people with a Southern accent as stupid.
>  I
> don't think most Brits would be able to identify Forrest Gump's accent as
> a
> Southern one specifically, so you may take the view that any connection
> between
> an allegedly slower speech-rate and a Southern accent is irrelevant
> because most Brits wouldn't know about that stereotype.  (Side note:  I
> believe
> that experimental corpus work has proved that people with a Southern
> accent
> don't necessarily have an average slower speech-rate in any case!)
> - NYC / Italian:  tough (they see such people mostly in roles as city cops
> and
> detectives, so again their impression comes from the characters they have
> seen
> with that accent, not because they associate that characteristic with
> people
> who have that accent in general, outside the movies.
> - Northern Cities:  (if the Brit is conscious that this is different from
> NYC,
> which they may not be!)  again, tough.
> You should of course check these impressions with lay-people if this is a
> topic
> of interest.
> Hope that helps!
> Damien Hall
> University of Pennsylvania
> ------------------------------------------------------------
> The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

The American Dialect Society - http://www.americandialect.org

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