dialects in movies

Tom Zurinskas truespel at HOTMAIL.COM
Tue Apr 1 22:51:13 UTC 2008

Some thoughts.

By dialect I assume is meant accent (which is the main thing about dialects to me)
bad guys - italian or NY city accent - mob
evil geniuses - german accent
best use of accent in cowboy film - true grit
best flip of accent from seeming badguy to goodguy - My cousin vinnie.
airhead - like west coast to the max, dude
gay - birdcage.

Tom Zurinskas, USA - CT20, TN3, NJ33, FL5+
See truespel.com - and the 4 truespel books plus "Occasional Poems" at authorhouse.com.

> Date: Wed, 2 Apr 2008 00:22:22 +0200
> From: umajchrzak at GMAIL.COM
> Subject: Re: dialects in movies
> ---------------------- Information from the mail header -----------------------
> Sender: American Dialect Society
> Poster: urszula majchrzak
> Subject: Re: dialects in movies
> -------------------------------------------------------------------------------
> 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!
> -Ula
> On Sun, Mar 30, 2008 at 6:20 PM, Damien Hall
> wrote:
>> ---------------------- Information from the mail header
>> -----------------------
>> Sender: American Dialect Society
>> Poster: Damien Hall
>> 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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