Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 15:59:20 -0500
From: "Dennis R. Preston" preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]PILOT.MSU.EDU
Subject: No subject given
We have recently reviewed a number of sociolinguistic films at MSU. Here
is the blurb from last semester's effort. I have not edited out MSU specific
stuff, but I am sure you can read around it.
SOCIOLINGUISTIC VIDEOS AVAILABLE FROM IAH
THE LANGUAGE AND CULTURE FILM FESTIVALS GOES ON
(AND ON AND ON)
As you may still remember, last semester we viewed a number of videos (all
of which, except for American Tongues, are now available from IAH), and
here is the promised (biased) assessment.
We will, by the way, continue our viewing next semester on Tuesdays at
3:00 in Wells Hall 642. We have the rest of the LAVIS films to see as well
as some things on speech style, gesture, and kinesics from California
(which we want to preview before we buy). (P.S.: Please don't send me a
note asking for another time; there ain't none.) I reckon we'll start these
films on January 16th, but you will get another notice.
Remember. The stuff we saw last semester is now available. To use IAH
videos, go to the top floor of Linton Hall and get them out of the cabinet. If
you steal one, I will personally come and kick your butt.
1) American Tongues (available from the Instructional Media Center [3-
3960]). This is the grandparent. It is the best linguistics movie ever made.
(Don't let people tell you that the new general linguistics series which just
ran on PBS is better; it doesn't even come close.) It surveys regional
variety, standards, the influence of foreign languages, ethnic and gender
differences, and does an especially effective job on attitudes towards and
stereotypes of regional and other varieties. All this is nontechnical (no
linguistics background is presumed), and there are numerous examples
from real speakers.
Instructors may want note that the word 'nigger' is used once and
prepare their students for that. Others may want to note that, in the Boston
North End section (see below), the word 'fuck' is pretty frequent, and some
may even want to prepare students for that (although I guess you would
have to put a sign outside every public toilet in the US is you got really
serious about getting folks ready for it). There are shorter versions of
American Tongues which do not contain these items, but they are, to my
knowledge, not available at MSU.
(Interesting historical note. Walt Wolfram, one of the film's prime
academic movers, foresaw the controversial status of 'nigger' and argued
with the producers to leave it out. At nearly every large-audience academic
premier of the film, Walt has been proved right. There has been an
enormous amount of focus on this one word. In one sense, of course, he is
wrong. It obviously contributes to discussion of racist language, but in
overwhelming other aspects of the film, it may not have been so desirable.)
Bethany Dumas (of the University of Tennessee) offers the
following (very helpful) outline of varieties (and incidents, and even 'best
lines') in the film. (I have modified her version only slightly.) It should
you use this film in classes, but you need to have seen the film for this
outline to be most useful. (N.B.: I use the abbreviations AA and EA for
African American and European American throughout.)
1. Southern (AA) English.
2. Mary had a little lamb
Its fleece was white as snow
And everywhere that Mary went
The lamb was sure to go
Recited by six speakers: EAmale, EAPennsylvania Dutch female,
EAmale, AAmale child, EAfemale, EAfemale
3. Ranch talk - Texas
4. Northern city talk
5. AA female cheerleaders
6. Comments about various dialects
7. Southern US EAstudent actors (reading Shakespeare)
8. Institutional speech (sales talk, computer jargon, etc...)
9. Church singing
10. Tangier Island speech ("I figure I sound just like Walter
11. Comments on settlement history of US; fewer regional
differences west of the Mississippi
12. Roger W. Shuy (Georgetown University)
13. Style differences:
Kentucky radio call-in program ("I'm just a plain old
Boot salesman ("He might could wear it in a eight
and a half.")
Ohio ("Midwest, straight American, bland." "We don't talk
funny, but if you want funny, go about seventy
Texas (Most westerners in their speaking ... are more open,
14. Foreign language influences (Louisiana Cajun French)
15. New York City deli
16. Vocabulary differences: RI (cabinet for milk shake), Pittsburgh
(gum band for rubber band), Hawaii (pau for done,
finished, over), Louisiana (jambalaya), other areas --
antigoggling for catty [or kitty]-cornered, snickelfritz, NYC
shlep for carry)
17. Children's games
18. Walt Wolfram (NC State) on how children acquire language
patterns and vocabulary
19. Southern AAfemale professional
20. There is no 'Standard' in the US, but there is a 'Network'
standard. (The generic voice of 'directory assistance.') ("The
voice from nowhere.")
21. EAfemale Yale student on Southern speech ("This really kind of
'you all' stuff.") ("I was not going to have any little
babies who talked liked that.")
22. Regional Stereotypes:
"Southerners talk like niggers."
"Rampant brain death west of the Hudson."
"In Manhattan the air is skyscrapers is so thin that people
have a nasal accent."
Northerners are not hospitable (grating, nasal, unkind)
Northerners mock Southern /a:s/ for /ays/ ("See, ice, ass-
Texan on Northern stereotypes of southerners (always
depicted a dumb hicks in the movies - examples)
23. Regional and ethnic humor (Georgians talk in questions [rising
intonation]; no wonder they lost the Civil War)
24. Linguistically insecure female speaker
25. Consequences of speaking a nonstandard or 'noticed' variety
(Brooklyn speaker with speech coach). Wolfram says such
varieties are not what the corporate world is looking for.
26. Considerable variation even in Boston speech
27. Which dialect is 'better' depends on social stereotypes: urban is
better than rural, EA is better than AA, educated s better than
uneducated, middle class is better than lower class, etc...
28. If one speaks a dialect, one's other (e.g., professional)
performance must be better.
29. EAfemales on style-shifting. ("Look at them two beautiful girls.
If they'd keep their mouths shut, they'd be perfect.")
30. Boston 'Brahmins'
31. Boston North End - Italian-American speaker on the advantages
of local, vernacular speech. ("The women, they eat it up."
"The guys are intimidated.")
32. The group or solidarity function of AA English. ("I don't want
my boys sounding like white males." "She a school girl
instead of a mama girl."
33. Pride in regional varieties.
34. Frederic G. Cassidy (editor of DARE [Dictionary of American
Regional English], University of Wisconsin) on dialect
leveling 'spoiling' communication
35. Attitudes towards varieties
2. Many years ago Roger Shuy and I put together a series of three films
(with an accompanying handbook [for 'workshop' leaders], an anthology
of readings [with suggested assignments], and an audio tape) for USIA,
principally for use with nonnative TESOL teachers abroad. I am almost sure
that the anthology and audio tape are not available, but I have seen a fairly
recent revision of the handbook (1988), and I know the films are still used
quite a lot overseas. (The audio tape contained no material which was not
already available on the film; it simply repeated material from the film for
convenience.) If any of this material is still available, it can be got
English Language Programs Division, Bureau of Educational and Cultural
Affairs, U.S. Information Agency, Washington, D.C. 20547. At any rate,
we have the films. The entire series is called 'Varieties of American
English,' and the three films are a) Regional Dialects, b) Social and
Specialized Groups, and c) Stylistic Differences. They presuppose no
linguistic sophistication and should be good for introductory classes.
a) Regional dialects. This film illustrates regional US speech with
speakers from Boston, Northern Ohio (Roger Shuy), Southern Indiana
(Dennis Preston), Alabama (Crawford Feagin), and Upstate New York, and
New York City. It also provides details about the immigration and foreign
language backgrounds of US English and spends a good deal of time on
attitudes towards varieties.
b) Social and Specialized Groups: This film treats variation in
ethnic, gender, status, and professional groups. Vignettes of 'typical'
performances are done by actors.
c) Stylistic Differences: This film uses Martin Joos' notion of the
'five clocks' of English style (the frozen, formal, consultative, casual, and
intimate) and illustrates stylistic variation in vignettes done by actors.
There are actual scenes of the teaching of stylistic levels at the English
Language Program at the University of Pittsburgh at the end of this film.
3. The Ocracoke "Brogue". This is a short film which details the work Walt
Wolfram and his students have been doing among the speakers of an
interesting North Carolina off-shore island speech community. It is a very
conservative dialect but shows some signs of accommodating to northern
and southern varieties of US English. It is particularly interesting for 1) the
amount of authentic local speech it contains (often difficult to understand,
by the way), and 2) the integration of the scientific findings of this research
into the school programs on in the island community, fostering a sense of
'dialect pride' (and tolerance) among the students and realistic attitudes
among the teachers. More information could be had from Walt himself at the
North Carolina State English Department. His e-mail address is
wolfram[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]social.chass.ncsu.edu . I think I would not show this to
neophytes, but I could be wrong. I would, at last, provide a written
transcript of the 'denser' dialect passages, particularly of the very
entertaining story about locals who take oysters with them on a gambling
trip to Las Vegas and of the stereotypical phrase ('High tide on the sound
side') which is repeated several times to illustrate the centralization of the
onsets in the diphthongs /ay/ and /aw/, the source of the islanders' nickname
-- 'Hoi Toiders' (i.e., 'high tiders')
4. Which English? is a film from the commercial outlet 'Films for the
Humanities & Sciences' and is about 20 minutes long. It is a fluffy little
English music-hall piece, but it quite effectively makes the point that
language standards are arbitrarily connected to class (or 'socio-economic')
categories rather than strictly linguistic (or 'logical') ones. There is a
section on US English, but most of the points are made with regional and
overseas speakers of British English. I think it is good for introductory
5. Sexism in Language, about a half-hour, also from 'Films for the
Humanities and Sciences' is another British music-hall style presentation.
The fact that British rather than US subjects are used is not particularly
troublesome, however, and there are interesting analyses of written and
spoken English for gender bias. I would use this in introductory classes.
6. Victim of Two Cultures: Richard Rodriguez. Another film from 'Films
for the Humanities and Sciences,' this interview (with Bill Moyers) runs
about 60 minutes. It is an interesting exploration of Rodriguez' rejection of
his Mexican-American heritage (and particularly the Spanish language). One
of his interesting arguments is that Mexican-American identity 'limited' his
ability to identify with members of the many cultural groups he would like
to feel an affinity with. I think this film is useful only for those who have a
particular interest in bilingualism and language and cultural contact, but
sort of literarily idiosyncratic and not suited for introductory work in my
opinion. On the other hand, it might be a good provoker of conversation.
One of the members of our group who saw it said that, as a Hispanic, she
was 'insulted' by the film. It's too bad that there is not a pro-bilingualism
(multicultural) piece to show along with this.
7. Exploring Language: Thinking, Writing, Communicating - Communities
of Speech. This film is from Penn State (AV Services, (800) 826-0132) and
is a very good treatment of language standards and varieties. It features Walt
Wolfram discussing regional and ethnic varieties and the implementation of
language standards for most of the film. In an odd decision, the film-makers
stuck Deborah Tannen in between two Wolfram segments with
disconnected discourse stuff. She should have made separate film for them.
As it stands, her segment does not fit well. With this organizational proviso,
I think the film is a good one and can be used with introductory classes. (By
the way, this film has a partner in the 'Exploring Language' Series called
'The Shape of Language.' It is an introduction to basic linguistic concepts.
It is also in IAH, but I have not previewed it. It is not necessary to view it
before the one on 'Communities of Speech, even with beginning courses.)
8. LAVIS Films. This are a series of videotapes form the LAVIS (Language
Variety in the South) II Conference held at Auburn University in 1993. One
might consult Cynthia Bernstein in English at Auburn to see if this series is
still available. They are not generally suitable for beginning students, but
they contain some very good stuff. Here's what we have seen so far.
(N.B.: When you buy the entire series, a photocopied set of handouts
which were distributed at the conference comes along with the tapes; they
are necessary for some of the presentations and are housed with the
videotapes in Linton Hall.)
a. Bill Labov on the Southern Vowel Shift. Labov shows how the
vowels in the southern US are rotating and how this rotation causes
miscommunication (even among local speakers). This is a technical talk,
and if viewers do not know the basics of the Southern Shift (and at least
acoustic [spectrographic] phonetics) before watching it, they will get little
out of it. For advanced students, however, the review of several current
methodologies in studying vowel systems is worthwhile, and, of course,
for less advanced students, the fact that southern and northern US English
are diverging (rather than merging in some media-induced 'General
American') is an interesting (and for most of them) counter-intuitive notion.
b. Michael Montgomery. A Retrospective on the study of Southern
Speech. This is a very valuable 'scholar's opinion' on what has happened
over the last ten years or so in the study of Southern US speech.
Montgomery evaluates what has happened and indicates what needs to be
done. He identifies (and evaluates) a number of important resources for
students of Southern US speech as well. Again, however, this is not for
introductory classes nor for those who do not intend to work on Southern
c. Crawford Feagin. The influence of Africa on Southern US
speech. This presentation focuses on three features of Southern US English
which may owe (at least part if not all) their historical backgrounds to the
influence of African languages. The topics are the use of falsetto, the
Southern 'drawl,' and r-lessness (the last of which is treated most
extensively). This is an excellent presentation, a clear handout, and requires
only moderate linguistic sophistication. I would recommend it for
intermediate level classes, especially for those with an interest in AA
English in general and/or Southern US English in particular.
Interesting regional linguistic aside: Feagin is herself a native
EAfemale Alabaman. When she refers to African Americans in the parts of
her paper which are her own, she uses the term 'Black,' but she reads from
some historical documents which use the term 'Negro.' Interestingly,
however, she uses a traditional southern pronunciation /nIgr[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]/ (where
[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]=schwa) for this item. I saw lots of Northerners jump in their seats in the
audience when she did so, for they do not so carefully distinguish between
this polite southern pronunciation of the item 'Negro' and the racially
offensive /nIg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]/ (r-ful, of course, [e.g., /nIg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]r/] in some southern speech
communities). (One must admit that the phonetic difference is subtle, but in
many southern speech communities, the social distinction is [or at least was]
as dramatic as /nigro/ versus /nIg[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE](r)/ was in the north. Perhaps, as in
American Tongues, some instructors will want to prepare students for this
usage. It could also lead to an interesting discussion of the source for the
folk belief that all southern EAs are racists.
That's all we have so far. I anyone runs into some good language in culture
or society films out there, let us know and we'll try to schedule them
See you next semester.
Dennis R. Preston
Department of Linguistics and Languages
Michigan State University
preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]pilot.msu.edu