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

ADS Friends:

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.




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.

The reviews:

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


Cratis Williams

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

miles south.")

Texas (Most westerners in their speaking ... are more open,

more forthright.")

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

from the

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] . 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

it is

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

US English.

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