Date: Fri, 22 Dec 1995 15:59:20 -0500 From: "Dennis R. Preston" Subject: 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. 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. 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 help 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 Cronkite.") 11. Comments on settlement history of US; fewer regional differences west of the Mississippi 12. Roger W. Shuy (Georgetown University) 13. Style differences: Appalachia Kentucky radio call-in program ("I'm just a plain old hillbilly.") 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 southern 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- holes.")] 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 . 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 short 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 classes. 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 >> Dennis R. Preston Department of Linguistics and Languages Michigan State University preston[AT SYMBOL GOES HERE]