Date: Thu, 26 Jan 1995 18:12:30 -0600


Subject: TV and dialect

Sorry to take some time getting back to some replies on my comments on TV and

dialects that came over the net a couple of days ago.

Four people made comments on my statements regarding loanwords in the

Caribbean creoles, Cajun French, and Gullah. These people were Tim Frazer, MaikGibson, Peter Patrick, and Mike Picone. My message was inspired by Tim F's

message on TV and it's influence on dialects.

In response to Tim's reply, I wouldn't say that there is an NBC Handbook of

Pronunciation, but the national (ABC, CBS, NBC) and international (CNN) channels

do have a certain kind influence over all regional dialects in the US with

regard to uncommon words (especially place names) that are used almost

exclusively on such channels. After having spent 5 years in Europe, I came

back to the States surprised to find that the local news channels really do

cover local news and hardly go beyond that. My wife was astonished that she

could never find much about anything in the world until we got cable TV. As

certain place names (Rwanda for example) are pretty much pronounced more or

less on the national and international channels by the same people, there may

be a tendency for those people living in the States and who watch the news on

these channels to adopt the pronunciation of this world with a labialized

central approximant [Rw] rather than producing a form that conforms more

appropriately to the phonotactics of their regional dialect [Ruw] or [REw]

(the E being a schwa) for example. This is highly debatable, but I think that

the national and international news channels do provide some lexical items

that can have a minor phonetic effect on the regional dialect. I emphasize

phonetic here and not phonological as the influence may not spread to other

established words in the English variety spoken in the area; the phonetic

influence remains with the loanwords. I believe this is also a response to

Maik's reply.

Peter brought up the idea that face-to-face contact would have a higher

percentage of influence than TV in such contexts. With respect to the very

specific lexical items (ie place names) that would come over the channels, the

probability of someone using these words in everyday conversations would be

low, but the knowledge of the pronunciation would have been gathered from the

news media that treats international news. In the case where people do use

such words in discussions, I would speculate that these could either be (1) an

initiation to the pronunciation of the word; or (2) a reinforcement of the

pronunciation of the word as it has already been introduced on TV. To what

point this "web of inroads" (Mike Picone's statement) could be distinguished

between face-to-face contact and TV, and then be measured, I cannot answer

that question. All I can say is that there may be some influence, specifically

lexical with some phonetic input, that comes from national and international

mass media which may not be transmitted on a more local level either by the

media or by personal contact.

Peter also mentioned that in the contexts mentioned (St. Lucia in the Caribbean,

Sea Island Gullah off the coast of Georgia, and Louisiana Cajun) that the

speakers of the varieties are in daily contact with English speakers. I can

speak for both St. Lucia and Dominica in the Caribbean as my research over the

last few years have centered around them. In the capital cities of St. Luciad Dominica, Castries and Roseau respectively, it is true that the use of English

is higher than that of the outlying regions in the countryside. Parents are

using more English in the home, but the the children are not a homogeneous

group at school. I discussed in my Mai^trise/MA thesis a few years ago due to

a statement that in Castries the children that arrive at school are either (1)

competent in the local variety of St. Lucian English; (2) incapable of speaking

in English at all; or (3) speak a mixed up variety of French Creole and English

varieties (David Frank, personal communication May 22, 1992). This is in the

capital of the country and David Frank has worked there for nearly 10 years on

linguistic issues. French Creole is actively used in the majority of rural

contexts in St. Lucia and even more so in Dominica with its enclaves of

communities that speak French Creole more than English at times. I was

surprised to discover this in interviews with Dominicans and St. Lucians in

England a couple of years of ago for doctoral research.

As for the influence of American English on these two islands, there are some

tourists, but not as many Americans as Europeans. However, American soap

operas and TV shows bombard the homes of St. Lucians and Dominicans as my

informants told me, and by this the islanders take the American terms more than

British variants. The example I had was of TV that is used on both of these

islands and in Trinidad. TV is pronounced [tivi] which may be either a direct

or indirect Americanism as my experience with British speakers, those being

relatives, colleagues and friends, is that [tElE] is more widespread among the

older generations and [tivi] among the younger ones. Can this be a case of

an American term infiltrating British culture as Maik Gibson replied? I'm not

sure, but it would be good to investigate. If this is so, then TV can have an

effect, though small, on speakers of St. Lucian and Dominican French Creoles as

the British variant more popular for TV would have been [tEle] up through

St. Lucian and Dominican independence in 1979 and 1978 respectively. I would

think that American TV program(me)s had a substantial increase in broadcasting

to the islands in the 70s,80s and 90s. This does not explain significant

changes in language, but it may address small issues of influence on dialects.

Lastly, I would like to address Mike Picone's well discussed point of Cajun F French decline in Louisiana. I believe that his thoughts are deal with a lot

of the complex issues involved here. Although it may be difficult to say that

English on TV has had much of an influence on the French Cajun/Creole speakers

of the region, I believe that mass media for the promotion of French has been

influential. The organization CODOFIL (sorry I can't remember what this

acronym stands for as I don't have any of my research documentation here at

work) has done a lot for the promotion of French in Louisiana over the past 10

to 20 years. However, it is important to note that the French that has been

promoted is mainly the variety that is spoken in Europe (France, Belgian) and

in Canada. I realize that there are subvariety issues at play here, but I

don't want to go into that here. CODOFIL brought over language teachers and

assistants from these foreign countries to Louisiana to re-integrate the French

influence into the region. The problem was that there is a signifcant difference, between these Standard French varieties and that of Cajun French and French

Creole, and this is at phonological and morphosyntactic levels. The classic

example is the child who comes home from school where she is learning French to

tell her grandmother that the window is a "fene^tre" while her Cajun or Creole

French speaking grandmother (who thinks that she herself speaks standard French)

says that this is not true because the window is a "chassis" (I may be a little

off on the form of this word as again I don't have any of my reference books &

articles here at work). It is true that this is at a face-to-face level, but

CODOFIL did do some mass media work, especially on the radio, and maybe on TV.

In such a case, the influence, whether positive or negative, of Standard French

efforts made by CODOFIL on the Cajun and Creole French speaking region did

happen at some level through the mass media. Again, to what extent this can be

measured with respect to personal contact, I don't know.

I don't have answers to all of your thoughtful responses, but it has given me

some ideas to think about myself with regard to the influence of TV on dialects.

Any other comments?

Jeff Allen

CTE Trainer - Caterpillar Inc.