A Linguistic Inquiry...


Registered Senior Member
For a paper im decided on evaluating and analyzing an example of language and culture in a course of action. Now the fun part is that I can take a topics from my family, friends to anything within the media ie TV , Movies , ect…. So there are many environments I can incorporate. What do you guys think would be an interesting and somewhat unique way to do this? Or should I just go the easy rout and transcribe a movie and use that ?

Opinions , suggestions , thoughts?
What's your background? Are you well-versed in the principles of linguistics, some knowledge, or just starting? Do you know how "buckaroo" came into English from the mispronunciation of a Spanish word? How many languages have you studied? Do you understand the basic concepts of phonetics, grammar and syntax? Can you describe some of the principal differences between a well-known dialect and the standard language in your region, such as American Southern or London Cockney?

The relationship between dialect (or idiolect, the language of an individual) and culture is complicated. Depending on your mastery of the discipline, you might want to start with a simple assignment.

I would not choose a movie--at least not a fictional story--since your teacher appears to want this to be a serious assignment. Screenwriters play pretty loose with their language and directors make it worse. They just want it to sound entertaining so consistency is not important. Any relationship between the culture of the community in which the story takes place and their speech is subordinate to the whims of the writer and director. Novels are often no better because novelists don't have a huge research staff and they simply get things wrong, ending up with dialog that is often inconsistent and sometimes laughable.

I would suggest avoiding fiction. TV shows that are not so carefully scripted, like news and talk shows, can illustrate the slow formation of speech patterns and word choices based on the show's environment. You could do a pretty good study of the language on The Daily Show. Even South Park--which is as much sociology as entertainment--has some linguistic tendencies that mirror the opinions of Parker and Stone, but they might not be easy to detect. I'm sure whole books have been written about rap music lyrics. Politics has its own language where words take on new meanings.

I think it would be hard to study the speech patterns of your family and friends because they sound normal to you. You would have a hard time distinguishing between their idiosyncracies and standard American. (Or British/Kiwi/whatever, but I'm guessing from your dialect that you're American.) You're not conscious of them. Since I've been moderating this board, a number of people have pointed out things in my own English that I thought were standard American, which I now suspect might be elements of a Chicago dialect that I never noticed as different from that of my almost lifelong home in Los Angeles.

I think you'd do best to study a community that you're well acquainted with, but not part of. Your father's immigrant relatives, your mother's professional colleagues, the Lithuanian gardeners who have been taking care of your parent's property for ten years, the way your buddies on the basketball team talk, your little brother's RPG homies, the people who sing your favorite kind of songs.

If you really want to study fiction, perhaps it would be fun to use a community that is entirely fictional, like a sci-fi show. If it's a good one like Star Trek:TNG, every word of dialog has been crafted to accomplish two contradictory things: Identify the characters as being clearly from another time and culture, and nonetheless make their conversations understandable to us. (Do you suppose a resident of colonial Williamsburg would understand you and me as easily as we understand Captain Picard and Data? :))