Content Outline, American Tongues
(57 minutes running time)
American Tongues surveys regional variety, standards, the influence of
foreign languages, ethnic and gender differences, and presents attitudes
towards and stereotypes of U.S. regional ideolects and sociolects.
('AA' and 'EA' indicate "African-American" and "European-American")
1. Southern (AA) "What part of the South was I from ...
I let 'em guess!"
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: (EA) male, (EA) Pennsylvania Dutch
female, (EA) males, (AA) male child, (EA) female, (EA) female
3. Texas ranch talk, (EA) "cotton, peanuts and 'taters"
4. Northern city talk, "I can use more storm windows in my apartment"
5. (AA) female cheerleaders, "Did you go to the kitty wash"?
6. Various comments on regional dialects; (EA) on (AA) 'yakety-yak';
'Pennsylvania Dutch' speaker on being 'dutchified', e.g. "dumb"
7. Southern (EA) student actors reading Shakespeare: "what sounds funny
or odd to one person is music to another ..."
8. Text: 'Accent' or 'dialect' vs 'slang' and 'jargon'
9. Sales talk (EA male) full of computer jargon
10. Church singing and Tangier Island (VA/MD) fishermen (EA) "I'd
recognize that speech anywhere ... I figure I sound just like Walter
11. Comments on settlement history of US; more regional differences to
the east; fewer regional differences west of the Mississippi River
12. Sociolinguist Roger Shuy: our speech relates to how we live our
lives; as people change, so do their dialects
13. Style differences:
* Appalachia: Kentucky radio call-in marketplace program
* "I don't talk like a Buckeye ... I'm just a plain old hillbilly."
* "I thought this was how everyone talked until I went into the
* Cratis Williams, folklorist, on rhythms of Appalachian dialect
* Boot salesman "He might could wear it in a eight and a half"
* Strong emphasis in Appalachia on the integrity of an individual:
one must talk around a subject half an hour or so before getting
* Ohio "Midwest, straight American, bland." "We don't talk funny in
Columbus, but if you want funny, go about 70 miles south."
* Truck stop restaurant at 7:30 in the morning
* Texas & 'jackalope': Historian A.C. Greene "Most westerners in
their speaking are more open, more forthright; Texans are not
supposed to hide anything"; training cow dogs, "I'm stupid ... you
need to everyday train those dogs..."
14. Text, certain foreign language influences can be seen in different
parts of the country: German in PA Dutch area, African languages with
the Gullah dialect of South Carolina, French with Louisiana Cajun
15. NYC 'Pastrami King' deli: 'chicken fried steak, hush puppies on the
side, cream gravy and ice tea' vs 'kishka, knish, bialys...'
16. Regional lexical differences:
* RI ('cabinet' instead of milk shake)
* Pittsburgh ('gum band' for rubber band)
* Hawaii ('pau hana' for the work's done, finished, over with)
* Louisiana ("jambalaya" spicy rice stew)
* Texas: "antigogglin" for catty [or kitty]-cornered; Pennsylvania
Dutch area, "snickelfritz" for 'rowdy little kid'
* NYC "shlep" or "lug" for "carry" (others think 'schlep' is
17. Words tell about people in a particular place: Oklahoma terminology
for rain storms; Children's language game: we learn language patterns
and vocabulary from the people around us.
18. Sociolinguist Walt Wolfram: "language learning starts in the home,
and is influenced by TV and school; most important is the language of
peers with whom we interact daily, but original dialect is the one we
fall back to"
19. Southern (AA) female professional, moving back & forth between
20. Text: there is no 'Standard' U.S. dialect except 'Network standard.'
(EA) generic voice of 'directory assistance'; "voice from nowhere"
21. (EA) female New England student on Southern speech "This... 'you all'
stuff... When I met my southern boyfriend at Yale I imagined William
Faulkner or Truman Capote; then I drove home with him to the South
and the accent became thicker and thicker. That was the end: I was
not going to have any little southern babies who talked liked that."
22. Regional dialects are associated with what we like or dislike about
other parts of the country. Ohio Columnist Mike Harden:
* "New Yorkers think there's rampant brain death west of the
* "Ohioans retaliate, and suggest that the reason New Yorkers
have such nasal accents is that the air up in skyscrapers is so
* Southerners think Northerners are not hospitable (their voices
sound grating, nasal, and unkind to Southern ears)
* Northerners mock Southern /a:s/ for /ays/ ("See, ice,
* Southern EA females think northern speech is too abrupt, 'cold'
* Texan Molly Irvin on North's prejudicial stereotypes of
southerners ("always depicted by WWII Hollywood as 'dumb and
23. Regional stereotypes quickly identify people and places; 'distinctive
dialects' are often used for villains or comic characters
* (1) (NJ?) "Prize Fight" youth outside storefront; (2) Speech
therapist (Born Yesterday) with blonde who'd 'like to learn to
talk good'; (3) Marlon Brando (On The Waterfront), "a one-way
ticket to Palookaville ... I could'a had class ... instead I'm
* But from Twain's "Huck Finn" to Wilder's "Our Town", dialect
has also been used to make characters appear trustworthy: Rock
Hudson & Doris Day (in Pillow Talk) use of "sincere"
24. Speech and humor: from Will Rogers to the Borscht Belt, performers
have used familiar, non-standard dialects to get laughs: Comedian
Robert Klein, "Georgians talk in questions [rising intonation]; no
wonder they lost the Civil War, the troops couldn't understand what
do do (when the officers called out 'charge?')"
25. Linguistically insecure EA female feels bad when she can't 'speak
26. Consequences of speaking a nonstandard or 'noticed' variety (Brooklyn
speaker ('identified with slum') trying to pronounce "farmer" with
speech coach). People may make fun of you. Non-standard dialects
are not what the corporate world is looking for. Speech therapist
Dennis Beck says the company can't have people representing them who
don't 'sound smart'
27. Even a single place can have many accents: Metropolitan Boston
examples from the North End; Back Bay/Beacon Hill (but standing in
Fenway); Dorchester; and South Boston/Dorchester.
28. Wolfram: it is easier to decide which dialects are 'better' than
those which are 'worse'; 'better' depends on social stereotypes: we
tend to think of urban as better than rural, EA better than AA,
educated better than uneducated, middle class better than lower
class, etc. If one belongs to a stigmatized group, one's speech also
becomes stigmatized. If one speaks a dialect, one's professional
performance must be better.
29. "Three ways of speaking: Cultured, white trash ('uneducated') &
Black" "Let's don't let no stump knock no hole in the bottom of this
30. "Once you learn how the social system works, you need to be at least
one cut above everyone you're competing with"
31. New Orleans (EA) females on style-shifting. "Look at them beautiful
girls. If they'd keep their mouths shut, they'd be perfect."
32. Upper-crust dialects stand out just as much as the blue collar ones
* Boston 'Brahmins' discussing Charles Dickens, etc.
* Boston North Enders (Italian-American) revel in the way they
speak, and often intentionally 'overdo' it. "Chris fucked up big
time ... He took a piss test." Philip exploits North End
vernacular: "The women, they eat it up, [and the guys] You can
intimidate people with your verbal actions." But the dialect is
only effective locally; when his brothers went to college the way
they spoke was a liability; now, back home, they cringe to hear
Philip speak. He regards it as an asset.
33. Group solidarity function of American Black English. Educator Norma
Stokes says the American public has not accepted Black English the
same way it has accepted different varieties of white American
34. Dilemma of whether Blacks should use Black English or standard
English (and then be regarded as 'outsiders') (1) "I don't want my
boys sounding like white males." (2) "She a school girl instead of a
35. Black vernacular only effective 'on the corner with your brothers'.
Dialect is 'political' for group identification, but also
36. Renewal of pride in regional dialects, often exploited in advertising
("Foat Wuth ah luv yew", "I luv Louavull"). We feel a special bond
with people who speak the way we do. Many of us use one dialect for
work and another for home and social life.
37. Frederic Cassidy (editor, DARE [Dictionary of American Regional
English]) on dialect leveling -- local dialects won't change unless
they prevent or 'spoil' comprehension/communication. We'll never all
speak the same way.
38. Attitudes towards varieties; 'why should I change'? Recap of
regional dialects in film's closing credits.
(see also a
complete transcript from the Center for New American
(There are also excerpts on YouTube, for example this New York deli clip)
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Last Updated 03 October 2010