American Tongues Response EssayThe documentary American Tongues (1987) examines an array of American dialects and accents in all regions of the United States, as well as the perceptions tied to specific ways of speaking.
The film does this by interviewing people of multiple ethnicities, geographical locations, education-levels, and socio-economic classes. The information presented in American Tongues makes the audience consider its distinct way of speaking and the insight it may provide to those around them. The film clearly shows that the way individuals speak, as well as the diction they choose to use or eradicate from their vocabulary, is intricately tied to their identity. Dialect is a form of a language, typically confined to a particular area, that uses its own words, grammar, and pronunciation.
Some dialects are more noticeable than others, and can be used to discern where an individual was raised. Peer influence has a huge impact on how we speak, especially as children, because it gives us the ability to relate to people who have similar interests and goals as us. This is beneficial to our emotional health and the main way to connect to people is through language. As a result of the practice of language and dialect, we form a social identity similar to our peers and may feel ostracized or uncomfortable when we are around people who dont talk in a similar manner. For example, one of the black teenagers from the film showed signs of embarrassment because she didnt use the same dialect as her two friends she preferred to use less slang. The two other girls attributed this variance to her being more proper than them, characterizing her as different from their perceived norm. Identity not only encompasses ones beliefs and expressions, but also ones qualities. The film shows how our qualities can be reflected in our speech, such as Amelia being proper.
These qualities make up an identity. An identity can belong to an individual or a group of people, such as New Yorkers. Indexicality in words can provide information about ones identity and their beliefs. The moving company in New York referred to themselves as Schelpers because that word is only used in that geographical location and they can mark themselves as local. Other locals who use that word will instantly attribute parts of their identity, such as their values, to that company. Dialect and identity go hand in hand because language is an integral part of forming connections to others and expressing aspects of our identity. Since dialect and differences in the way people speak showcase differences in personality, values, and expressions, someone who speaks without a specific dialect must not have any of these things.
If such a person did exist, they would be using a standard variety, which is a language variety typically used by people in their public discourse. There are advantages and disadvantages to having a recognized standard variety. A standard variety is useful in public discourse when you need to be heard by an audience comprised of people from many different regions and not all of them will be able to decipher a local register. Even while watching the film, it was hard to understand what some of the speakers were saying because their variety was so far removed from what is considered standard. While language is mainly used to speak on whats happening in the world, through observations and opinions, it is multi-functional. For example, the Tangier people used their language to distinguish people from their regions whenever they were out of the area where they grew up.
They could instantly recognize someone from their town if they heard them speak. The Brahmins use of language showed the pride they had in their family history and created a sense of exclusivity. These unique varieties add richness to the English language that would not exist if everyone spoke in a standard variety.
Standard varieties create a base that incidentally makes any variety that differs inferior or wrong, when there is no such thing. Those whose dialect is closer to standard will automatically be seen as more respected than those who dont, and as the film explains, urban variety is of a higher quality than rural, middle-class is better than working class, and whites speech is superior to that of black Americans. A standard variety does not create tolerance for differences in speech.The lack of tolerance will only perpetuate cycles of discrimination, prejudice, and negative stereotypes towards people of different ethnicities, education levels, and geographical locations.
People react emotionally to dialect differences because of the language ideologies attached to them. Our dialect makes up our identity so there are strong emotions tied to it like pride and protectiveness, or shame and disgust. Since we feel deeply about our own dialects, we project emotions onto those of other speakers. The narrator from the film says, If someone criticizes the way you talk, you might feel theyre criticizing you. For example, language ideologies tied to southerners have roots in the days of slavery. There are emotions attached to dialect because of history and nationalism, especially for Southerners who may feel as if theyve been the brunt of the joke since the Civil War.
Emotions are also at stake for black Americans who have had to fight for equality since this country was founded. The black man confessed that the way his sons talked, as a result of being a part of a suburban school system, grated on his ears. The fact that hearing his sons talk like white boys made him uncomfortable is due to the historical relationship between whites and blacks in this country and language ideologies tied to black pride and power. Another emotion raised by dialectal differences in the film is fear.
Phillip emphasized his north end Boston accent to make guys at bars more reluctant to confront him. They trust in the idea that those from urban, low-class areas are more violent and hot-headed. American Tongues (1987) shows why dialect and identity cannot be separated. It also shows the perceptions of Americans from all over the United States and how these perceptions are influenced by history, prejudice, and emotion. Examining the anecdotes from the film, as well as my own personal experiences, through linguistic terms has proven helpful in determining the relationship between language and identity.