Linguistics Department

Qiuana Lopez's Dissertation Defense - Linguistic Crossing and Passing in Hollywood Films: The construction of (in)authenticity through the white use of black speech

Tue, April 3, 2012 | PAR 301

2:30 PM - 4:30 PM

Co-Supervisors:  Patience Epps and Lars Hinrichs

The question of how language comes to be ideologically linked to categories of race through processes of linguistic representation is an engaging one for both the sociolinguist and linguistic anthropologist.  Several recent studies on the topic have pursued two primary directions: language crossing in the everyday talk of social actors (e.g., Bucholtz 1999; Chun 2001; Cutler 1999; Rampton 1995; Sweetland 2002) and popular media performances of minority linguistic varieties by characters of color (e.g., Chun 2004; Fought and Harper 2004; Harper 2006; Meek 2006).  This dissertation investigates these two forms of linguistic representation in tandem by considering the language crossing of mediatized performances.

Specifically, it examines the linguistic performances of African American Language (AAL) by European American actors’.  Through an analysis of 55 films (1979-2008) from multiple genres, this study focuses on two types of linguistic performances. The first is called linguistic passing (Bucholtz 1995; Hall 1995; Fought 2006) because the actors in the films are passing as black or wigger characters during the time they are utilizing linguistic features associated with black people.  The second performance is linguistic crossing because the characters do not pretend to be Black but perform a kind of whiteness by appropriating linguistic as well as other stylistic features from the black community.

In both passing and crossing practices in the films, the variety of AAL presented by the characters are co-constructed by various off-screen people including the actor who animates, the director who advises the actor, as well as the screenwriter who has written the black speech.  In this way, these co-constructed representations are different from those who may pass or cross in the real world.  By demonstrating complex links between language and social meanings such as ideologies about authenticity, identity and racial and gendered stereotypes, these films use AAL along with other visual and physical semiotic displays to both construct and comment on black and white authenticity.

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