The Secrecy of Traveller Language: Drawing Parallels between Irish Shelta and Scottish Cant!

Attitudes to traveller language and to the minority groups who speak these varieties make for interesting specimens of study. Therefore, I have decided that the following blog post should be dedicated to looking at the marginalisation of minority groups by members of the majority culture. Interestingly, often stereotypes attributed to a particular group rubs off on the group’s language variety. This can be seen in the case of Shelta/Cant (language variety used predominately by Irish Travellers) as well as Scottish Cant used by Scottish Travellers. The inspiration to write this post can be duly attributed to the blog post on Scottish Cant by the prominent blogger ‘alpinmack’ and the research conducted on Shelta by Binchy (2008).

Please visit the following link to access ‘alpinmack’ blog post on Scottish Cant:

https://alpinmack.wordpress.com/2013/03/13/secret-traveller-cant-the-language-of-scottish-tinkers/

The comments which i chose to look at in more detail are provided below:

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Firstly, the negative stigmas attached to a group may rub off on the variety itself; for instance, referring to Travellers as tinkers or to ‘Cant’ as slang may cause extremely negative reactions. The term tinker is an offensive and derogatory label which makes reference to a tinsmith, a person who repairs things of tinware, but the stereotypical association of individuals with dirty or untidy appearances is often projected onto a whole group of Travellers. Therefore, by labelling them as such, outsiders falsely assign these labels to them as well. In doing so, the language variety shared by all members of this group may also be viewed negatively because it is the one common factor that all members of that ingroup share, a factor which distinguishes them from members of the outgroup.

The Traveller language both Irish Shelta/Cant and Scottish Cant is often perceived as a secretive language by outsiders and these types of view often arise due to misconceptions held about traveller communities. The controversial blog post on Scottish Cant which gives rise to a fiery debate in the comments section is a very good example of these misconceptions – But how misinformed are these views? The author notes that although some of the words listed as Scottish Cant are taken from many other languages, their meanings in context can alter depending on the situation/tone of voice to convey different (secretive) meanings. However, one user takes quite negatively to the post in general:

The idea that one of the main functions of ‘Cant’ is to express secretive messages in order to exclude outsiders from their conversations may not be completely unfounded. The user is clearly angry over Cant being discussed by a non-traveller and refers to them as ‘you people’. This gives some support to the notion that Scottish Travellers do not like to publicise their language lest it be used against them by members outside their tight nit communities, especially the authorities. It can also be noted that Travellers have not always been on right side of the law and this may fuel their desire to keep Cant from the public eye. Furthermore, the suspicious slant to ‘why do you want to know so much about us anyway’ again, supports this notion that Travellers perhaps do not want to be ostracised and ridiculed as well as taken advantage of by the “hantle” or “hornies” (police).  Moreover, this defensive attitude can be further modelled by the prohibition of teaching Cant to outsiders and only ever emphasising the teaching of the language to Traveller offspring. Yet, this defensive stance is more or less likely to be taken by non-travellers as an attempt to break away from the norms of society and community. Therefore, Travellers may easily be perceived suspiciously or as untrustworthy because they disenfranchise their own communities from society by cutting others of from accessing their language and their main method of communication. Now, this sentiment is understandable simply because in a seller – consumer context, if two sellers actively exclude the consumer by switching to a foreign variety then it is possible that the consumer may think that she/he is being scammed.

However, Binchy (2008) argues that the association of Traveller language to a secret language is often misleading. This is because secrecy is not the only function of the language and other complex functions may exist such as protecting the privacy of one’s conversation. For instance, in order for an outsider not to hear the contents of a conversation taking place in English, travellers may switch to Cant in order to protect the privacy of the “Traveller world”. Interestingly, this is something that I feel I can identify with as a bilingual speaker of English and Urdu; for example, If I am travelling on public transport with a family member, then I may actually switch to Urdu. This is not to use the language against monolingual speakers of English but simply to make sure that a conversation which is solely associated with us stays private between us.

Binchy, Alice. 2008. Researching ‘Shelta’, the Travellers’ Language. Béaloideas 76, 248-262.

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Fer sure, Fer sure – She’s a Valley Girl!

Frank Zappa’s song ‘Valley Girl’ sensationalised and popularised the American sociolect Valspeak with its release in 1982. Valley Girl was Zappa’s only song to reach the US Top 40 and continued its burst of popularity throughout the 1980s.

“Valley Girl”

Valley Girl
She’s a Valley Girl
Valley Girl
She’s a Valley Girl
Okay, fine…
Fer sure, fer sure
She’s a Valley Girl
In a clothing store
Okay, fine…
Fer sure, fer sure
She’s a Valley Girl
In a clothing store

Like, OH MY GOD! (Valley Girl)
Like-TOTALLY (Valley Girl)
Enchino is like SO BITCHEN (Valley Girl)
There’s like the Galleria (Valley Girl)
And like all these like really great shoe stores
I love going into like clothing stores and stuff
I like buy the neatest mini-skirts and stufl
It’s like so BITCHEN cuz like everybody’s like
Super-super nice…
It’s like so BITCHEN..,

On Ventura, there she goes
She just bought some bitchen clothes
Tosses her head ‘n flips her hair
She got a whole bunch of nothin’ in there

Anyway, he goes are you into S and M?
I go, oh RIGHT…
Could you like just picture me in like a LEATHER TEDDY
Yeah right, HURT ME. HURT ME…
I’m sure! NO WAY’
He was like freaking me out…
He called me a BEASTIE…
That’s cuz like he was totally BLITZED
He goes like BAG YOUR FACE’
I’m sure!

Valley Girl
She’s a Valley Girl
Valley Girl
She’s a Valley Girl
Okay. fine…
Fer sure, fer sure
She’s a Valley Girl
So sweet ‘n pure
Okay, fine…
Fer sure, fer sure
She’s a Valley Girl
So sweet’n pure
It’s really sad (Valley Girl)
Like my English teacher
He’s like… (Valley Girl)
He’s like Mr. BU-FU (Valley Girl)
We’re talking Lord God King BU-FU (Valley Girl)
I am SO SURE
He’s like so GROSS
He like sits there and like plays with all his rings
And he like flirts with all the guys in the class
It’s like totally disgusting
I’m like so sure
It’s like BARF ME OUT…
Gag me with a spoon!

Last idea to cross her mind
Had something to do with where to find
A pair of jeans to fit her butt
And where to get her toenails cut

So like I go into this like salon place, y’know
And I wanted like to get my toenails done
And the lady like goes., oh my God, your toenails
Are like so GRODY
It was like really embarassing
She’s like OH MY GOD, like BAG THOSE TOENAILS
I’m like sure…
She goes, uh, I don’t know if I can handle this, y’know.
I was like really embarassed…

Valley Girl
She’s a Valley Girl
Valley Girl
She’s a Valley Girl
Okay, fine
Fer sure, fer sure
She’s a Valley Girl
And there is no cure
Okay, fine
Fer sure, fer sure
She’s a Valley Girl
And there is no cure

Like my mother is like a total space cadet (Valley Girl)
She like makes me do the dishes and (Valley Girl)
CLEAN the cat box (Valley Girl)
I am sure
That’s like GROSS (Valley Girl)
BARF OUT’ (Valley Girl)
OH MY GOD (Valley Girl

Hi!
Uh-huh… (Valley Girl)
My name?
My name is Ondrya Wolfson (Valley Girl)
Uh-huh
That’s right, Ondrya (Valley Girl)
Uh-huh .
I know (Valley Girl)
It’s like …
I do not talk funny …
I’m sure (Valley Girl)
Whatsa matter with the way I talk? (Valley Girl)
I am a VAL, I know
But I live in like in a really good part of Encino so it’s okay (Valley Girl)
So like, I don’t know
I’m like freaking out totally
Oh my God!

Hi – I have to go to the orthodontist
I’m getting my braces off, y’know
But I have to wear a retainer
That’s going to be really like a total bummer
I’m freaking out
I’m SURE
Like those things that like stick in your mouth
They’re so gross ..
You like get saliva all over them
But like, I don’t know, it’s going to be cool.

Valspeak is characterised by certain linguistic features such as a high rising terminal, using qualifiers as quantifiers and slang terms/phrases. Qualifiers such as ‘like’ have also made their way into wider American English. It is clear from Frank Zappa’s lyrics that the song was intended to ridicule users of Valspeak. I find this song particularly interesting because these linguistic forms were first used, almost exclusively, by a certain type of sociodemographic i.e. affluent upper-middle class young girls living in San Fernando Valley. Johnstone (2010:31) argues that when certain features are used in particular contexts, they can lead to the creation of social identities.

The use of phrases such as ‘barf me out’ ‘bitchin’ ‘like, oh my God’ or uptalk can come to index a Valley girl because these features are repeatedly used by all members of this particular socio-demographic. But can this indexical relationship come to index other social identities? I do believe this to be the case for Valspeak because of the way it is presented in this song. This becomes immediately clear when Zappa describes Valley girls using the following phrases “tosses her head ‘n flips her hair; she got a whole bunch of nothin’ in there” as well the high rising terminal at the end of the declarative sentence “there’s like the Galleria”. When these features are used by Valley girls in connection to certain topics such as shopping, personal appearance and social status, they can index other social identities which are associated with these topics. For example, if a Valley girl uses these features with reference to these topics it might then index a personality which is self-centred, materialistic, and stupid.  In fact, Moon also used surfer slang in the song which did become popularised in Valspeak after the song was released yet, surfers despise and avoid the use of Valspeak. I would say that the negative stereotypes have scared people off from using these terms in their speech but how do phrases like ‘bag those toenails’ or ‘gag me with a spoon’ get associated with Valley girls? Johnston (2010:32) claims that “people learn to hear linguistic variants as having indexical meanings by being told that they do, and they continue to share these ideas about indexical meanings.” Again, the spread of such stereotypes are down to transmission from one person to another. I think these stereotypes would have become stabilised not only through the song’s popularity but also through films like ‘Clueless’ whose main protagonist Cher Horowitz is the pure definition of a Valley girl.

Johnstone, Barbara. 2010. Locating language in identity. In Carmen Llamas and Dominic Watt (eds.), Language and Identities, pp. 29-36. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.

Ebonics: a language, dialect or slang

The real aim for this blog is to open myself up to the differing views held by specialists and non-specialists alike on the topic of Ebonics or as it is more formally known as African American Vernacular English (AAVE). Interestingly, it is quite common for individuals to make attitudinal judgments about speakers of different language varieties even if their views are not influenced by expert knowledge of how language works (Montgomery and Beal, 2011). Yet, their opinions should not be overlooked or disregarded because it gives us a real insight into how these presuppositions about language can impact an ‘individual’s performance of language’ (Cramer and Montgomery, 2016).

This post has been largely motivated by a discussion forum which I came across recently. The forum was titled, “Is Ebonics or Black English a bad influence for American English?”. I will share the link, but I will also make specific references to certain comments on the discussion page.

In order to read the forum please use the following hyperlink to gain access: http://www.antimoon.com/forum/2005/6925.htm

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The very first post uploaded onto the thread quotes a black American woman who despite recognising that Ebonics is ‘way of life’ dubs it as improper English. The use of social markers such ‘improper’ and ‘incorrect’ to describe Ebonics shows that this individual views Ebonics as slang or deviant system which has strayed from the norm and has real potential of polluting the standard or the ‘proper way of speaking’. It is perceptions like these which are interesting to analyse because they already show that non-linguists have this inbuilt bias that certain varieties are better or ‘more correct’ than others. This makes them more vulnerable to the myth of verbal deprivation where they start to form direct correlations between, what they perceive to be, “incorrect” language use and impairments in comprehensibility and intelligence (Labov, 1969). This first comment prompts other members to step forward to agree or disagree with the assertions that have been put forward.

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Contrarily, the second post marks a point of departure by emphasising that Black English is a fully-fledged language with its own system of rules and syntactical constructions. More importantly, the commenter shows an awareness that characterisations such as ‘an inability to conjugate’ are not only false but also demeaning and offensive. The second commenter pushes forward with the notion that linguistic systems are equal but different and attempts to move the discourse away from taking a deficit approach to non-standard varieties. This may be because she recognises that using such characterisations as ‘incorrect’ or ‘inability’ can lead to stigmatisation of certain features. This is because since these features signal group identity, negative perceptions may be extended to all members of that particular outgroup.

B84_LIThe third commenter agrees with the second post that Ebonics seems to pose no potential problems of interference in the standard variety. However, the commenter likens Ebonics to other groups who use substandard forms of English such as the ‘beatniks’ ‘zoot-suitors’ ‘surfers and valley girls’. However, this directly undermines the case of those individuals who claim that Ebonics is not a sociolect or slang, but a rule-governed language like other natural speech varieties (Ebonics Site, 2017). In fact, it is rather infuriating to compare Valspeak and surfer slang which have lost popularity over the years in southern California to a stable dialect like Ebonics – why should Ebonics be classified as a trendy lingo instead of stable linguistic system? Now, although Ebonics incorporates certain features from the African languages, speakers of Ebonics can readily communicate with speakers of standard English; therefore, Ebonics cannot be classified as a separate language (Ebonics Site, 2017). It is however, possible to rule out the use of ‘slang’ to define Ebonics because slang primarily deals with vocabulary whereas, Ebonics is not restricted to vocabulary.

Please visit the following site for more detailed information on Ebonics: https://sites.google.com/site/ebonicssite/

Cramer, J. and Montgomery, C. 2016. Cityscapes and perceptual dialectology: Global Perspectives on Non-Linguists’ Knowledge of the Dialect Landscape. De Gruyter Mouton

Labov, William. 1972. The logic of non-standard English. In Pier P. Giglioli (ed.), Language and Social Context: Selected ReadingsHarmondsworth: Penguin.

Montgomery, C. and J. Beal. 2011. Perceptual dialectology. In: W. Maguire and A. McMahon (eds.), Analysing Variation in English. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 121-148. 

Etiquette for Ladies: “The most attractive quality, you say?… Well don’t sound too learned, it’ll only make him jealous!”

To a large extent, 19th century society the binary options for gender were either masculinity or femininity. The advent of industrialisation and its promise to move people up the social ladder meant that more people were interested in refining their language use and changing their behaviour and mannerisms in order to achieve upward social mobility. Enter the ‘19th century advice books’ and you have a perfect business for exploiting people all in the name of ‘proper’ and ‘perfect’ speech.

In particular, the toxic advice given out to women on their language use will make you wish you had swallowed your own vomit than to have to carry on reading.  WARNING: PLEASE KEEP A SICK BAG ON HAND!

The following explicit content has been taken from a range of sources:

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Other than making your blood boil, these pieces of advice do provide an insight into 19th century attitudes to women’s language use. It is not hard to decipher from this that women were regarded as less intelligent and much less likely to be engaged in thoughtful and technical conversations. Yet, if these views were expressed in present day Britain, there is a very high chance you would be mauled in the street by a very large group of feminists. So why were such attitudes tolerated in the 19th century? An explanation of this rests partly on the attitudes to gender roles at that time. For instance, women were indoctrinated to live their lives either securing a profitable marriage or to upholding and maintaining the values of that relationship within the familial domain. In order to reach these goals more importance was placed on being ‘feminine’, ‘soft’, ‘fragile’ and to conduct oneself in a ‘graceful’ manner. Essentially, these feminine qualities took precedence over erudition and intellectual superiority. This only helped to reinforce the idea that women should speak ‘softly’ and in a ‘feminine manner’ so that they don’t overstep their boundaries.

Interestingly, women themselves contributed to the consolidation of such attitudes by taking on these domestic responsibilities they fixed their position in the social hierarchy. Furthermore, it was rather easy for men to ostracise women from specialist conversations because their lack of education amounted to complete ignorance and insufficient knowledge of topics. Additionally, the last thing a 19th century women wanted to do was to chase away any potential suitors by daring to sound ‘well learned’. In fact, this was considered off-putting and would leave women vulnerable to being tagged as a ‘blue-stocking’ or which I would dub in present day lingo as “RUN FOR YO FU*CKING LIVES – HER BRAINS ARE BIGGER THAN HER BOOBS!”.

Nevertheless, it is quite clear from these attitudes why women were told to speak in a more feminine and gentile manner and to restrict their speech to topics which lacked intellectual depth. I would go as far as to argue that Lea and Blanchard (1840) thought it against a women’s nature to use language to convey facts. Their advice makes me wonder whether they thought small talk and gossip was meant to be hardwired into a women’s intellect.

Sources:

‘The Laws of Etiquette: or, short rules and reflections for conduct in society’ by Carey, Lea &   Blanchard, 1836.

‘Etiqueette for Ladies: With Hints on the Preservation, Improvement, and Display of Female Beauty’ by Lea and Blanchard, 1840.

‘Martine’s Hand-book of Etiquetter and Guide to True Politeness’ by Martine, 1866

 

Who let the CAT out of the bag?

Olivia Gatwood’s poem ‘Ode to the women on Long Island’ doesn’t bother beating around the bush. It is fierce, unapologetic, and has feminism slapped on it like a warning sign. When taken in conjunction with a follow up interview by Newsdaily, we get a glimpse into why Gatwood structures her poem as a conversation with her imagined interlocuters. The communicative adjustments hardwired into the structure of this piece sheds light on both the poet’s attitudes to her audience and to her imagined interlocutors. Howard Giles’ (2016) CAT theory, known more formally as the communication accommodation theory, is used to analyse Gatwood’s structural choices as well her communicative intentions. Gatwood also pays attention to the notion of audience design – her imagined interlocuters are not the only influence on her stylistic choices.

Although the poem’s content is filled with nothing but awe for the ‘women on Long Island’, I can’t help but wonder why her delivery is not completed fully in the Long Island accent. It would seem more logical to converge towards those conversational partners whom we hold positive feelings for. Yet, this case is a perfect example of the disparity between psychological and linguistic accommodation (Giles et al, 2016). For instance, when the poet comes ‘out of character’ her accent switches back to her own whereas, whenever she needs to impersonate her interlocuter she puts on a very convincing Long Island accent. Check it out! You will be fooled for sure. To solve this mystery, we can take a look at the interview between Newsdaily and Olivia Gatwood.

Ode to the Women on Long Island:

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To the question: ‘Why did you decide to perform this piece in an accent?’ The poet replies that she was inspired by the way these women carry themselves – they are not afraid of having opinions nor do they stereotypically feel the need to stay quiet. Perhaps the most striking comment she makes is that these women never had “to learn” how a woman is “supposed” to behave and this is carried in their voices.

This is precisely why I feel the poet chooses to diverge from her interlocuters in this imagined conversation. For the poet, these women are an enigma, they are loud and boisterous with an unwavering resolve and more importantly they are something she aspires to be like. These feelings of reverence and respect are the reasons she diverges from these women – just as all fans in a particular fandom do! Her motives are to draw complete attention to the women of Long Island because it has to be all about them. In distancing her speech, she singles out these women and highlights their awesomeness to the audience. The poet shows psychological convergence by emphasizing and positively evaluating outgroup values; therefore, her intention is to accommodate to her interlocuters. Yet, this is only made possible through linguistic divergence – in other words Gatwood wants to appear favourably to her interlocuters but she achieves this goal by distancing her speech.

The poet’s choices can also be influenced by members of the audience – Gatwood wants the audience to let go of any preconceived biases and to see these women as she sees them which is why she gives these women their own platform to perform on. The poet’s aim is not only to share her experiences but to place these women in the spotlight and to make their lives, experiences, attitudes and belief systems a living example for other women to follow suite.

Dragoyevic, Marko, Jessica Gasiorek and Howard Giles. 2016. Accommodative strategies as core of the theory. In Howard Giles (ed.), Communication Accommodation Theory: Negotiating Personal Relationships and Social Identities Across Contexts, pp. 36-59. Cambridge: Cambridge University press

18th c. Language Attitudes to Northern Accents Vs. 21st c. Language Attitudes to Northern Accents

This post was inspired by a particular piece of research conducted by Manchester Metropolitan University (MMU) on dialect and accent perceptions in Greater Manchester. The study aimed at understanding how certain language varieties are geographically placed as well as what social judgments are attached to language varieties and their speakers. If you would like to look further into the details of the project, please visit the following website http://www2.mmu.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/story/?id=3687. However, I also wanted to add another interesting slant to this blog post by tracing present day attitudes towards northern accents back in time to the views held by 18th century society. In particular, the contribution by Jonathan Swift will be a fruitful point of departure.

Northern accents were often met with hostility from the upper-middle classes in the 18th century. For example, the northern accent was deemed as ‘abominable’ and speakers were vilified in society as having ‘impediments in their speech’ but more interestingly these accents were branded as degenerate and their speakers accused of an ‘imperfect knowledge of the English Tongue.’ What could the consequences of such toxic attitudes be? Well, these descriptions seem to indicate a deep animosity to non-standard English as well as a sense of superiority over northern speakers. I would like to highlight the following phrase for my readers to reflect on – ‘impediments in their speech’. What could we say about 18th century attitudes based on this? I would argue that comments such as these actually hint at some very dangerous, underlying beliefs. For example, this isn’t simply an issue of whether the way certain individuals speak is pleasing to the ear, it creates this opinion that these varieties wouldn’t even exist if there wasn’t something fundamentally wrong with the speaker. The presumption follows that there is only one correct way of speaking which is the standard.

Essentially, this imposes societal pressure on all other groups and forces the creation of benchmark standard without having to physically enforce the standard via language policies. Southerners are keen to stigmatise those features of Northern dialects which are quite distinctive and identifiable. For Instance, those features which mark a distinction between northern and southern speech such as abbreviating words by retrenching vowels are tagged as ‘barbaric’, ‘rough’ and as ‘harsh unharmonious sounds’ (Swift, 1974).

The following map was constructed by MMU after researching the perceptions on language varieties in Greater Manchester:

map mmu

However, unlike the negative attitudes of 18th century society, present-day attitudes to varieties spoken in Greater Manchester are much more of a mixed bag of nuts. The map consists of five clear dialect areas: ‘rough’, ‘poor’, ‘broad’, ‘multicultural’ and ‘posh’. Why is there such variation in attitudes to certain areas and the dialects associated with these areas? It is important to note that individuals filling out questionnaires were residents living in Manchester. Therefore, we could argue that there are two main reasons for the use of adjectives such as ‘working – class’, ‘rough’ and ‘poor’. The first being that participants either hailed from these areas and have been told they sound like this, or else they do not originate from these boroughs but are aware of negative stereotypes associated with these areas. For instance, Oldham being an area which is densely populated with a certain type of demographic i.e. working class or economically disadvantaged peoples. Another plausible explanation is that participants felt inclined to rate outgroup varieties more negatively in order to distance the speech of these members from their own dialect.

These negative perceptions reflect attitudes held by 18th century society. If working – class individuals speak in a distinct way they are categorised under one umbrella and because all working-class speakers share a particular set of features, their dialect is considered ugly. This is also the case in present day attitudes as well; for example, since speakers living in Oldham are part of a certain type of demographic and share particular dialect, it is automatically assumed that if you speak in this dialect, you too will be hailed as belonging to this speech community. Essentially, you will be running the risk of being associated with these labels.

On other hand, positive attitudes were also expressed, and this marks a stark contrast from 18th century attitudes. This may be due to increased social mobility which has taken place over the last two centuries and may mean that class distinctions are not so very clear anymore. Another plausible reason is ingroup identity; for example, all participants belong to the county of Greater Manchester. Thus, it is possible that positive attributes are result of ingroup preference because any label attached to the group will essentially represent the participant too.

Swift, J. (1974). A proposal for correcting, improving and ascertaining the English tongue. London: Scolar Press.

 

Is there such a thing as an ‘authentic’ accent?

Individuals often possess certain expectations about behaviours which speakers or groups of speakers should exhibit in regard to language use. In order to analyse such language stereotypes, we need to find those public platforms where individuals are most likely to express such attitudes freely and openly. Interestingly, language attitudes can often manifest themselves in public domains such as social media sites, published documents as well as comment sections.  I find that the relatively unrestricted access to these sites allows us to influence and be influenced by the various attitudes held by members on these sites.

According to Burgoon and Siegel (2004) in certain situations, individuals will make judgements on what they consider to be appropriate and normal language use. These attitudes can lead to acceptance or rejection of the message being portrayed by the communicator. What truly surprises me is that these attitudes can manifest themselves in almost all forms of public speech from movie accents to talk shows. In fact, I found these attitudes existing quite prevalently in the comments section of (a) my all time favourite movie, ‘Con Air’ and (b) in a talk show interview between Graham Norton and Chris Pratt.

The following comments are presented below:

Graham Norton Show – Chris Pratt:

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Con Air (1997):

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The attitudes expressed under the comments section for the talk show mark a stark contrast to the comment section for Nicholas Cage’s movie ‘Con Air.’ Audiences are at once surprised to find that an American actor is able to convincingly portray an Essex accent whereas, Cage is repeatedly branded as a terrible actor for his portrayal of a southern Alabama accent.

The positive and negative views expressed can be accounted for using the language expectancy theory (Burgoon, 2004). Often, ‘individuals use language to conform to social norms; however, if the communicator deviates from this particular system intentionally, it can incite a positive or negative reaction’ (The Audiopedia, 2017). This is quite clearly the case for both Cage and Pratt who intentionally deviate from the expected behaviour for purposes of entertainment. As the theory assumes, Chris Pratt’s Essex accent is at once positively evaluated because commenters are wholly surprised to find that Pratt’s accent change conforms to the cultural values and societal norms attached to a competent performance of this accent. Furthermore, this simply adds to persuasiveness of the overall message and heightens the audience’s positive attitudes to Pratt. For example, commenters perceive Pratt’s acting skills as being ‘great’ simply because their personal expectations of the situation have been met and exceeded resulting in an exaggerated evaluation of the speaker’s behaviour.

Although to my ears Cage’s southern accent sounds faultless, this is not the case for many commenters who perceive his southern accent to be ‘insulting’ or ‘shitty’. Moreover, cage’s attempt to convincingly portray a southerner, raised in Alabama, is rejected by the audience. This is primarily because Cage’s attempts do not match the commenters’ perceived language ideals/expectations which reduces the persuasiveness of the message. However, what I find most interesting is that the one characteristic shared by all commenters, on both comment sections, was this unwavering belief in ‘authenticity’, and that they themselves knew what an ‘authentic’ Essex or Alabama accent sounded like. But is there really such a thing as an ‘authentic’ accent? Do all groups speak in the same way? I would argue that this is certainly not the case! Our perceptions and subsequent attitudes of language use are dependent on our personal experiences with speakers of these particular language varieties. For me, Cage performs in accordance to my stereotypes of southerners and therefore his performance is faultless; whereas, for many others his attempt ‘lies outside the bandwidth of socially acceptable behaviour’. In fact, rather than the actor’s scenes being taken seriously, they are instead mocked and ridiculed.

Yet, language attitudes often arise from exposure to these accents via public domains such as direct interaction, TV shows or adverts which may be contributing factor in how shared expectations and language stereotypes arise to begin with. This is precisely why we influence and are influenced by such public forums where any individual with a working WIFI can share their opinions.

For more on language expectancy theory, please visit:

Burgoon, M. and Siegal, J., 2004, Language expectancy theory: insight to application, in J. Seiter and R. Gass (eds.), Perspectives on persuasion, social influence and compliance gaining (pp. 146-64) Boston: Pearson.