Regional and Social Varieties of the American Language
23 April 2007
Gift or Curse for Language Varieties?
In the course of the last 60 years, television became more and more popular all over the world. This popularity is not only caused by the information content but is mainly due to the diverse entertainment programs. With one click on the remote control, we are able to visit the savannah in Africa, beam us right into the middle of the pitch, or participate in fun game shows.
Yet, as always, all that glitters is not gold, and the negative sides may not be omitted when talking about television. Because of its sheer range, television is—like all mass media—a very powerful instrument, and can easily influence the viewers in front of the small screen.
In this paper, I will try to figure out what this influence is in matters of the American language and its varieties. By doing so, I will also try to point out in how far the effects of this influence are positive or negative.
Television: Transporting language all over the country
Originally, the development and spreading of the different varieties of the American language was dependent on several factors, most of them being sociohistorical ones. All these factors go back to the first settlers—who came from different parts of Europe and therefore already spoke in different ways—and their settlement patterns. In the course of time, migration, contact with speakers of other languages, and social establishment influenced the diverse varieties of the language. Therefore, before the age of television, it could be said the way a person spoke depended on where he or she came from, and from which social background. (Wolfram 29-43)
This is still true but one important factor is missing. Today, television must be taken into the equation. “Tell me what you watch, and I will tell you how you speak,” seems to be an appropriate formula. While in the old days, language varieties mainly stayed with their respective speaker groups, television has helped them reaching millions of viewers all over the continent. It is only natural that this process does have consequences, and that the language heard on television is—at least to some extent—adopted by the audience, for better or worse (see Fig. 1). However, this might not be too obvious at first sight, as there are also programs which almost do not use varieties at all.
illustration not visible in this excerpt
Fig. 1. Nick Baker, cartoon, CSL CartoonStock, 7 Apr. 2007
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- Institution / Hochschule
- Johannes Gutenberg-Universität Mainz – Department of English and Linguistics
- language varieties american english american language american language varieties regional social literature media television