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Sitcom language

Posted by Anders on October 21, 2003

In Reply to: Speech versus dialogue versus prose posted by Word Camel on October 20, 2003

: : : : : : Word Camel's thread "Formal vs. informal speech," cf. below, or, more specifically, the article to which it links, got me thinking. (Enough to start a new thread, I hope.)
: : : : : : Informal speech can be spot-on. You see that in sitcoms in particular. Think of Phoebe (from Friends) saying "Well, duh!" I guess here the major comic effect derives from the irony of a simpleton, i.e. Phoebe, implying that someone is obviously stupid. That is, you laugh as Phoebe shows herself to be not only a dumb blonde, but an arrogant dumb blonde. (It's not that I dislike her; such is her character.)

: : : : : : My favorite show is Will & Grace, though. I love it for its double entendres and fast pace. I can't find any examples off the top of my head that supports my argument. However, the fact remains that there's nothing wrong with, or inaccurate about, informal language. If one restricts oneself to it, leaving out formal language, that's degrading, needless to say. But so is leaving out colloquialisms and slang, I believe, as there are things you can't put into formal language. Let us go with Frazier, another show I love, as it has both - and forever mocks the snobbish aspirations, linguistic and otherwise, of the Crane brothers.
: : : : : : Cheers
: : : : : : Anders

: : : : : ::: I'm curious to know where people think the line should be drawn between informal speech, dialectic speech and poor speech and grammar.

: : : : : I recall years ago, a boxer, Jeff Fenech I think (I may have the wrong man, so don't quote me here), did an advertisement in which he said 'somethink'. The advertisers altered the ad so that it sounded as though Jeff said 'something'. Jeff saw the ad and realised that it had been changed and threatened to sue if they didn't change it back (he won by-the-way). His argument was, that they hired Jeff Fenech, so they'd take him warts and all or not at all. He said that where he grew up, that was how people spoke, he knew no other way and he wasn't ashamed of his upbringing. It sparked quite a discussion among the 'experts' about what constituted poor speech and grammar and what constituted an accent or dialect.

: : : : : I'm often corrected by people when I pronounce 'castle' as 'castle' and not 'cahstle'. I find that offensive. I was raised in country Victoria where we didn't stretch the a's in words. So we said 'plant' not 'plahnt', etc. In NSW, there are mixed pronunciations of short and long a's. Castle has a long a, yet plant a short one. In SA and WA they seem to stretch all the a's, but to my ear, with their accent, they clip their vowels. This is an accent, not a mispronunciation, but could be construed as a mispronunciation.

: : : : : I pronounce a lot of other things differently and have a lot of different terms to city bred people, and I consider it ignorant of them to correct me (as does sometimes happen), just because they were raised in a different environment, where words and terms are said and pronounced differently. By city terms, I speak in many more colloquialisms. In fact I often deliver whole sentences constructed in slang. But that's where I come from. And in doing so, some of this can be grammatically incorrect, but colloquially appropriate.

: : : : : So where do we draw the line between local jargon, who we are, and correct speech and grammar. I think the world would be very dull indeed if we all strictly followed the rules. Although, I can't deny I often cringe when I hear those rules broken.

: : : : : So what's the answer? Is there an answer?

: : : : ::: btw, I aint givin' up my informal speech for nobody!!!!

: : : Hi Lotg (nice name, BTW)
: : : Thanks a lot for your lengthy and interesting message. My mother tongue is Danish, so my whole approach to English is substantially different from yours. For that reason, I find it hard to comment on your A's, which I would associate to a major difference between American and British English.

: : : In terms of formality, I treat both languages in much the same way. Compared to most people, I believe I lean towards the formal side. I can remember being 15 years old, standing in a shop selling musical equipment, consciously speaking a broken language. Consciously or unconsciously, I still do that sometimes. It's as if there is a pressure towards doing that; as if you come accross as a fascist if you speak correctly. I am strongly against that, although I must admit that my protest has been too often silent.

: : : I ain't gonna take it no more! :-)
: : : Anders

: :
: : ::: I suppose that raises another point. It's hard enough learning another language, without having to learn the jargon as well. Or maybe that's where we go wrong. When we're taught other languages (or this is my experience anyway), we're taught the correct way to speak, or the rules of the language, not the local jargon. The problem with that, is that jargon makes up so much of most, if not all, languages.

: : I was very parochial in my earlier comment in that I was mentioning the state in which I grew up, and other states, but forgot to mention that they're in Australia. So there's another brand of English to throw into the pot. Cos we don't speak like yanks or poms - he he. Although, there is considerable intermingling of their combined languages in ours of course, and ours is obviously originally based on UK English (which is progressively being watered down by TV, internet and text message English).

: : Frankly, as an Australian, and a country girl at that, I'd hate to lose our informal speech. In fact if we did, many of us (especially me) would be speechless!

: While sitting in a diner in Upstate New York last weekend, I decided to count the number of times the college student sitting in the booth behind me used the word, "like" in conversation. I counted 36 times in approximately ten minutes. "And it was like, he like waited until I came out and then he like put my barbie doll in the fire. And I was like really upset and ... " You get the idea.

: It seems to me that even the informal speech we enjoy in sitcoms is carefully crafted. If it were as informal as it commonly is in everyday use, it would be unbearable. The only example I can think of where this isn't the case is The Blair Witch Project. A memorable quote (on Giligan's Island) "There was no beer on the island, man. If they had beer they would have had, like, big-ass orgies."

: Prose is altogether different in my opinion. There are so many wonderful words we don't use in common speech and so many shades of meaning. Whether it is written to be delivered as a speech, or simply to be read, it adds depth to the subject and can be quite moving. I think language evolves and changes but I can't help but think it's tragic that we seem to losing an appreciation for formal languge.

Yes, you're right: sitcom language, if any good, is carefully crafted. At its best, it seems to take on a literary quality. This testifies to the merit of informal language. Of course, informal language can be ill used and very inaccurate, but so can formal, even technical, language, i.e. when misapplied.

Just as 'like' is overused, so is 'eventual(ly)' and 'quote/unquote'. However, I'd rather like to hear your suggestions for words you think we should use more. If this is too specific, you could also mention an author whom you like in this respect.