As a follow-up to the author’s 2018 analysis of New York City English in film, this article turns its attention to the whole country over the same 80-year period of 1930–2010, using acoustic phonetic, quantitative, and statistical analysis to identify the most important changes in the pronunciation of North American English by 40 European American leading actresses in their best-known films. Focusing mostly on vowel production, the analysis reveals a gradual shift from East Coast patterns rooted in the speech of New York City to West Coast patterns rooted in the speech of Los Angeles. Changes include a decline in /r/ vocalization, which is restricted almost entirely to the period before the mid-1960s; a decline in the low back distinction between /o/ and /oh/ (lot and thought); a new distinction between /æ/ (trap) and its allophone before nasal consonants (e.g., ham or hand); shifts of /æ/ and /oh/ to a lower, more central position in the vowel space; and fronting of the back upgliding vowel /uw/ (goose). These and other patterns correspond closely to those identified in the speech of ordinary people, revealing an intriguing parallel between public speech in the mass media and private speech in local communities.
Diva Diction: Hollywood’s Leading Ladies and the Rise of General American English
Charles Boberg is associate professor of linguistics at McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He is a coauthor, with William Labov and Sharon Ash, of The Atlas of North American English: Phonetics, Phonology and Sound Change (Mouton de Gruyter, 2006) and the author of The English Language in Canada: Status, History and Comparative Analysis (Cambridge, 2010). Most recently he coedited, with John Nerbonne and Dominic Watt, The Handbook of Dialectology (Wiley Blackwell, 2018). His current research focuses on variation and change in the vocabulary and phonetics of Canadian English, as well as on accent variation in North American film and television. Email: email@example.com.
Charles Boberg; Diva Diction: Hollywood’s Leading Ladies and the Rise of General American English. American Speech 1 November 2020; 95 (4): 441–484. doi: https://doi.org/10.1215/00031283-8221002
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