“Voices from the Anglo-Saxon World: Accents and Dialects Across film Genres”

Silvia Bruti, Gianmarco Vignozzi


In this paper we mean to focus on the representation of sociolinguistic variation across social classes in two radically different film genres, i.e. Gosford Park (Altman 2001), an ensemble murder mystery which takes place during a hunting party of aristocratic people and their friends; and Gnomeo & Juliet (Asbury 2011), a computer-animated film, loosely based on Shakespeare’s tragedy, whose protagonists are garden gnomes.

The linguistic landscape of both films is characterised by a wide use of accents and dialects which are functionally exploited both to shaping the characters’ identities and to achieving different narrative purposes: in Gosford Park they are used to create a portrait of a certain epoch by distinguishing between the voices of aristocratic and non-titled people; in Gnomeo and Juliet, on the contrary, they are used to create humorous situations by reinforcing established stereotypes (e.g. refined Southerners vs. rustic Northerners).

If on the one hand, as Milroy and Milroy claim (1999: 24), the media and thus also films are criticised for an evident growth of a homogenising standard that reduces diversity, certain genres, comedy and light-hearted films, especially if destined for an audience of children, seem to be the privileged environment for the use of accents and dialects with a clear humorous function (Chiaro 2010). Sometimes features that are chosen to portray characters are quite stereotypical (Hilton, von Hippel 1996), as they are ascribable to a whole social class or group, which is thus economically represented through a few traits. Although the genre of comedy suggests viewers not to take these stereotypes seriously, there is evidence in the literature that comedies actually contribute to the enhancement of stereotypes (Park, Gabbadon, Chernin 2006). Our main research aim is to observe in two different film genres how dialects and accents contribute to reinforce stereotypes or to describe realistically the socio-geographical environment they mean to depict.

Given the widely-recognised difficulty of transposing marked varieties (Armstrong 2004; Armstrong and Federici 2006; Giorgio Marrano et al. 2009), we also take into account the Italian dubbed versions of both films with a view to evaluating if corresponding acceptable socio-cultural scenarios are represented in the target lingua-culture. 

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