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Movie Language Revisited

Evidence from Multi-Dimensional Analysis and Corpora


Pierfranca Forchini

This book explores the linguistic nature of American movie conversation, pointing out its resemblances to face-to-face conversation. The reason for such an investigation lies in the fact that movie language is traditionally considered to be non-representative of spontaneous language. The book presents a corpus-driven study of the similarities between face-to-face and movie conversation, using detailed consideration of individual lexical phrases and linguistic features as well as Biber’s Multi-Dimensional Analysis (1998). The data from an existing spoken American English corpus – the Longman Spoken American Corpus – is compared to the American Movie Corpus, a corpus of American movie conversation purposely built for the research. On the basis of evidence from these corpora, the book shows that contemporary movie conversation does not differ significantly from face-to-face conversation, and can therefore be legitimately used to study and teach natural spoken language.


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Chapter 1 Opening Credits: Face-to-Face and Movie Conversation 17


17 Chapter 1 Opening Credits: Face-to-Face and Movie Conversation 1.1 Introduction The present book explores the linguistic nature of American movie conversation, pointing out its resemblances to face-to-face conversa- tion. Over the last 30 years, these two types of speech have been claimed to differ in terms of language spontaneity. The first has been traditionally defined as artificially written-to-be-spoken (Nencioni 1976, Gregory and Carroll 1978, Taylor 1999, Rossi 2003, Pavesi 2005) and deemed unlikely to comprise the features that characterize conversation (Sinclair 2004b), whereas the second has always been con- sidered the quintessence of spoken language, as it is totally spontane- ous (McCarthy 1998, Biber et al. 1999, Halliday 2005, Miller 2006). Figure 1, regarding sub-categories of speech, well illustrates this tradi- tional categorization, which classifies movie conversation as reciting and as the speaking of what is written to be spoken as if not written, hence as non-spontaneous speaking : 18 Figure 1. Spoken language sub-categories (Gregory and Carroll 1978: 47). Yet, the following extract represents a case in point: Extract 1: Speaker1 Oh, my God. There she is. There’s Rosemary. Speaker2 Where? Speaker1 Right there. Speaker2 Right where? Speaker1 Straight ahead. Across the field. Speaker2 Is she behind the rhino? Speaker1 She’s right there! Mauricio, I want you to meet someone. This is Rosemary Shanahan. Rosemary, Mauricio Wilson. Speaker3 Hi. Nice to meet you. Speaker2 Holy cow. I mean, uh… hi. Speaker3 Is that uh a Members Only jacket? Speaker2 Yes. Yes, it is. Speaker3 So, what are you, like,...

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