Why is the English spoken by Maine lobstermen so different from the English spoken by Texas cowboys?
What constitutes standard English in the U.S. today?
Will Spanish displace English altogether?
And how is English linked to issues of race, gender, and class?
Each Web-enabled disc also includes links to the PBS website, which reinforces and expands upon the crucial concepts and pivotal issues raised over the course of the series.
All video is viewable on a DVD player, but a DVD-ROM drive is necessary to access the Web links.
- Do You Speak American? Up North – In this program, Robert MacNeil canvasses the North to learn firsthand about:
- linguistic dialect zones
- the tension between prescriptivism and descriptivism
- the impact of dialect on grapholect
- the northern cities vowel shift
- the roots of African-American English
- minority dialects and linguistic profiling
- biases against non-standard speech
- the general perception of the U.S. Midland dialect as “normal American”
Hip-hop street talk, IM slang, Pittsburghese, and Gullah and Geechee are sampled. Some language may be offensive. Viewing time: 60 minutes.
- Do You Speak American? Down South – This program follows Robert MacNeil down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers to Appalachia, Louisiana Cajun country, and the Tex-Mex border to examine Southern dialects and accents and the influences of French and Spanish on American English.
Linguist Walt Wolfram, columnist Molly Ivins, pop country singer Cody James, and others talk about:
- regional differences in vernacular
- the steady displacement of Southern coastal dialect by inland dialect
- the accents of JFK and LBJ
- the Texas border town of El Cenizo, where Spanish is the official language
Recordings of Eudora Welty and Appalachian storyteller Ray Hicks are included, as well as WPA recordings from around 1940.
- Do You Speak American? Out West – In this program, Robert MacNeil heads to California to take part in meaningful dialogues on Spanglish, Chicano, Ebonics, and “Surfer Dude” before going to Seattle to consider the implications of voice-activation technology. Various people speak their minds about:
- Spanish in America
- why teens create their own language
- gay self-empowerment by redefining discriminatory terms
- the oo-fronting sound shift
- whether technology will reinforce or weaken racial/regional stereotypes
The teaching of standard English without devaluing or denigrating cultural linguistic differences is addressed. Some language may be offensive. Viewing time: 60 minutes.