On Thursday, March 3, students, staff, and community members gathered in the auditorium of the DH Hill Jr. Library for the first screening of the Lights, Camera, Language film series presented by the Ambassadors of linguistic diversity of the State of North Carolina in partnership with university libraries. The film series features work that explores how language interacts with and informs culture and ideology.
Linguistic Diversity Ambassadors work to increase awareness of linguistic diversity on campus through language and diversity workshops. Topics include dialect diversity in North Carolina, language discrimination, language diversity in higher education and more. They also host other educational events, such as the film series.
According to Kees Koopman, a graduate student in English linguistics and treasurer of Linguistic Diversity Ambassadors, language diversity discussions are especially important on college campuses.
“[Linguistics] has a lot to offer to help us understand our increasingly multicultural and globalized world,” Koopman said. “It also has a lot to offer in terms of teaching scientific processes and the scientific method in a very accessible way because, in a sense, each person is their own research subject and each conversation is like a laboratory.”
Thursday’s film, “Talking Black in America,” is the first in a five-part documentary film series exploring the history, importance, implications and impact of African American English (AAE). in the USA.
The film traces the development of the AAE from the beginning of the American slave trade, examining the various circumstances and influences that led to its development.
One of the goals of the film was to dispel the misperception of AAE as “broken” English with no structure or rules. Approaching the film from a linguistic point of view allowed a technical follow-up of the historical influences that distinguish AAE from other linguistic varieties. The linguistic lens also demonstrated the social importance of language development and how intrinsic understanding of patterns within a language is vital for communication.
“It’s kind of a huge story in the American language scene,” producer Neal Hutcheson said. “Especially in terms of looking at languages and dialects as being non-standard and these language varieties being stigmatized in a pretty unfair, but quite dramatic way.”
“Talking Black in America” examines how AAE interacts with religion, music, and movement to create holistic communication full of language-specific intricacies and complexities.
“There are probably more people who would have been English majors or writers in hip-hop than in any other field [music] genre,” rapper Quest MCODY said in the film. “Just the use of words like metaphors, similes, double meanings, triple meanings. People think that African American English takes these things from hip hop, when in fact hip hop uses characteristics long-standing of African-American English.
After the screening, Hutcheson, producer Danica Cullinan and research assistant Marissa Morgan, who earned her master’s degree in sociolinguistics from NC State, sat down with the audience for a question-and-answer session. The trio used the word cathartic several times when discussing the emotional process of the production.
“It’s always really interesting to me to see how different people manage to make a point go straight to your head or straight to your heart, depending on what style they’re using,” Cullinan said. “Regardless of their background, because everyone is in some way an expert on the language and their personal experience and relationship with the language.”
Lights, Camera, Language has two more screenings throughout the semester. He will show and discuss the sci-fi feature “Arrival” on March 25 and “First Language,” which explores the importance and position of the Cherokee language on April 14, both at 7 p.m. in the auditorium of the DH Hill Jr. Library.