White bodies, black voices : the linguistic construction of racialized authenticity in US film
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By examining the range of stances that white characters in Hollywood films are represented as taking in relation to blackness, this dissertation considers the question of how language becomes ideologically linked to categories of race through linguistic representations. Through an analysis of 59 films (1979-2008) from multiple genres, this study focuses on the linguistic practices of the characters that contribute to larger semiotic practices performed by discernible social types. The first linguistic practice, crossing, plays on the stereotype of the inauthentic, white male, who tries to gain coolness through linguistic representations of African Americans. The second practice, passing, conjures images of blackface because in addition to using linguistic representations of African Americans, the passing characters darken their skin. By demonstrating complex links between language and social meanings such as ideologies about authenticity, identity and racial and gendered stereotypes, these films use linguistic features along with other visual and physical semiotic displays to both construct and comment on black and white authenticity. Specifically, crossing was found to comment on disseminated images of the young, white male as lacking a particular type of masculinity and sexuality and overcompensating for them by imitating widely circulating images of the hypermasculine, hypersexual and hyperphysical black male. In addition, it commented on the tendency to read this linguistic practice as inauthentic. Therefore, the social meaning of the white linguistic representations of African Americans used when crossing was found to be related to authenticity or who had the right to use ethnically-marked linguistic features. On the other hand, passing was argued to communicate the ideologies that some whites may have of African Americans, particularly African American men. The linguistic resources utilized in these performances are not used to form identity, but for humor and to distance the character from being read as traditional minstrelsy. By highlighting some of the linguistic strategies that speakers in Hollywood use to (re)produce not only indexical links between linguistic forms and racialized stereotypes but also ideologies about racial authenticity, this dissertation provides an empirical study of some of the semiotic practices that involve the re-indexicalization of minority vernacular resources by members of the majority.