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This content is taken from the University of York's online course, An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 6 seconds Have you ever noticed that in films and TV programmes, the villains often have British English accents, even if other characters don’t? For example, think of Jeremy Irons’s depiction of the lion Scar in the film The Lion King compared to the American English or African American English accents of other characters. There seems to be no shortage of roles for actors who can speak in certain English accents. The love of English accents seems to engulf entire genres of film and television, even in places we might not really expect to find them, from historical depictions of Ancient Rome, to the high-fantasy realm of Middle Earth. But why are some accents seemingly so much more prevalent across different media than others?

Skip to 0 minutes and 41 seconds More recently, the creators of shows like Game of Thrones have opted to include a far greater variety of ‘British’ accents as well as foreign-accented English. They even worked with linguists to better adapt the fictional Dothraki language from book to screen. However, what attentive viewers may have noticed are at times inconsistencies in the performance of a particular accent, or that characters might sound very different despite sharing a great deal of life experiences. From a sociolinguistic perspective, it’s interesting to think about what these sorts of casting choices say about how accents are seen in society more broadly.

Skip to 1 minute and 14 seconds These choices might reflect the attitudes that are held toward these accents, by the people responsible for putting the films or shows together, and also by the target audience. There’s also the question of whether these casting decisions have real effects on our day-to-day life - for example, for people whose accents are negatively stereotyped, or those whose accent is hardly represented in mainstream media at all. Before we consider some of the research in this area,

Skip to 1 minute and 39 seconds let’s open up a discussion on this issue: do you think that the accents we hear in the media have an impact on day-to-day life? Are there perhaps certain accents or types of speech which are more affected by how they are depicted in the media compared to others? Have a think, then and join us in the next step where we’ll share our thoughts.

The representation of accents in TV and film

In fictional films or TV programmes, you can sometimes hear accents that you might not expect.

Watch Dr Claire Childs explain more in this short video, then feel free to share any initial thoughts on the subject this film raises for you.

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This video is from the free online course:

An Introduction to Sociolinguistics: Accents, Attitudes and Identity

University of York

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