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Department 1

Africana Studies


Linguists have long been aware that the language scripted for "ethnic" roles in the media has been manipulated for a variety of purposes ranging from the construction of character "authenticity" to flagrant ridicule. This paper provides a brief overview of the history of African American roles in the entertainment industry from minstrel shows to present-day films. I am particularly interested in looking at the practice of distorting African American English as an historical artifact which is commonplace in the entertainment industry today. Dialogue which is clearly meant as an imitation of African American English still results in the construction of an ethnic stereotype that serves as a reflection of European American attitudes regarding African Americans. As a result, such depictions provide non-Black acculturated people with a perception of Blackness that is founded in inaccuracies and derision but has been portrayed as authentic, leaving Black life open to continual mimicry.

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