Representing American Southern prosody in the media: Prosodic style-shifting in two Southern television characters

Author(s): Hayley Heaton


A case study of two fictional characters in two television series investigates American Southern prosody and introduces prosodic analysis into studies of language and media. Using media to investigate prosody is new to both the fields of prosody and media studies. Media representations are built off of assumed shared knowledge between the producer and the viewer (Bubel & Spitz 2006). Thus, the question becomes what linguistic features are indexical enough to be used to that end. Are prosodic features used by individuals to mark regional identity? If they do use prosody to index region, what features are used? To investigate these questions, this study examines style-shifting in pitch accent and boundary tone type and frequency as well as pitch accent and boundary tone per word measures. The characters both show evidence of prosodic style-shifting, indicating that prosody is playing into their characterizations rather than remaining static throughout the performance. The characters vary their prosody in different ways, one with an emphasis on pitch accents and the other on boundary tones, indicating speaker specific prosodic strategies. Results indicate that Southern prosodic features may be utilized in media representations of dialect.