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What Dialect Says About Race and Class in ‘The Wire’ | by Shawn Laib

What Dialect Says About Race and Class in ‘The Wire’ | by Shawn Laib
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Linguistics are able to tell an interesting story about the social hierarchy

An Injustice!

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Photo by Keith Helfrich on Unsplash

Language is clearly more than just a way to communicate with one another, but many mistake differences in communication style with low intellect and other discriminatory aspersions cast upon minorities.

The proper way of speaking the English language is an arbitrary determinant that has been created by human beings; correct English is not a scientific principle that is operated by the natural world, like gravity or the planets orbiting the Sun.

The different ways that different types of people learn to speak can teach us a lot about one another, such as their backgrounds, personality, and even their code of ethics or what is important to them in life.

The critically acclaimed HBO drama The Wire, set in Baltimore, Maryland in the early 2000’s, demonstrates masterfully the way language and its different dialects create social structures and shape interaction between these people who are at different parts of the social spectrum.

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Studies on the show and its use of language to create characters’ lives is explained by French author Flore Coulouma. “Linguistic stereotypes play out ambiguously in each character, enabling them to define and assert their identity and sense of belonging within their community, while at the same time conflicting with their very existence as individuals” (Coulouma 2).

In other words, no matter what dialect is spoken in this TV show or in our own lives, it reflects dramatically the ways that it shapes who we are within the communities we are living in, and perhaps who we think we are trying to be.

There is no better medium to demonstrate this point than with this program, which is a critique on so many facets of American life, spoken language being one of the more important ones in the show.

Methods of Data Collection

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The data collection process was quite simple, which entailed watching the scenes from the show that I thought would provide good insight on the language and dialects in question, and then transcribing the lines into the language that the characters are…





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