Monday, September 12, 2011

Contractional Language Change in the Movies

1968 Charles Portis novel
1969 Henry Hathaway film
2010 Coen brother's film

I realize I am way behind the times, but I just saw the Coen brother's remake of True Grit. The lack of use of contractions in the movie jumped out at me so much that I googled the phenomenon immediately. The number of returns on the subject emphasized how behind the times I am. There have been numerous posts about the subject, beginning in December 2010.

Here is an excerpt from Mark Liberman's Language Log post:

What about the current movie version? Does it really avoid contractions entirely, or limit them even more than Portis did? Would such contractionless speech really be an accurate reflection of the way Americans talked in Arkansas and Oklahoma in the 1870s?

I don't know what Portis intended, and I don't know what the Coen brothers did. But I know that that informal American speech in the 1870s was far from contractionless, and in fact I suspect that it had roughly the same proportion of contractions as it does today. Therefore, what Portis (and the Coens?) did was either false archaism or poetic truth — or both.

If you are interested in further analysis of contractions in the 2010 movie as well as some comparisons of contraction usage in the 1968 novel to two other novels, Tom Sawyer and Swan Peak, I highly recommend the Language Log post.

Additionally, Grammar Girl has a related post that covers more about the history of contractions, "there were even contractions before the 1600's, but they usually weren't indicated with an apostrophe", and when to use contractions.

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