"Bringing Down the House" featuring Steve Martin and Queen Latifah is a clever comedy that creatively showcases the sociolinguistic phenomena covered in this course. The film is about a tax attorney named Peter, played by Martin, who stumbles into an online lawyer chat room and meets Charlene, played by Latifah. The two chat frequently, mostly about court cases, and eventually decide to meet in person. When the day finally comes, Peter is greeted at the door with who he thought would be a middle-aged Caucasian woman, but happened to be Charlene, a black woman who just escaped from prison.
Thinking this was a mistake, Peter tries to kick out Charlene but is later convinced she is the one who he was speaking with in the chat room. Charlene was able to successfully impersonate a lawyer through speech, and along with a deceiving picture, able to convince Peter she was a petite blonde. During these chats, the two talked about court cases that happened to relate to Charlene's predicament with the law. In attempt to clear her name from a crime she did not commit, Charlene researched the judicial system and similar court cases to hers while in prison. Now that she is out, she seeks personal assistance from Peter who has already through the internet, given her support. All throughout the movie the characters contrast in viewpoints, culture, and most importantly for our studies, language.
Charlene and Peter represent different language backgrounds which we can analyze as the root of their character development and actions throughout the film. To illustrate generational conflict, the scene when Peter confronts his daughter about her crazy night, best conveys the phenomena. In the scene Peter's daughter sneaks out of the house late at night to attend an unsupervised party with some friends which involved drinking, smoking, and other activities that make up a parent's worst nightmare. While at the party, the boy who accompanied her there begins to make sexual advances. Frightened and confused, Sarah calls Charlene who comes to pick her up, teach the boy a lesson, and bring her home safely. This is when Charlene tells Peter what just happened and tries to cool him down before he explodes with anger.
By instinct, Peter plans to scold his daughter with an intimidating language, tone, and overall authoritarian speech. Before letting him continue his plan, Charlene suggests that to facilitate this awkward moment and encourage a better relationship with his daughter, that Peter use a more modern and relaxed speech to communicate his feelings. In attempt to do so, he uses Sarah's language that he believes she would be more inclined to listen to. The father's usage of the modern hip-hop language is an example of generational conflict. Implied by other clips in the movie, we conclude the father's environment as an attorney requires him to use a more conservative language that has been more or less designated to his generation. This contrasts with the daughters modern and hip-hop language that incorporates many slang terminologies, non-standard English sentences and phrases, and a very relaxed tone.
Although we see the father is able to put a couple sentences together, everything from his tone and range clearly show his inexperience to the speech. An example to showcase his failure is when he attempts to say "an he try da get al' up in dat." The father used the same expression but with different pronunciation. Peter says "and he tried to get all up in that," which is clearly too formal for this speech and loses the flavor of what makes the language so authentic to the hip-hop generation. Peter and Sarah both speak standard English, but this is another example of how it can vary.
Even though the two are family and from the same class, their generation gap influences the variation of English they speak. In this clip of the film, in attempt to help clear Charlene's name, the father drives to a club to speak with someone he knows that may confess and prove her evidence. Instead of walking into the club in the urban area with a business suit and briefcase, he instead is able to find a couple of locals and pay them for their clothes. Now, dressed as a "thug", he enter the club with a unique walk, talk, and tone to pot ray to his surrounding that he is one of them.
This example of crossing shows the fathers attempt to use characteristics of another group to temporarily pass as one of them. Later in the scene it evidently shows his attempt could have used more rehearsal when he asked to dance to follow up his attitude. This is when he stood out even more which fortunately allowed him to be spotted out by the person hew as looking for and continue his original. One of the first scenes in the movie is when Peter is preparing for his blind date with the woman he only knows from the internet as "lawyer-girl." With the candles ready, music playing, and champagne in hand, he confidently opens the door to see his date who resembles nothing of his assumption. This alone portrays the stereotypes associated to language as well as races. Besides the shock alone of seeing someone who did not look like the picture at all, later in this first meeting Peter implies how impressed he was that Charlene could comprehend the law books she read, as well as participate in their conversations.
The film does not elaborate in detail on Peter's assumptions and thoughts of the black race, but we can say he is not fond of the language. Several times he puts it down, mainly by mocking it. When the two are talking about the controversy of the picture Charlene sent to represent herself, in her explanation she pronounces the word "picture" as "pic ha." Peter repeats the words back to her mocking her usage of a speech he believes lowers ones credibility in everyday society. This conclusion can be drawn in a later scene when the two are in the office and he expresses to Charlene her potential to succeed in society if she simply dropped her speech and the attitude along with it. Going back to the first date, their meeting is a clear example of the sociolinguistic variations common in our society that at times can lead to difficulty in understanding one who is from a different background. Peter, who we assume was brought up in a suburban environment with the upper class, portrays standard English compared to Charlene who was brought up in a black urban neighborhood which would explain her A AVE speech.
Although both speak English, it is simply the variation that arose from class, gender, ethnicity, and other distinct traits that led for misunderstandings to occur. In part of the scene, in attempt to explain her course of actions through her alleged crime, Charlene says "When Roscoe cracked that doe, I was strait off day and bounced." After Peter looked at her with a lost look and asked her what she said, Charlene restated the phrase by saying "I was recently liberated from a correctional facility... ." This moment illustrates not only the language variations of English, but the necessity for one to style shift according to their audience. English has many dialects, pronunciations, and other factors that may require one to adapt temporarily to facilitate communication with somebody who is accustomed to a different form. This was the case for Charlene, as it is for others in the film.