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Jane Hodson, Dialect in Film and Literature

London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 272 p.
Claire Hélie
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Jane Hodson, Dialect in Film and Literature, London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014. 272 p.

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1Jane Hodson’s Dialect in Film and Literature is heralded as the first book that provides an analysis of dialect combining literary texts and films to work on the representation of ‘different spoken, rather than written, varieties’ (1) of English. Dialect, in this context, is more than a combination of regional and social variations. It is construed as a constructed, aestheticized form of English, a mediated form of art, so much so that the process of transposing dialect into artworks, which is inexact by nature, is called ‘ficto-linguistics’ by L. Ferguson (14). Hodson’s book is therefore a thought-provoking exploration of the many ways in which dialect is to be understood as an artistic medium that participates in characterising the social and aesthetic world of the works of fiction in which it is used. In other words, though generally considered as a guarantee of authenticity, dialect really is a construct that needs the active collaboration of the writer or the film-maker with their audience or readership to be fully functional.

2The title of Hodson’s book is no misnomer—it indeed tackles the issue of dialect in both film and literature. One might say that dialect in film is a rather new topic of research compared to literature, for obvious chronological reasons, but also because, Hodson argues, dialect in film has been largely ‘ignored’ (talkies appeared long after the first recordings and therefore were not taken as valuable material for the study of dialect). It is true that linguists and dialectologists seem to favour real life dialects; yet, researchers in translation studies have worked quite extensively on the topic. Previous books that combine text and film analysis are not that many and are usually focused on one specific dialect (one might think of Katie Wales’s extraordinary book on Northern English), and indeed one of the strong points of the book is its attempt at comparing and contrasting the use of dialect in film and literature.

3In her ‘Concluding Thoughts’, Jane Hodson calls her Dialect in Film and Literature a ‘primer’ (238), and indeed, she most certainly offers a very useful textbook with all the basic elements necessary to teach its readers how to read (into) dialect, that is to say how to understand the nature and purpose of dialect in film and literature. Not only does it provide a most valuable overview of existing theories and critical tools on the subject as well as many very insightful examples of close-reading of texts and film sequences, but it also suggests questions researchers entering the field might be interested in further exploring. For instance, she complements Michael Toolan’s work on ‘reader resistance’ (107) with Alexandra Jaffe and Shana Walton’s tripartite organisation—‘standard’, ‘light’ and ‘heavy’ orthography (108-109)—which allows her to draw literary implications. Elsewhere, Hodson mentions ‘mildly’ accented varieties of English (3, 143 and 161) as opposed to ‘strongly’ accented ones (110 and 143), which is the verbal equivalent of light orthography and heavy orthography. Yet, the weight of dialect markers to move from one category to the next is not delineated, most certainly because it would change from one reader to the next. ‘Where do you draw the line?’ is therefore a question a researcher might want to tackle.

4One of the many felicities of the book is that the reader is never let down in Hodson’s endeavour to construct each new layer of knowledge on prior knowledge: definitions are clear and easy to spot thanks to the index and main ideas are repeated when necessary. For instance, she clarifies concepts that can be mistaken, such as code-switching and style-shifting (171-172), to situate her own theoretical stance towards other concepts such as ‘real world’ or linguists such as Coupland in this particular case. Her style can therefore be deemed simple without simplifying the issues at stake.

5The general lay-out, unravelled in the first chapter which also offers a panorama of the book and justifies its existence, makes it easy to navigate the 255 pages of text. Each chapter begins with an introduction that indicates what will be tackled, a series of sections and subsections that analyse different elements, combining the definitions of the rhetorical tools and the micro-analyses of illustrative examples taken from film and literature, a conclusion that really is a recapitulation, as well as a ‘further reading’ section that lists the main books and articles mentioned in the chapter. Active participation in the elaboration of meaning is ensured by the use of direct address to the reader (‘If you are unfamiliar with the terminology used to describe speech-thought processes…’ 84), a problem-and-solution approach (for instance the issues around stereotyping, 117-124) and the use of practical exercises appended to each chapter. These exercises, based on texts and clips that were not mentioned in the previous pages help the readers test their understanding of the issues at stake in the chapter and their ability to transfer their newly-acquired knowledge to new artistic productions. The targeted readership are mainly academics, be they undergraduate students, researchers from different backgrounds—but not necessarily Linguistics—or teachers and lecturers, in fact, anybody eager to build their knowledge on a topic situated at a crossroad between different disciplines.

6Considering Hodson’s pedagogical inclinations, it should come as no surprise that the book has made its way into many academic courses across Great Britain. Besides, Dialect in Film and Literature originates in the author’s teaching at Sheffield University where, as a Senior Lecturer in Linguistics who designed a module on ‘Language and Power’, she, and her students, conducted a research on the representation of Yorkshire English in close collaboration with local audiences. Hodson is indeed adamant about making her research accessible to a wide audience outside the world of academia. For instance, she has also worked with the Poetry Business on the ‘Yorkshire Voices’ programme. There is no doubting that Hodson has all the credentials required to be considered as a leading expert in her field. A recipient of a British Academy grant that she used to explore dialect representation in Victorian and Edwardian novels and one AHRC grant for a project on dialect in British fiction in the Romantic period, she also edited a collection of essays entitled Dialect and Literature in the Long 19th Century for Ashgate in 2017. Every other year for the past six years, she has co-organised an international conference on dialect and literature in Sheffield.

7Even if Hodson admittedly has a strong bias towards the 19th century, Yorkshire dialect and fiction, Dialect in Film and Literature is not limited in scope to any century, region or genre. The examples range from Chaucer to today, they cover many forms of English dialects (South-Eastern English, Creole, Hollywood Injun English, basilectal and acrolectal forms of dialect, and they are taken from cinema, TV, fiction, poetry, plays, radio, newspapers and even road signs (see her analysis of ‘TEK CARE/LAMBS/ONT ROAD’, 36). The same versatility is to be found in the impressive range of theoretical approaches, from dialectology to socio-linguistics, through reader-response theory. Hodson is particularly well-read in linguistics and dialectology (Trudgill provides the basis of her analysis). Not only does she refer to seminal works, but she also mentions rather recent psycholinguistic protocols that were implemented to describe a dialect and the reactions to that particular dialect.

8Hodson also proves well-versed in the literature on dialect in fiction (Ives, Coupland, Krapp are name-checked) whether carried out by dialectologists or by literary critics, or even by sociologists (Bourdieu makes an appearance on pages 25-26), because besides describing dialect in the text, she is really interested in the ideology that lies behind the uses of dialect, what each medium can or cannot do with dialect. The fact that the book is focused in the ideology behind dialect transpires in the use of scare quotes, for instance in her definition of Standard English which is ‘a dialect of English used by “educated” people […] employed on radio and television for “serious” programmes such as current affairs’ (2).

9Hodson’s attempt at being comprehensive is to be applauded; yet, the mere size of the book forced her to make choices. For instance, this reader can only regret the paucity of examples taken from poetry, even though the conclusions drawn from the analysis of Harrison’s often-anthologized ‘Them & [uz]’ are particularly insightful in their handling of the notions of collusion with and criticism of the myth of inarticulacy at work in the text, and in the reader’s own perception of the world (37-38). Besides, Hodson focuses mainly on books and films that have established literary or cinematic merits, that is to say, works of art that belong to the canon. This reader believes that, especially since Hodson assesses the representation of dialect in artworks in terms of success and failure (‘the success of dialect representation’, 235), it would have been fruitful to propose an analysis of a failed attempt at representing dialect in the fictional world of the work or to include a work of art whose merits are disputed to further investigate what style-shifting brings.

10There is no denying that Hodson’s Dialect in Film and Literature is an inspiring book. Having perused it, this reader is tempted to coin the phrase ‘pacte d’écoute’ after Lejeune’s ' ‘pacte de lecture’—hearing and reading pacts—to label this idea put forward by Robert Cole and developed by Hodson (93) that dialect is an aesthetic illusion that reader and author work together to maintain.

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Référence électronique

Claire Hélie, « Jane Hodson, Dialect in Film and Literature », Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 54 | 2018, mis en ligne le 01 mars 2018, consulté le 23 juin 2018. URL :

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Claire Hélie

Université de Lille SHS

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Études britanniques contemporaines est mise à disposition selon les termes de la Licence Creative Commons Attribution - Pas d'Utilisation Commerciale - Pas de Modification 4.0 International.

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