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ICOS 2008 Conference Abstract

"It's Feng, not Fang!" and "Was it Borat or Boris?" Examining the Orthography of Onomastic Insult in 21st Century Hollywood

Author(s):
A Pandey
Salisbury University, United States


This paper examines onomastic denigration of linguistic minorities in current Hollywood cinema. Evidence from recent blockbuster and Oscar winning titles is utilized to demonstrate how linguistic denigration—insult and the disparagement of minority naming practices is both reflected and sustained in current Hollywood. While 21st century sensibilities in the Western world do not permit overt racism, covert racism in the form of filmic devices which deride, dehumanize, and vilify the Other’s names are clearly at work on screen. Via consistent strategies of: mispronunciation; Pretend Misunderstanding; Re-naming; Unsolicited clippings; Eponym substitutions; and finally, divertive derisions of alternative naming practices, Hollywood successfully sustains a preference for self-hate of ‘un-American’ names. Data analyses of over 50 tokens of such dysphemia (Allan and Burridge, 2006) reveal that onomastic insults in current cinema are not randomly uttered linguistic expletives, meant to shock audiences into disbelief, but rather, systematic and consistent linguistic devices utilized to reflect and simultaneously sustain a current reality of phobia in the post-9/11 American psyche. In fostering the spectator’s chance to be ethnophobic or xenophobic even if for a mere minute, realized in and through the ‘innocuous’ conduit of humor or insults hurled at minority names, films function not merely as a mimetic devices mirroring current public phobic paranoia, but rather, serve as linguistic conduits to sustain these very public phobias. Linguistic homogenation, a preference for ‘mainstream’ onomastic practices is privileged in current Hollywood via a simultaneous subversion of linguistic heterogeneity achieved in and through the denigration of minority naming practices.

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