American Tongues

1988, 56 minutes, produced and directed by Louis Alvarez and Andrew Kolker
This Peabody Award-winning look at American accents and their social implications is both a proven crowd-pleaser and a unique window on the way we judge people by the way they talk. American Tongues goes to the streets and the countryside to listen to American English in all its diversity and color.

Winner of the George Foster Peabody Award.

Southerners talk too slowly. New Yorkers are rude. New Englanders don't say much at all. Anybody who lives in the U.S. knows the clichés about how people in the various parts of the country handle the English language. American Tongues is the first documentary to explore the impact of these linguistic attitudes in a fresh and exciting manner.

For over ten years American Tongues has entertained and educated audiences from the high school level on up. It is in use in thousands of colleges, universities, corporate training offices, military installations, TESL classes, and other institutions. American Tongues has been an enormously useful teaching tool for helping students and workers hear examples of regional speech and attitudes and relate them to their own lives.

Some of the points included in American Tongues:

  • Profiles of a number of linguistic communities, including the remarkable relic area of Tangier Island, Virginia
  • A survey of American linguistic prejudice (regional, social, racial)
  • The role of the mass media in fostering stereotypes
  • Opinions and examples of Black English (Ebonics)
  • How accents in one locale can differ by social class
"The perfect example of a film that begins with a simple-enough subject and expands it seductively. It's enthralling!"
Los Angeles Times
"The best visual presentation I have ever seen about American English."
Allen Metcalf, Secretary of the American Dialect Society

Principal Advisors: David W. Plath, University of Illinois, Hidetoshi Kato, Japanese National Institute of Multi Media Education

Principal Advisors: Frederic G. Cassidy, Chief Editor; Dictionary of American Regional English (DARE); Walt Wolfram, University of North Carolina at Raleigh; Raven McDavid, University of Chicago.

American Tongues was supported by grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities and SWAMP, the Southwestern Alternative Media Project. A production of The Center for New American Media, New York.