The Language of “Lincoln”, by Ben Zimmer | Word Routes | Thinkmap Visual Thesaurus

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☞ Another film that has been accused of being inauthentic, at least as far as its use of language is concerned. It must be said however, that one of the vexed problems of writing scripts for historical films is ensuring that the language is not totally out of keeping with the language spoken during the period. The article below is Ben Zimmer‘s appreciation for what the screenwriter Tony Kushner has done for Steven Spielberg’s film Lincoln. Zimmer notes that this is not a simple task of ensuring that the language used is a correct depiction of the language actually used, but the film has to be entertaining as well: the language must not sound too archaic or old-fashioned. The use of profane language might be an attempt to imbue the film with a contemporary feel, but it might not be a complete success, at least to some commentators. Earlier article by Zimmer on this topic.

“…I talked to screenwriter Tony Kushner about how he crafted the dialogue for Steven Spielberg’sLincoln.” I had been intrigued about Kushner’s script-writing process after hearing that he had consulted the Oxford English Dictionary to check any word that might have been inappropriate for the film’s 1865 setting. While the results of this painstaking work are admirable, it’s always possible to nitpick over possible anachronisms.

In the past, I’ve indulged in similar nitpickery over such televised dramas as “Mad Men” (set in the 1960s) and “Downton Abbey” (set in the 1910s and ’20s). Lest it seem that I can’t enjoy any period drama without picking apart the dialogue, I want to make it clear that I’m not particularly bothered by occasional linguistic anachronisms. I agree with what Kushner told me in the interview for the Globe column: in writing a period-specific screenplay, the writer has a duty in “not making it sound like a historical waxwork.” The dialogue must, above all, speak to a contemporary audience. Judicious use of anachronistic language has its place, as long as the audience isn’t distracted by questionable lines.”

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  1. Pingback: Lincoln’s pronunciation: Historical sociolinguistics in the movies | Cinematic Narrative

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