A linguistic look at Hey Arnold!

Arnold is the prototypical 4th grader.  He’s a football-headed, jazz and baseball-loving boy who lives in the city in a multi-racial boarding house with his grandparents, pet pig and numerous others.  Okay, so maybe he’s not the average kid.  The great part of Hey Arnold is the fact that his life is ordinary in the most extraordinary ways possible.  Arnold’s everyday life brings him into contact with people from all different kinds of races, cultures and dialects.  For example, Arnold hangs out with his African American best friend and lives with an Asian American and a man from the former Czechoslovakia.  Language plays an extremely important (albeit sometimes subtle) role in the television show.  While the majority of dialects can be described as Standard English, differing dialects symbolize much more.  In the ten episodes I have assessed for this project, (“6th Grade Girls,” “The Baseball,” “Gerald vs. Jamie O,” “Heat,” “Snow,” “The List,” “The Haunted Train,” “Operation: Ruthless,” “The Vacant Lot” and “Baby Oskar”) there are many varying dialects.  From the superstandard English of nerds and the covert prestige of the working class to African American Vernacular English, code-switching from English to Spanish and Asian, Czech and New York accented English, the show presents many different dialects while also often using them in stereotypical ways.

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Candid language

The power of language helps take readers to a place they could only imagine in their wildest dreams.  It allows them to envision grand earthquakes and utopias.  It lets them see the world on a deeper level than just the sometimes uniform world around them.  Language lets writers tell a story, regardless of how farfetched or enchanted it might be if it were actually true.  It helps them to convey certain messages through symbols and analogies.  It encourages them to point out the fallacies and contradictions in common belief.  Most of all, it brings together the two groups to create an interesting, unusual interaction.  Without language, the world would truly be in the dark.  Without this communication, people would have no way to dissent, no way to have their opinion known, no way to tell stories. With language, people have power.  But what is this power if there is no style along with it?  Anyone can throw words together to make a sentence, to let their voice be heard.  But without some sense of a particular peculiarity and character, this diction will never be more than just words.  To truly make a point clear, a writer must develop his story by challenging the reader with language and ideas that sometimes contradict each other but work in a way that they serve a deeper purpose.  Voltaire thoroughly wields this power in Candide by using literary devices and stylized language to clearly demonstrate his critiques on optimism, war, and blissful ignorance.

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