Castle, Geordie, and the lows of American prime time TV

Mar 2, 2016 by

castle_1213_624x351One of my current students drew my attention to the latest episode of Castle (aired on ABC on February 29, 2016). So I figured, hey, it fits with the content of my class, I should watch it. I used to really like this show some years ago… But this one was hard to follow because the linguistic (and cultural) blunders were to conspicuous.

1) One of the characters—a student in an ESL class—supposedly speaks Geordie. It is, however, more gibberish than Geordie, the real thing (on which I have written before, see here and here). Real Geordie is not that incomprehensible even to an average American, without much exposure to British dialects. It would also be super strange to have a Geordie speaker (or a speaker of any other British dialect/sociolect) in an ESL class. After all, they do speak English (natively!), even if they speak it differently, and they typically can perfectly well understand “normal” English and can speak with more or less Geordie accent depending on the circumstances (so a Geordie speaker wouldn’t speak Geordie if his interlocutors can’t speak/understand Geordie).

2) The specific piece of syntax in the text message that sent Castle and Beckett to look for this guy is not even Geordie (which the “expert in the English language” Castle could have known if he were an expert…). It is, however, a typical feature of Scots and some Scottish English dialects (none of which sound like the gibberish in this episode). An example of this construction can be heard in this joke (the joke is in English but the punchline is in Scots).

In “regular” English, subjects of infinitives can’t be overt: Children are eager to eat broccoli, but not *Children are eager their parents to eat broccoli. But infinitives can have overt subjects if there is a “for”: Children are eager for their parents to eat broccoli. So you either have “for” and the overt subject, or neither, but not the subjects without “for”, nor “for” without the subject. But in Scottish English the latter is actually possible: Children are eager for to eat haggis.

3) The ESL students are repeating after their teacher with a perfect pronunciation, hmm?! 😉

4) The ESL students were learning some pretty simple sentences in the first scene (where they repeat, to a comic effect when they repeat after Ryan and Esposito, which, by the way, normal ESL students can’t do very well), but then learning counterfactual conditionals when the teacher is arrested??? Has the investigation been going on for many, many months??? Or is it a unique pedagogical method??? It must work since they both understand and speak perfect English by the end of the episode.

I used to like the show but this one is pretty low. Thumbs down.

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