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Do They Speak English in What: A Linguistic Analysis of Cinema’s Use of Questions As Threats

Jonathan Ian Manczur
Presentation type: 

Some of the most famous lines of dialogue delivered by charismatic villains and tough antiheroes involve a question being used to perform an intimidating speech act. When Tommy Devito of Goodfellas begins to ask a question, is he expecting an answer and, more importantly, is there anything in the semantic domain that would satisfy his query? When Harry Callahan of The Dirty Harry series inquires whether the punk does indeed feel lucky, is it merely a stylistic choice or does it serve a pragmatic role for narrative and characterization? This talk will explore how these alternative questions differ linguistically from their traditional counterparts and from direct speech acts. The analysis employs syntactic, phonetic, semantic, and pragmatic methods to assess how the audience perceives characters who incorporate threatening questions and whether using indirect questions instead of direct speech acts is more polite.

Scheduled on: 
Thursday, November 8, 11:00 am to 12:15 pm

About the presenter

Jonathan Ian Manczur

Jonathan Ian Manczur studies Computational Linguistics at the CUNY Graduate Centef. He has an interest in narrative theory and is co-founder of the podcast, The Lost Signals.

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