Linguistic Stereotyping: The Fault in Our Speech in Big Bang Theory

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This paper talks about how linguistic stereotyping associates a false cultural identity to a particular social group and is reinforced by the media through movies, TV shows etc. The American TV show The Big Bang Theory and one of its lead characters Raj Kootrappali will be analysed in order to understand the linguistic complexities that lead to such stereotypes. The character Raj Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory is a representation of how media portrays a false Indian culture and dialect to a vast audience. This paper will do a detailed study of his character critically analysing the dialogues and contexts that Raj takes a central position in. Using such analysis one can understand certain characteristics about the portrayed Indian English in a Western context. This research is significant in identifying such stereotyped behaviour which are falsely associated to an ethnic community because of the way they are represented in popular culture.

When we use language, we do so as individuals with social histories by our membership in a range of social groups into which we are born such as gender, social class, religion, and race. “It turns out that if you change how people talk, that changes how they think. If people learn another language, they inadvertently also learn a new way of looking at the world. When bilingual people switch from one language to another, they start thinking differently.” (Boroditsky, 917)

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The manner in which we use a specific language, we represent a particular identity in our social group. The way in which speakers pronounce and communicate using words, phrases and hand gesture has a way in building the personality of the language. We use our linguistic assessments of others to make additional judgments as for whether individuals are educated or illiterate, intelligent or stupid, rude or friendly. Depending on our appraisals, we may also treat them unequally, in ways both trivial and consequential. This is how linguistic stereotypes begin to develop especially about an external community. Stereotypes represent the traits we view as characteristic of a social group or individual members of a group. The traits that particularly stand out are the ones that differentiate groups from one another. In short, these are the traits that come to mind quickly when we think about a group of people that share an identity or ethnicity. But the tendency to simplify these traits has led us to discard some of the presumed characteristics which include inaccuracy and overgeneralization. Linguistic stereotypes are an existent form of discrimination as a particular community is portrayed to exhibit certain characteristics through media by making them speak in a stereotypical way. This paper talks about how linguistic stereotyping associates a false cultural identity to a particular social group which is reinforced by the media through movies, TV shows etc. The popular American TV sitcom The Big Bang Theory presents various stereotypical characters for the purpose of humour. This research paper will focus on the Indian character Rajesh Koothrappali in the series and his contribution to linguistic stereotyping of the community he belongs. “Actors attempt to manipulate language as a tool in the construction of a character, sometimes successfully, sometimes not.” (Dobrow, 108)

The use of dialects especially in American TV shows reflects commonly held American attitudes toward dialects and foreign accents. The objective of this paper is to show how the depiction of Indian English for an American audience is always exaggerated and misrepresented in order to create a comical effect. Anytime an Indian comes on screen Bollywood or classical music starts playing in the background and their thick unrealistic accents are what distinguishes their character from others while their entire persona remains the same. Almost all Indian characters in the West are similar to each other sharing stereotypical traits and that is why there is not more than one Indian character in a TV show. Indian characters have existed on TV for a while now, but their presence can be compared to set décor. They fill the racially diverse void by being the sidekick who conforms to stereotypes: a super nerd, a doctor or a store owner who all speak the same accented English. One of the earliest Indian characters to appear on a long-running American TV is Apu Nahasapeemapetilon on The Simpsons. He became synonymous with the stereotype of a convenience store owner who had that thick, funny accent and the interesting part is that Apu isn’t even voiced by an Indian: Hank Azaria of Greek-American descent gives the character his voice.

Luckily, in the last few years, Apu has developed into a more multi-dimensional character and an integral part of the social group, but it's been a slow progression. We still see a reflection of Apu in the character of Raj in The Big Bang Theory even after two decades of the release of The Simpsons. Compared to other characters Raj has the slowest character development and plot involvement. He’s on the show mostly to provide comic relief, unfortunately by mostly being subjected to racist remarks. Stereotypes make it easier to identify a character; Raj’s accent plays a major role in his comic dialogues and shows the one type of Indian that everyone is familiar with. His character throughout the series is shown as an outsider incapable of assimilation. He is shown as a smart, functional (except in the case of talking to women) who speaks fluent English but almost every line of his acknowledges the stereotypical Indian views.

This paper will do a detailed study of his character critically analysing the dialogues and contexts that Raj takes a central position in. Some research questions that this paper will discuss are Does watching American TV shows give a false notion of a particular community? What are the specific stereotypical characterises of the Indian English portrayed in shows? Can linguistic stereotyping be ignored for the sake of humour? The character Raj Koothrappali in The Big Bang Theory is a representation of how media portrays a false Indian culture and dialect. The rationale behind choosing this topic is to point out and dismantle certain invisible stereotypes which are portrayed through the media and exists in a community.

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Linguistic Stereotyping: The Fault in Our Speech in Big Bang Theory. (2021, February 10). WritingBros. Retrieved May 23, 2024, from https://writingbros.com/essay-examples/linguistic-stereotyping-the-fault-in-our-speech-in-big-bang-theory/
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