Abstract: Buffy Speak–A Linguistic Analysis of Buffy the Vampire Slayer’s Unique Dialogue

When the famous television show Buffy the Vampire Slayer began in 1997, the show’s writers, led by Joss Whedon, wanted to create dialogue for its high-school-age characters that felt young, innovative, and authentic. Instead of studying the way actual high school teens of the time spoke in southern California, where the show is set, they used a variety of word-formation processes to create new words and phrases for their characters to toss around. For example, at one point the titular character refers to the action of kissing a character named Willow “Willow kissage,” which is an example of a process called derivation. Here, the writers created a new word by adding the –age suffix to “kiss.” In another example, an exasperated character turns to someone who is annoying her and asks, “Don’t you have an elsewhere to be?” This is an example of a process called conversion, in which a word that is one part of speech is converted to another part of speech without changing the morphology of the word itself. “Elsewhere,” an adverb, is converted to a noun. These processes mimic the slower processes by which new English words come into being. This summer, I plan to investigate the dialogue from a linguistic perspective by collecting and categorizing examples from each episode. I will then analyze the dialogue’s impact on the show as a whole, and research further how Buffy’s dialogue impacted the speech of its watchers and eventually the general public during the show’s time on air.

Comments

  1. Rick Stevenson says:

    First off, this is brilliant and wonderful and I wish I’d thought of it. Sadly my Buffy-watching this summer will be in an unpaid context, but I’ll be with you in spirit. Seriously though, this is very intriguing to me. I’ve always considered the unique dialogue in Buffy to be one of it’s defining strengths, but I’ve never stopped to consider how or why it is able to accomplish what it does. I know personally that I’ve adapted certain speech-isms from the show, and I’m curious to see in what ways you find it influenced cultural speech and writing for similar characters thereafter.

    I think there are many aspects to Buffy that influenced the current age of story-driven shows from netlfix, AMC, HBO and the like, though many of those shows are significantly more thematically dark and intense than Buffy. I’d be particularly interested to see if Buffy’s writing style, which is in large part comedic, had a noticeable impact on these types of shows.

    Happy watching!