May 22, 2005

Does Hayden Christensen have a clitic problem?

An email from Lane Greene about the phonology and phonetics of Episode 3:

It seems you haven't seen Star Wars yet. If you do, I'd love your take on the phonetics of Episode 3. John McWhorter's old post "Clitics on Broadway" was useful because it's clarified for me why Hayden Christensen's acting in the movies is SO ANNOYING: he has a clitic problem.

Except for Obi-Wan, the good guys in the Star Wars original trilogy all spoke colloquial American English, clitics and all. But Christensen irritatingly feels the need to look Deep and Serious, which of course requires full "THEM" and never "THUM" or "'EM", "YOU" instead of "YA". Yet at other times, palling around with Obi Wan near the beginning, he speaks plain American clitic-filled English. So when the clitics go and we're back to full pronouns, you just tense up: Anakin is having another Moment and you feel it coming like a disturbance in the Force.

Eric Bakovic points out Leia's code-switching in the original trilogy, but it's far less annoying to me.

Ugh. Still, light-sabers and all. I'm a Star Wars baby. I had fun.

I expect that I will, too, but I probably won't be able to get to see the movie until next weekend. And we'll have to wait for the DVD to check out Hayden Christensen's clitic problem instrumentally (because we wouldn't analyze a pirated copy, needless to say). But Lane's analysis rings true: there's a certain kind of solemn High Seriousness for which No Weakened Words is a common actor's emblem.

Posted by Mark Liberman at May 22, 2005 10:53 PM