DOI: 10.21070/icecrs2021909

The Social Status Analysis of Freedom Writer Movie’s Character Based Upon the Uttered Language Variation

Universitas Muhammadiyah Sidoarjo
Social Status Language Variation Freedom Writers


Due to the expanding demand of exploration in linguistic studies, this research was specifically made in answering one of the fundamental question related with the discourse of societal status in domain of literary work. Upn such goal, this research aims to unveil the link between social class and the way a person speak through their variation of the language spoken in daily basis. Since this research addresses the use of language variation in literaty work, the required data were taken specifically from a movie entitled as Freedom Writers. The analysis utilizes textual analysis as the mean of interpretation and data processing, due to the fact this research is carried in qualitative manner. By following the theoretical framework of language variation from William Labov, researcher is finally able in unveiling the finding of this study. Concisely, it is showed that in most cases, language variation is heavily influenced by speaker.


Language as the product of humanity has transgressed into many shapes and forms. One kind that we can call as the product of language is the art of literature. Adressing this fact, literatures comes into many manifestations that often intersects with many elements of human life. The element of socio-culture is one kind of example that is often found in many literary works. Movie as a product of literature also embodied the value of sociology and culture in its content. Many movies portray a vivid image or representation of our daily complications as a social being. This includes the use of languge along with its variations. In this circumstance, researcher will try to investigate language varuations in a particular work of literature; a movie. Freedom writer itself is a movie that was created based upon a real-life incident and evet. The title itself is a direct adaptation of a book entitled as Freedom Writers. This is also one of the consideration for the researcher to pick Freedom Writer as the research object within this circumstance, aside from its content, which is related to the researcher’s major (which is education department). This movies tells a struggle of a female teacher (Erin Gruwell), who happened to get reallocated into a city with segregation issue. Her school, which was a prestigious institution before, became a den for numerous students from diverse ethnics. They share different value, philosophy, and troubles, yet are being pushed to intermingle one to another.

Erin tried her utmost effort in helping her students in overcoming their communal issues, related with violences, gangs, and sometimes a bit severe crime like drugs and murder. Through her totality in nurturing her students, she was able in turning the whole teenagers of her class, towards a better condition, by using a diary. Her achievement however did not taken for granted. She had to face divorce and many intriguing conflicts with her colleagues. Such movie was produced by both big name of studio, namely Paramount Picture and MTV, around 2007. This movie received many positive feedbacks and contributive criticism in many traits, and earned around 7.5 out of 10 stars, as well as 64 in overall metascore. The sole objective of this research is none other than to unveil the existence of language variation within the movie that is uttered by each of the highlighted character, which later will be confirmed whether societal element, like hierarchical social status, that plays its role in determining their language preferences [1]. Respectively, in term of linguistic, the observed language variation will later be matched with Labov’s well-known theory of New York Dept. Store. This research only concerned with language variation in a certain character of the movie. Researcher only selected a major character, and disregard the minor ones (cameos for instance). Researcher took the subtitle of the movie as a supporting material, in gathering the prerequisite data.

Language variation itself, which is the main focus of this research, is a unique set of language pattern in a spoken manner, which is pretty much distinct and divergent one from another [2]. This signifies that language variation varying immensely in each community of a particular people [3]. English, as a lingua franca itself has numerous variations that are always developing (or even evolving) [4]. These variations existed in form of accent, dialect, or even to the smallest bits of diction, in which slang words are used. These variations, conscious or unconsciously serve as a distinction on how people are being classified into a certain class of a society [5]. These differences and classification, will further serve as the positive affirmation for this research’s outcomes. The aim of content analysis is one of qualitative research design, which involves textual and vocal analysis in both pragmatic and semantic ways that was developed around twenty years ago [6]. It is used to assess communicational artefacts including the sub-field of phylogeny and hermeneutic. This method seemed to be overly synonymous with textual analysis, which is quite interchangeable with discourse analytical media research. Some experts also name such method as document analysis [7]. In term of previosu studies, there is an undergraduate thesis entitled with ‘A Sociolinguistic Investigation of Language Variation in the Speech Community of Nedroma’ proposed by Naima Ammour, which aside from the object or media, is similarly the same.

Researcher expected that this research will provide some significant insights, or at the very least, an idea on how language studies might find its way within any work of literature, specifically when discussing about spoken language along with its variations. In more practical ways, TESOL learners may gain some ideas towards the exploitation of societal elements in regards with linguistic aspects (language varioation in this case). For inter-studies purpose, this research may also serve as a further citation or source towards the domain of anthropology


As slightly mentioned before, the major backbone of this research is qualitative. Henceforth, allowing researcher to obtained the detailed explanation and finding in form of comprehensive interpretation towards the research outcomes, accurate yet factual data along with its characteristic, and adding depth to an investigation. In line with the aforementioned methodology chosen, researcher will carry this research into two major segment. The first one is the investigation towards the variations of a language uttered by the highlighted characters of the movie. The later one, is none other than the validation towards the finding. In detailed manner, researcher also employed content analysis as mentioned within the introductory passage.

Finding and Discussion

After several considerations, researcher finally found the evidence of language variations, which were uttered by several characters within the movie. These observed utterances, later, will be authenticated through language variation theory of William Labov. Researcher will first obtain the designated transcript of movie’s subtitle. Based on this subtitle, researcher will able to emphasize a chunk of conversation that contains language variations on it. The first step the researcher ought to take is to highlight the selected characters.

Prior to the above description, researcher has selected around 17 characters to be examined, these characters are Andre Bryant, Alejandro Santiago, Ben Samuels, Brandy Ross, Brian Gelford, Dr. Carl John, Erin Gruwell, Eva Benitez, Gloria Munez, Grant Rice, Jamal Hill, Marcus, Margaret Campbell, Scott Casey, Sindy Ngor, Steve Gruwell, and Tito. These chaarcters are portrayed with their respective roles, background, as well as their social standing within the movie. Knowing this fact, researcher will provide the observation of their hierarchical social status.

Social Status

In this segment, researcher will provide the in-depth description upon the observed characters of the movie. Researcher deduct their classes based upon several considerations, such historical background and respective physical appearance that are accounted within the movie. Now, these are the detailed justification:

Andre Bryant This very first character, without doubt, classified as lower class along with others ‘black’ students in Erin’s class. There are also several scenes where his private life was shown within the movie. Based upon these fact, his societal class was concluded.
Alejandro Santiago There is too few information of this character, despite his screen time inside the movie. It is quite doubtful that he belonged to either middle or lower class of societal standing. Therefore, researcher cannot decided the social position of this character. It is also safe to assume that Santiago belonged to middle-low class, since he also become the object of segregation.
Ben Samuels This character has a few clues upon his background. A little we know is that Ben is a ‘white’ student, and ‘white’ represent middle to upper class during the era of segregation. He also displayed quite a few informal language variation, such as slang.
Brandy Ross She is one of the students character with less screen time. Yet, researcher is able in distinguishing her class based upon her monologue upon her diary. It was depicted that she grew with violent family due to the abusive father, which later makes Brandy and her family homeless. Then, the verdict is middle-low class.
Brian Gelford As a ‘white’ citizen during the period of segregation, you can be considered as someone who has higher social standing compared to these ‘black’ people. Since this character doesn’t have many screen time, researcher simply regard him as someone with upper-middle social class. His job is also another consideration.
Dr. Carl John There is nothing much that we can tell from this character. It only shown that he, despite being ‘black’ people, is an influential person. If one’s status can be determined through his/her occupation alone, then researcher will regard him as someone who has higher social standing, or at very least, equals to Margaret.
Erin Gruwell It is quite obvious that our main protagonist here is someone with middle to higher social standing. Aside from her education background, she also possessed many luxuries that only a few people could obtain. Her demeanor and attire further strengthens her image of someone with an appropriate standing
Eva Benitez Similar to Marcus, and other half-blood Americans, who were marginalized by segregation, Eva is, without doubt, a middle-low class citizen. Her lifestyle, surrounding family, and daily habbit put enough emphasize to conclude her societal standing.
Gloria Munez Her appearance alone is quite convincing for us to regard her as a middle to upper class, seeing how Gloria dressed herself up, as well as how she is ‘white’ student along with Samuel. However, researcher noticed a monologue of her diary, which faintly implies that she is belonged to middle-low class.
Grant Rice He stands as only ordinary guy, with vague background. He belonged to llower-class along with Jamal and his gangs.
Jamal Hill Despite being given with many screen times, the social status of this character is quite dubious. However, researcher believe that Jamal belonged to the lower class, along with his fellow pal. The part in which he is the object of segregation is another fact put him more into such position in societal standing.
Marcus As one of the leading students in Erin’s class, researcher categorized Marcus into lower-middle class. Several scenes strengthened the fact that he belonged to the mere plebeian, His house, the way he dressed himself, highlighted this fact more or less.
Margaret Campbell As the top brass of the school, it is quite obvious that Margaret belonged to the upper class in social status. It is shown on how she dressed herself (since the movie always give her with schoolground setting). Her seniority and position also signifies her standing, up above the remaining teachers.
Scott Casey Scott is portrayed as a proper gentlemen. A man with a good degree and job. Someone who can act appropriately during a dinner with his father in law. He is categorized into upper-middle in term of societal standing, due to his nackground in the movie
Sindy Ngor As an immigrant from the southern east Asian nation, Sindy depicted as someone with middle to high social class. This is due to the fact that despite being treated in segregation, her appearance is quite chic with some accessories. She also mentioned on how her father was abducted due to the political intrigues in her former country.
Steve Gruwell Within the movie, Steve was portrayed as a senior citizen, with a quite appropriate social standing. This is shown in several scenes, where he often appeared in suite, and invited Scott (Erin’s ex husband) into a dinner in a restaurant.
Tito In term of social standing, Tito along with his group belonged to the lower class. This is shown by how the movie tells about segregation system. These segregations aim for immigrants. Tito as a half mexican categorized into this class.
Table 1. Social Status

C o nc l u s ion

In accord with previous inquiry, it is known that societal factors (networking, age and gender, as well as prosperity level) indeed play their role in determining how a particular person will speak by using their preferred language variation [8]. It is also shown that social standing doesn’t always mean that a person will speak by using formal form of English, like what was spoken by some characters in the aforementioned description [9]. Other form of variable should be counted like the relationship between characters, and the overall culture in a wider area, which in this regards, American custom-made English. Upon this data, researcher unveiled that American English has long known for its less-formal mannerism compared to its parent langage, British English, which is also supported by [10]. This discovery shows us that even in a certain period, a casual or less formal form of language may be made officially formal language variation in certain cases. This applies to American-English variatios, which often display numerous peculiar slangs. Such fact is in line with the principle of the ever-developing language evolution.

A c k n o wledgement

All praie Allah, attributable to His majestic and absolution in giving the writer with enormous insights and motivations in finishing this research. May shalawat and salam may always be bestowed upon our great prophet, Muhammad pbuh, as his endless struggle has brought us all in the light of wisdom and boundless voyage of faith. This humble research is presented as one of the requirement in finishing researcher’s bachelor degree in English Langage Education major. The paper is completed with the help of many helps and assistances, either in tangible or intangible form. Researcher believes that this study is far behind the perfection, thus leaving spaces for further researches and improvement for anyone who wanted to explore the domain of linguistic and literature.


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