Vernacular Language in Film. Definition, Meaning & Examples.


Definition: Vernacular is the language or dialect spoken by the ordinary people in a particular region or country. It is the native language of a specific group and often differs from that region’s standardized or formal language.

Vernacular language can vary in vocabulary, grammar, pronunciation, and usage, and it is typically passed down through generations by informal means of communication.

It is an essential aspect of a community’s cultural identity and is used in everyday conversations, storytelling, music, movies, and literature.

Vernacular language in movies adds authenticity and relatability, reflecting everyday speech patterns and regional dialects for a more immersive cinematic experience.

Vernacular language is related to the movie setting.

Here are some examples of vernacular language used in movies:

  1. “Yo, what’s up?” – Commonly used as a greeting in casual conversations, often seen in movies set in urban or hip-hop culture.
    Example: “Boyz n the Hood” (1991)
  2. “You betcha!” – A colloquial expression used to show agreement or affirmation, commonly associated with Midwestern American dialect.
    Example: “Fargo” (1996)
  3. “Fuhgeddaboudit” – An exaggerated way of saying “forget about it,” often used in New York City slang to dismiss or disregard something.
    Example: “Donnie Brasco” (1997)
  4. “Dude” – A term used to refer to a person, usually a male, often used in surfer or stoner subcultures.
    Example: “The Big Lebowski” (1998)
  5. “Fo shizzle” is a slang phrase meaning “for sure” popularized by rapper Snoop Dogg and often associated with hip-hop culture.
    Example: “Starsky & Hutch” (2004)

Movie characters where Vernacular Language is a defining trait, including examples

Here are some examples of movie characters where vernacular language is a defining trait, representing specific regional, social, or cultural identities.

Their vernacular speech patterns add authenticity and depth to the characters, making them more relatable and memorable.

H.I. McDunnough in “Raising Arizona” (1987)

Vernacular Language: Southern American English
Example Sentence: “I tried to stand up and fly straight, but it wasn’t easy with that sumbitch Reagan in the White House.”

In “Raising Arizona,” H.I. McDunnough, played by Nicolas Cage, speaks in a distinctly Southern American English vernacular.

This includes the use of slang terms such as “sumbitch” (a derogatory term for a person) and the use of double negatives.

H.I.’s dialogue throughout the movie reflects the unique linguistic features of the Southern United States.

Travis Bickle in “Taxi Driver” (1976)

Vernacular Language: Urban American English
Example Sentence: “You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Well, who the hell else are you talkin’ to?”

In “Taxi Driver,” Travis Bickle, portrayed by Robert De Niro, embodies an urban American English vernacular. Contractions characterize his speech, dropped consonants, and colloquialisms.

The famous line, “You talkin’ to me?” showcases Travis’ colloquial and confrontational language, representing the urban vernacular.

Hilly Holbrook in “The Help” (2011)

Vernacular Language: Southern African American English
Example Sentence: “That good vanilla from Mexico and something else real special.”

In “The Help,” Hilly Holbrook, played by Bryce Dallas Howard, speaks in a Southern African American English vernacular.

This dialect is characterized by features such as the use of “ain’t” as a negation, dropping the final “-g” in words ending in “-ing,” and the use of possessive pronouns like “your” instead of “you’re.”

Hilly’s dialogue reflects the linguistic patterns associated with this particular dialect.

Jules Winnfield in “Pulp Fiction” (1994)

Vernacular Language: African American Vernacular English (AAVE)
Example Sentence: “English, motherf**cker! Do you speak it?”

In “Pulp Fiction,” Jules Winnfield, portrayed by Samuel L. Jackson, speaks in African American Vernacular English (AAVE).

This vernacular is characterized by various features, including profanity, colloquial language, and unique grammatical structures.

Jules’ iconic line, “English, motherf**cker! Do you speak it?” showcases his use of AAVE and its distinct linguistic features.

The difference between Vernacular and Dialect

Vernacular refers to the everyday spoken language of a community, while dialect refers to a variation of a language that may include different pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar.

Vernacular focuses more on informal speech, while dialect can encompass informal and formal language variations.

  1. Vernacular: the everyday language spoken by a particular region or community. It is the language used in informal situations, such as conversations among family and friends, and it is often passed down through generations.

    Vernacular can include slang, colloquialisms, and regional expressions. It is typically spoken rather than written.
  2. Dialect: a language variation specific to a particular region, social group, or community. It encompasses differences in pronunciation, vocabulary, and grammar compared to the standard form of a language.

    Dialects can emerge due to geographical isolation, cultural differences, or historical factors. They can exist within the same language, such as British English and American English, or within different languages spoken within the same country, such as Mandarin Chinese and Cantonese.


Using vernacular language in movies adds a layer of authenticity and relatability to storytelling.

It allows viewers to connect more deeply with the characters and the narrative, reflecting real-life experiences and cultural nuances.

Vernacular language also helps to preserve and celebrate diverse linguistic traditions, giving a voice to underrepresented communities.

Incorporating vernacular language can create more inclusive and immersive cinematic experiences that resonate with audiences worldwide.

Up Next: Dialogue in Film: Definition and Examples.


  • Jan Sørup

    Jan Sørup is a indie filmmaker, videographer and photographer from Denmark. He owns and the Danish company Apertura, which produces video content for big companies in Denmark and Scandinavia. Jan has a background in music, has drawn webcomics, and is a former lecturer at the University of Copenhagen.

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