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It seems like Gaff speaks almost no English at the beginning of the movie, but has become conversant by the end. Is this deliberate? Why?

In one of the first scenes, Captain Bryant has sent Gaff (Edward James Olmos) to bring Deckard (Harrison Ford) to him. Gaff finds Deckard eating noodles, and begins speaking to him in a language other than English. Deckard does not understand him, and summons the elderly chef to translate, who shares that Gaff is attempting to place Deckard under arrest. Gaff eventually gets out the word "Bryant," which convinces Deckard to go with him.

Fast-forward about 2 hours to the scene where Deckard and Roy Batty are on the roof of JF Sebastian's dilapidated hotel. Gaff lands his police cruiser on the roof, and shouts to Deckard:

You've done a man's job, sir. I guess you're through, huh? It's too bad she won't live. But then again, who does?

I don't know how much time is supposed to elapse between those two moments, but it seems like it can't be more than a few days, perhaps a week. At the beginning of that week, this police officer cannot even say "you're under arrest" in English. At the end of that week, the same officer seems plenty fluent.

How can that be? Humans generally cannot gain language proficiency with anything like that speed.

Perhaps you're thinking: Gaff hasn't really learned English, he's only memorized a couple of statements. (Nevermind how he knew in advance what statements would be appropriate when he finally caught up with Deckard.) If that's the case, then why wouldn't he also know how to say bread-and-butter police stuff like "you're under arrest," or "get in the car?"

Is the implication that Gaff is a Replicant? Or is this a pair of identical twins who both work for Bryant, only one being fluent in English?

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    It could just be that he didn't want to speak English at that point
    – HorusKol
    Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 7:34
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    bladerunner.fandom.com/wiki/Cityspeak
    – BCdotWEB
    Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 9:18
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    I interpreted it as at the beginning, Gaff wants to annoy Deckard, and Deckard wants to annoy Gaff. They both understand both languages, and pretend like they don’t to annoy each other. Remember Deckard doesn’t actually need translation of the last thing Gaff says in the first scene they share. Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 13:04
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    Agree with others here. Being an American, when traveling to Montreal, they know English very well. They choose to speak their native tongue to avoid having to be friendly. I assume this is the same in various European countries where English is known. Commented Feb 16, 2022 at 15:03

1 Answer 1

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Gaff can speak English, but he chooses not to.

Indeed, as the OP mentioned, it is quite impossible that Gaff would learn English in a matter of a few days. Moreover, in the original book, Gaff has a slightly bigger role, and he converses quite a bit with Deckard about his job.

So why doesn't he use English?

Well, most likely because he initially dislikes Deckard and to show that he is better than him: The 'Cityspeak' is used by the criminal underworld, so by using it Gaff shows that he is a "professional cop", who is knowledgeable about the dangerous parts of the city. But instead of being assigned to chase the missing replicants, his boss — Bryant — sends him as an errand boy to pick up some washed-up ex-Blade Runner.

Also, as @PoloHoleSet mentioned in comments, Deckard most likely understands perfectly Gaff, but decided to be a pain in the butt and play dumb.

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  • I was not expecting an explanation that would enrich an already-complex movie like this. Many thanks.
    – Tom
    Commented Feb 21, 2022 at 6:47
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    I'd suggest that Deckard, also, and similarly, (possibly) could understand Cityspeak, but is trying to be as much of a pain in the butt by playing dumb and having the noodle stand owner translate. Commented Jun 9, 2022 at 18:08
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    The Shooting Script indicates that Deckard can't understand Gaff - [Deckard doesn't understand Japanese, thinks the man wants a seat] - [Deckard doesn't understand a word] - [Deckard is continuing to eat but he has reacted to Gaff's repeated use of the word "Bryant."] etc - dailyscript.com/scripts/blade-runner_shooting.html
    – Valorum
    Commented Jul 11, 2023 at 23:48
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    @Valorum point taken, but IMO Harrison Ford played it slightly differently.
    – Yasskier
    Commented Jul 12, 2023 at 0:36

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