4

While being part of Eastern European culture, it has always amazed me how much of a gap in spoken English grammar and accent the Hollywood producers would create within their Russian characters. Most of the time, if you listen carefully, a character speaks English fluently, without a slightest grammar mistake, yet the accent would be plain terrible. To me, something like this just makes no sense. The only reason for doing so I can imagine is to avoid illiteracy within the movie in a any form, which also is a subjective choice in my opinion.

Why is this done?

closed as primarily opinion-based by cde, user7812, Panther, MattD, Andrew Martin Mar 23 '16 at 15:53

Many good questions generate some degree of opinion based on expert experience, but answers to this question will tend to be almost entirely based on opinions, rather than facts, references, or specific expertise. If this question can be reworded to fit the rules in the help center, please edit the question.

  • 1
    Because it's true to life? I know plenty of Indian/French/German people who are fluent English speakers, yet have horrible accents. I also know plenty of UK/US born people who are fluent French/German/Indian/Russian speakers, yet have terrible accents. – Andrew Martin Mar 21 '16 at 12:36
  • Then you should have noticed that most have their spoken grammar approximately at the same level. – eYe Mar 21 '16 at 12:38
  • 1
    Sorry, I'm not sure I understand what you mean. There's no reason grammar can't be perfect, but an accent can be wildly off. The latter is much, much harder to mimic correctly (and far, far less important to mimic correctly). – Andrew Martin Mar 21 '16 at 12:39
  • 3
    Okay. I can't comment too much, as I'm a native English speaker and nothing else. But it's rare for me to hear anyone from these other countries who has what I would consider a "local" accent. Most have great to perfect grammar, but accents that range from terrible to just noticeably different. Maybe our experiences are just different. – Andrew Martin Mar 21 '16 at 12:49
  • 1
    @eYe I'm Italian and I sympathize with you about this general approach because I find it really "disturbing". I'm able to enjoy a movie the most when I can forget that I'm just watching a screen, but each time things like these happen I am forced to come back to reality, which somehow spoils the experience. What bothers me the most is actually not the grammar, but the vocabulary when it is used completely out of context. (loosely related) – Pesetas74 Mar 22 '16 at 13:59
5

Being a native Russian speaker and a linguist/polyglot I have always been fascinated by fake Russian accents in Hollywood movies. My question was always why would you cast a Serbian, Bulgarian or some other actor of Southern Slavic descent when you can find plenty of Russian speaking actors. I guess because Southern Slavic, Hungarian, Romanian accents sound so distinct they became a stereotypical accent in Hollywood movies. If you want to hear how a real Russian person would sound then listen to Armie Hammer in Man from UNCLE, he perfected it, it was so spot on.

Back to your question. Because actors say what's in the screenplay which is usually written by native English speakers, they just memorize it. And because directors/writers are not linguists they don't bother thinking of such small things like a discrepancy between harsh accents and grammar, which logically should be somewhat on par with each other, to make it more realistic. And nobody really notices it or complains about it. There are of course people who have strong accents, and have perfect grammar, yet in majority of cases a strong accent usually implies bad grammar, but as your grammar improves so does your accent not because there is a correlation between the two, it's because you practice more. Of course this not true for all movies.

Now if a director wanted to incorporate both bad grammar and a heavy accent, it can easily be done without sacrificing intellgibility e.g. I come tomorrow to killing you or You watching your back from now. It would probably make it even more entertaining. Characters with heavy accents usually speak in short sentences and don't go into long philosophical discourses.

2

First and foremost, characters are a vehicle for entertainment.

This means that if entertainment or realism must be sacrificed then realism is cut. Tied into this is the fact that things are put into a movie for a reason. If the writers decided that character X needs to be Russian for Y reason then the character has to be obviously Russian. An easy way to make someone obviously Russian is to give them a horrible accent like we've seen other "Russians" sporting in movies. Now if these "Russians" had really bad grammar/word choice to go with this heavy accent it would be harder for the audience to understand, and result in awkward choppy dialogue. The times when characters demonstrate poor grammer/word choice/comprehension it is often for comedic effect. This is because reality is subservient to entertainment.

My wife is from Peru and she speaks pretty good English. It isn't perfect by any means but it is solid. In my experience with her and other first generation Americans/immigrants it is word choice that is harder than grammar when you deviate from your normal daily script. In English we differentiate fingers from toes. In Spanish fingers and toes go by the same word "dedos." Since people talk about their fingers more than their toes it is easier to replace "dedos" with "fingers" when she is speaking. Without a doubt my wife knows the words toes and fingers. She will always construct a grammatically correct sentence but sometimes when she is distracted she will say things like "foot fingers" when she really means "toes."

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .