Game of British Accents

by Translation Guy on April 16, 2012

Peter Dinklage, performing as Tyrion Lannister, is one of the few American actors in the Game of Thrones cast.

Game of Thrones, the latest HBO blockbuster is all-American. The Hollywood extravaganza, based on the fantasy writing of US author George R. R. Martin, is a tale of North and South embroiled in civil war in a fantasy kingdom where everyone speaks with an English accent.

In the Game of Thrones, North and South are not Blue and Gray, but more Scottish and Welsh, at least when it comes to accents, as British dialect seem to be required for any American historical (or ahistorical) drama lacking six-shooters.

“Martin was inspired a great deal by European medieval history,” says Stephen Tierney, administrator of the Game of Thrones UK fan site. “As such his characters reflect that, and if you read the books and listen to the cadence of the characters’ voices you will find that they do sound more regionally British than they do American.

American TV audiences are renowned for their lack of tolerance of unfamiliar accents on-screen. But Brit accents are just familiar enough to American audiences that they serve nicely to provide local color, no matter where the locale happens to be. And thanks to a raft of British actors ready to step into the sandals of any costume drama role, Americans are getting more comfortable with the nuances of Brit accents.

My daughter is a junior at Stuyvesant High School, where every year the kids put heart and soul into a variety show called “SING!” The students plumb the depths of pop culture for inspiration, and it’s always interesting to see what they pull out of the global entertainment morass. The lead performers in theses shows are all Broadway summer-camp-trained, so they can belt out a tune like Ethyl Merman, and tap and hip-hop in the best local borscht-belt style, but their dramatic inspiration is always dipped in the  treacle of bad British accents. This year’s the Seniors’ performance (each class puts on its own show) featured Gandolf the Wizard, whose big laugh line, thundered again and again, was “You shall not pass!”  These kids are as infused as Earl Grey in this kind of pop-culture Britishness.

When I read “Lord of the Rings” when I was in high school, all of Tolkien’s Middle Earth language was new, outside my Gunsmoke and Midnight Movie reference points. But now kids approach Tolkien, or really any dramatic medium, from the perspective of Harry Potter, which is their cultural touch stone. These kids have grown up with the wonderful performances of some of Britain’s most talented actors, reprised in each release of the Harry Potter franchise. The mysterious shuffling stairs of Hogwarts are as familiar to the kids at Stuy as the jammed escalators they ride between their classes every day. They are the Harry Potter generation.

Lisa De Moraes, TV critic of the Washington Post says of American TV executives, “they will make an exception with fantasy drama, or costume drama, but the need to pull in big audiences – and to have lead characters with broad appeal – means they will not allow British actors to use their natural accents.”

Maybe so, but maybe not for long. I think Americans have a better ear for British dialect than they used to, thanks to Harry and the rest. I imagine the same is true for British exposed to the American equivalent of Masterpiece Theater, which I suppose would be Jersey Shore. Which gives me an excuse to close with this clip:



  1. Pierre says:

    So you think Americans have a better ear for British dialect?
    Without a “s”, that’s the queen’s language you’re refering to, right?
    If so, “I dig your style dude!”

  2. Risa Demko says:

    Easier to speak with a British accent than to get rid of one. I’ve been in NY for 8 years and I can’t seem to blend in. Every new person I meet has to comment on the way I sound. If I were an american and I went to England on vacation I would leave after a week with a fluent accent.

  3. A nice accent makes you sound more intelligent. Americans are just too insecure about themselves and are worried that anyone with an accent is actually more intelligent.

  4. Kral Dlask says:

    When I was younger I wasn’t a fan of comedies with an accent. Now, I realize it wasn’t the accent, it was the words they used. Today, many of the British comedies are actually written in America and are simply set in England. The language is easier to understand, yet the accent gives it more appeal.

  5. It used to be that the coolest british accent came from 007. Now, it’s everywhere – even Puss-n-Boots. My kids walk around talking like they are from Buckingham Palace.

  6. Ratko Grlic says:

    This could really be a great tool for helping brain rehab patients from any type of accident. I good friend of mine was in a motorcycle accident and spent years relearning and rehabbing. If this was available back then, who knows how much time could have been shaved off the recovery and him back to a more normal life sooner.

  7. Mashterpiece theater is much more entertaining with the british accents then listening to the actual Jersey Shore. Or, maybe, it’s because the smashterpiece theater actresses are actually pretty. Sad what American TV has turned into.

  8. Dennis Lynch says:

    I like to put on an accent for my kids when I read certain bedtime stories. Unfortunately for me, I usually end up sounding like Shrek rather than Sean Connery.

  9. Sue Levinski says:

    The American accent is boring and, well, unintelligent sounding (I’m English he he).

  10. I don’t mind all the brittish accent being used in tv and movies. I actually like it more than a Texas drawl or midwestern thing.

  11. Beth Hayes says:

    With a little practice the Brittish accent can be attained easily. Not so much for some others. As for TV or movies, I’d like to see some of the more regional US accents start to work there way into characters. Too much of the same stuff.

  12. Rob Goldman says:

    With exception to Harry Potter and Hugh Grant, I agree that American audiences don’t like many foreign accents. Me, on the other hand, prefer anything foreign over the New Jersey accent we get bombarded with on TV.

  13. JR Wood says:

    I am from London, UK. I saw the Billboards (an Americanism we use regularly…I think that they used to be called “Advertising Hoardings” for A Game of Thrones; and liking Sean Bean as an Actor, and reading favourable reviews decided to buy the book. Or rather; the First book… My word. Five tomes – each feeling like the King James’ Bible…

    But I am gripped. So enjoyable is this story; it IS reminiscent of the “Holy” Lord of the Rings Trilogy.

    The language written is most certainly British English. Every word is translated in my mind into clear English. George R.R. Martin has done a sterling job.

    I, for one am not a language “nazi”, as it were. As stated, I am British English – Born in the 70’s; and will quite happily spell colour without the extra u, or favor as such.

    I work with Americans, and people from all over the world. In time language changes, and we will surely spell American English more often than not. Certainly with the (near 20th??) anniversary of the internet.

    The copy of A Game of Thrones I am reading is by a British publisher; so perhaps the spelling of words Grey for Gray, colour for color, ad infinitum has been proofed for a UK audience.

    But; I am not so sure. I google searched to find out, and came across this website.

    As I once saw in a comic strip – “Let’s happify the non-communality!”.

    • Ken says:

      Lets Happify our life with beautiful English!

  14. JR Wood says:

    To Jack: If I watch a movie / film set in Texas or the Mid-West of America then I would prefer it has the appropriate accent for the setting. I think that the Game of Thrones (and I haven’t seen it, but am reading the first book) being set in a medieval fantasy world is more recognisable with English / Scottish / Irish / Welsh / French accents. Aren’t there Middle-Eastern accents to appear also (Thoraki traders etc?). It depends on context. Kevin Costner in Robin Hood – Bloody awful old boy! 😉 x

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