Subtitles for Americans

Some years ago, a Polish company began selling dvd’s of the Poirot series starring David Suchet via newstands and soon after did the same with various Marple productions. Being a Polish company, they predictably released them in only partly-chronological order. Nevertheless, I enjoyed them and watched them all more than once. The dvd’s had the options of a Polish voice over (very distracting and non-aesthetic) or subtitles and I naturally watched them with subtitles. Unforunately the dvd series stopped before they got around to all the movies.

Then a few months ago I decided to seek out the rest through…. online sources (but I dont’ gossip so you didn’t hear it from me…). I just found the original versions so there are no subtitles. I’ve enjoyed them but was surprised to find just how much I’d apparently been relying on the subtitles before. Sometimes I have to stop and relisten to a line two or three times (or more) before understanding and at other times whole exchanges fade into a blur. What probably had happened was knowing the content of what they were saying (with subtitles) helped me hear past more opaque British expressions or pronunciations (and made me think I was understanding through hearing alone).

One of the odder things are the mostly terrible accents that occur when British actors play Americans. Occasionally they have a real American in those parts but more often than not there’s a weird artificial sound (and then imdb tells me it’s a British actor). The bad accents sound similar enought that I think that must be part of British actor training. As far as I know American actors are just as bad (or worse) at British accents. I’ve also noticed that British actors in American productions affect weird speech patterns that don’t reflect how British people actually speak but conform to American preconceptions about how they speak. It’s all very weird.

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