Phonetics and Hollywood. Accuracy and credibility of imitated Polish accents in Sophie’s Choice and The Zookeeper’s Wife

Jolanta Szpyra-Kozłowska,

Agnieszka Bryła-Cruz


In many American films actors and actresses, native speakers of English who impersonate foreign characters, make an attempt to speak English with a foreign accent. The present paper is the first attempt at analyzing imitated Polish-accented English in two well-known Hollywood productions. It examines, compares and assesses the most salient phonetic properties of the accents employed by two American stars: Meryl Streep appearing as Zofia Zawistowska in Sophie’s Choice (1982) and Jessica Chastain playing the role of Antonina Żabińska in The Zookeeper’s Wife (2017). The major goal, however, is to study the perception of the two accents in order to establish whether they can be regarded as cases of genuine Polish-English speech. The analysis is carried out by means of a three-step procedure. First, a list of typical features of a Polish accent in English is established in consultation with several specialists in Polish English pronunciation. Next, both actresses’ accents are examined with regard to these properties. In the third stage their speech and two samples of a genuine Polish-English accent are assessed by a group of 100 participants (66 Polish students and 34 native speakers of English) in a perception study. The obtained results show that M. Streep’s accent is more accurate and contains more features of authentic Polish English than J. Chastain’s, which is reflected in the Polish listeners’ credibility judgements. Nevertheless, native English listeners view the two actresses’ accents as Polish to a similar extent.

Słowa kluczowe: imitated/fake accents in films, Polish-accented English, accent perception

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