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What is the reason for the British accents in Game Of Thrones?

Specifically in the North and South, not in what is considered foreign lands like Qarth and Meereen. Although George R. R. Martin is American and the show is directed towards American audiences, everyone in Game of Thrones speaks in some sort of British accent.

Going through some of the characters with accents:

  • Ned Stark has a northern accent (actually Sheffield).
  • Robb Stark has a northern accent (actually Scottish).
  • Jon Snow and Theon Greyjoy are non-northern actors with northern accents.
  • Arya Stark has a slight West Country accent.
  • Catelyn Stark speaks with a slight southern English accent.
  • King Robert Baratheon has a northern accent.
  • Some of the knights in the Vale speak with Welsh accents
  • Jorah Mormont has a Northern accent (actually Scottish in real life)
  • Davos Seaworth has a Northern accent (actually Irish)
  • Tyrion Lannister umm, not the best accent.

Anyway, you get the point that the English accent is the theme here. Obviously there are many more characters that speak with British accents, so what was the reason for the British accent?

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    Shouldn't the Question then be "Why did they choose to film the show in UK with an overwhelming British cast"? As it is now it seems kinda absurd, no offense. As you note yourself in examples, If there are Britons in the cast, how else are they going to speak? Like the French? – Aegon Jun 27 '16 at 5:43
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    Duplicate of scifi.stackexchange.com/q/59521/2256 – TLP Jun 27 '16 at 6:48
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    @TLP, how on earth is that question a duplicate of the one you linked? The question is Why are most of the main characters Caucasian in Game Of Thrones? What part of that question deals with dialects? – KyloRen Jun 27 '16 at 7:12
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    @BMWurm,the issue I am seeing here is that question does not relate to this question at all.Yes it has an answer that could also be used as an answer here as well,but when looking for the reason as to why English dialect is used,you will never find that question in a search,this search brings up this question,does not even mention accent, google.co.jp/… ,put accents in the search is higher still. – KyloRen Jun 27 '16 at 12:12
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    @Aegon: “If there are Britons in the cast, how else are they going to speak?” — They’re British actors, dear boy. They’ll speak however they damn well fancy. – Paul D. Waite Jul 4 '16 at 22:22
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In a previous answer, it was stated that the producers said that they felt that British/Irish accents "suited" the show. I'm going to explain why they feel that way.

Out-of-universe background on in-universe history

Although this question is not a duplicate thereof, this answer to a related question pretty much sums it up: Although the books and the TV series are only related and are not equivalent (and they have been drifting further apart for quite some time), the author, George R. R. Martin, did take heavy inspiration from the English Wars of the Roses (see Rolling Stone interview) — StarkYork and LannisterLancaster is just too obvious to ignore: The author isn't stupid and so he obviously meant that as a direct "hat-tip" to English history. Furthermore, in the same interview, he explains that one of the main the "boundaries" which define Westerosi "civilization" (and therefore by extension Westerosi "history" — since history is generally written by people with enough money/power to win wars and write about them) is inspired directly by Hadrian's Wall (see The Journal article).

Now, although the TV series Game of Thrones is only based on GRRM's A Song of Ice and Fire and is not a direct television production thereof, this background story still stands in some form. What this means is that the show is firmly grounded in the genre of Medieval fantasy (i.e. old-timey England plus magic and dragons!).

Out-of-universe motivation: Sociolinguistics!

Now, just because the series is directly inspired by English/British history doesn't necessarily mean that the actors have to speak with modern British accents. However, using British accents in (English) Medieval fantasy is a well-established tradition: Fantasy of this type typically draws heavily on contemporary views of Medieval European life (even J. R. R. Tolkien himself, who is basically the father of mainstream fantasy, drew heavily from the history, mythology and linguistics of the British Isles) and framing these stories in a British accent gives us (especially people from the "New" World) a feeling of them being "old" — which fits because the author typically wants the reader to associate their world with Medieval times: If the actors all spoke in a "Wild West" accent from Texas in the 1800s, it would feel "weird" because it's an accent which is heavily associated with a completely different place and era. On the other hand, "Wild West"-style linguistic influences don't feel out of place in the Firefly universe at all because it is very obviously inspired by Westerns and lacks associations with "Old Europe" — which Medieval fantasy does have.

What this means is that modern British dialects/accents serve in fact as a "genrelect" associated with Medieval fantasy: They are a sort of sociolect defining a character's connection to a particular genre. Just as it's weird to hear an old person use slang associated with younger speakers, it would be weird to hear a character in a Medieval fantasy universe speak, like, totally like a Valley Girl.

Moreover, the connotations associated with different English accents function just as well internally to the given fantasy universe as they do in our universe: The features of Bronn's speech mark him as being from a class lower than Tyrion, despite that Peter Dinklage is actually American and is just putting on a completely arbitrary pseudo-"South-eastern English aristocrat" English accent — Regardless of how "aware" the actor is of British sociolinguistic idiosyncrasies, he does know how to sound generically "posh" to viewers. If the actors just randomly used any accent (and actually, they still are pretty random compared to actual geographic/social divisions in the UK), we would lose the useful background information we get by hearing how they speak. Finally, the characters themselves have been proven to have the same sociolinguistic knowledge we do as viewers: Namely, when Tywin Lannister corrects Arya's attempts at speaking like a commoner, he states that a commoner would say m'Lord rather than my Lord. This mirrors sociolinguistic contrasts in real-life England both today and in the past: Using reduced forms such as m'Lord and usage of the me-possessive me Lord is associated with a lower-class background, whereas — on the flip side — using the non-reduced form my Lord is exclusive to educated classes: Someone from the upper crust may talk about huntin' an' shootin' when they feel like it, but the non-educated would always speak that way — hence why it was a shibboleth which gave Arya away.

TL;DR

The series is based on fantasy. Most people are used to hearing fantasy characters speak like the British, so anything else would be weird. Therefore, in order to let us recognize the characters' individual backgrounds/social class, the actors try to affect different English dialects which roughly correspond to equivalent backgrounds/classes in modern Britain.

  • Yes, Arabic high fantasy would probably be better served with Arabic-accented English, but, as I tried to explain here, the series is grounded in (English) Medieval fantasy... hence British accents. – errantlinguist Jun 27 '16 at 10:23
  • Fair enough; Done. – errantlinguist Jun 27 '16 at 10:32
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    And +1 you get for it. :) – Aegon Jun 27 '16 at 10:33
  • Cheers, mate. (or maybe "thanks, brah!"?) – errantlinguist Jun 27 '16 at 10:35
  • This answer seems to keep getting upvoted now and again; Do people like this pop culture/science/language mashup that much and, if so, how might I go about finding more questions like this to answer? Some sort of "ask a linguist" blog?-- on SE, they're not that common... – errantlinguist Dec 21 '16 at 15:46
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David Benioff & DB Weiss thought that the show suited dialog with English, Scottish and Irish accents.

Even though Game Of Thrones is written by an American author and is intended for American audiences, the show specifically uses British accented dialog. As many people know, Game of Thrones is filmed in Belfast and the majority of on-location shooting occurs in Northern Ireland as is the case with Castle Black which is set in an abandoned quarry a few minutes drive north of Belfast. Several of the more exotic locations are filmed elsewhere, but most is in Northern Ireland.

But, speaking as to why the acting was to be done in British accents, an interview David Benioff & DB Weiss. They go on to say that Northern Ireland was the feel they were looking for show but, it was the fact that they had always had in their minds that they would use British accents. The location also played a part as that was the general feel they were going for, old English history type feel.

Taken from the interview below,

"And for whatever reason in our minds, we had always heard, English accents, English, Scottish, Irish accents. I think having this dialog being spoken by someone with a kind of Malibu surfer, it would not have seemed right."

HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’: Further Proof That America Loves British Accents

"It's such an ingrained part of fantasy and science fiction that I'm a little surprised when those kind of characters don't speak in British accents," Matt Zoller Seitz, the TV critic for New York magazine told BBC News. "In the fantasy realm they could have any kind of accent but British does seem to be the default."

  • Was there a single Scottish accent in the show? I know there are several Scottish actors who switch to an English accent. When I was reading the books I imaged the Wildlings with a Scottish / Scandinadian sound, but as it is, I can't think of anyone sounding Scottish. – Mikey Mouse Jun 27 '16 at 7:47
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    @MikeyMouse, Richard Madden and Iain Glen are Scottish. – KyloRen Jun 27 '16 at 7:52
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    I would note that even though GRRM is American, Westeros is modeled after England. The map of Westeros is an exact mirror image of the map of England. It might have influenced this choice. – Matthieu M. Jun 27 '16 at 8:42
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    @MatthieuM, of further note (and corroborating evidence supportingthe use of British accents) is that the series (or at least the beginning of it) was directly inspired by the English Wars of the Roses: I mean, Stark->York, Lannister->Lancaster... can it get more obvious? – errantlinguist Jun 27 '16 at 8:54
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    @KyloRen, those actors are indeed Scottish but AFAIK they are speaking English without much "Scottishness"... for example, Rose Leslie is from Aberdeen but (assuming she can speak Scottish English at all) her accent in the show seems more from Yorkshire than from Scotland, and most definitely does not have any Doric Scots influence as it might have. – errantlinguist Jun 27 '16 at 9:15

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