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I always find it a little jarring that Picard and much of his relatives seem to have such a clear English accent despite the fact that the show makes such a big deal about his French ancestry. His Father, for example, makes an appearance in Tapestry. Oddly he also has an English accent. Moreover, I find it odd that a French captain of the Enterprise was played by a well regarded British actor and not a French one. Was a French accent deemed "too thick" and hard to understand by American audiences? Is it simply the common meme that anyone foreign shown in popular American film and television must have an English accent? Picard's tastes too seem to be particularly British -- "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot" anyone?

Also, what was the reaction on the part of the French to this? I'd imagine that they'd be offended (I'm assuming TNG was aired in France). Was there any outcry that a French actor was not selected?

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    I'm always willing to just accept that people who learn English as a 2nd language in Europe will have a British accent, and anyways it's the universal translator we're hearing, and whatever other bs handwaving I can come up with, because Patrick Stewart was brilliant in that role. – abcooper Jan 19 '12 at 17:27
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    I know they were quite excited over Stewart and one of the produces saw him in a play and decided at that point he should have the role, so perhaps the question should be, "Why doesn't Stewart play the role with a French accent?" – Tango Jan 19 '12 at 17:29
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    Or why, after casting Patrick Stewart, didn't they rewrite Picard's back story? – Xantec Jan 19 '12 at 17:36
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    Who says it's Picard who we hear. Maybe it's his universal translator speaking Queen's English. Maybe it was manufactured in Britain? – Goran Jovic Jan 19 '12 at 23:20
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    Historically, there has been a lot of overlap between French and British people (when they weren't killing each other), so it's entirely possible that the Picard family moved to Britain, and Jean-Luc's father moved back to France, to their family's ancestral home. – Jeff Jan 20 '12 at 14:29
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Bob Justman, a member of the Star Trek: The Next Generation production staff, was taking a class with his wife and there were two guest readers for one class, one being Sir Patrick. After hearing Stewart read just one line, Justman was thrilled and said, "I think I've found the next captain of the Enterprise!"

Justman thought he was great for the part, but Roddenberry didn't like him. When Rick Berman joined the team, he saw footage with Stewart and felt he was right for the part, and won more and more converts. Eventually they won Roddenberry over.

So it wasn't a case that they went out and looked for him, it was that Justman saw him and said, "He's perfect for a starship captain!" And he, along with others, pushed to go with him. The producers (or all but one) loved him for the part, even if he didn't speak with a French accent.

It was a case of picking a French accent or going with an actor who could best act as the kind of starship captain they wanted. And, in a case like that, if the only drawback is an accent, you go with the good actor. (Especially since they couldn't find anyone else they liked for the role.)

Now, as to why they didn't see if Stewart could do the role with a French accent, I don't know.

You can read more about it in this trekmovie.com article.

Also, one other point to consider: I don't know if they spoke French at home (or if, by then, there's a global language like Esperanto), but if Picard learned English while in Britain, that would explain the accent. (Then we can assume that the scenes at the Picard vineyard were in French, just translated to English for the audience.)

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    Also remember the old Star Trek standby of universal translators; they aren't just for different alien species to talk to each other. We know Picard, as a Starfleet Captain, would definitely have one, which would allow him to understand and be understood by just about any other human. The audience is also generally presumed to have one. So, it really doesn't matter whether Picard's speaking French or English in his hometown. He could be speaking Mandarin for all we really care; we hear it in English, unless the UT discerns that the intent of the speaker is to speak in their native tongue. – KeithS Apr 3 '12 at 22:26
  • @KeithS The strange thing about this is, we actually do see him in his French home, and singing alongside his brother, in French. Then again, we also hear Klingons sing and speak in Klingon despite universal translators...so maybe it's just a matter of individuals being able to choose when their universal translators are active...and the natural universal translator of Television Itself. – Zibbobz Apr 23 '14 at 13:56
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    In a recent interview Patrick Stewart says they did attempts of him talking with a French accent but it turned out he sounded too much like Inspector Clouseau... – MPelletier Jan 12 '15 at 15:09
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    You can see Patrick Stewart speaking in a ridiculous French accent in L.A. Story (1991). This is the only clip I could find online, but there's plenty more in the actual movie. – Mr. Bultitude Aug 3 '15 at 14:59
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Well, you can have French/Irish/Viking/… ancestry and make a big deal of it and have a matching first name and not have the matching accent. Accents rarely survive the second generation after emigration; ancestor worship can last millennia. Since Picard is born in France, that's not it, though.

It's quite possible that Picard learned English well enough to speak like a native, especially after years in an English-speaking environment. If he was learning in France, he would have been likely to pick up a British accent (at least nowadays).

Alternatively, there is a common artistic license that allows every actor to speak English even though they should be speaking some foreign or alien language. So maybe the actor is speaking with a British accent but the character is speaking with a French accent.

I don't know whether there was any outcry in France that a French actor wasn't selected, but I doubt there was. Why would there be? As I wrote above, the actor's accent doesn't really matter. Also, if Star Trek was broadcast on French TV at the time (I don't know; Star Trek is somewhat known in France but not nearly as widely as in the US or Britain), it would have been dubbed anyway.

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    "I don't know whether there was any outcry in France that a French actor wasn't selected, but I doubt there was." I like to think there was a national insouciant shrug. – Paul D. Waite Jan 29 '13 at 16:57
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The reason there was no public outcry in France is fairly simple: most movies and television series on French tv are dubbed (ie lip-synced) in French by another actor.

So in effect, in France, Picard was speaking French and so was everyone else...

Please note that I'm not a fan of this, I always prefer the original version.

  • Ah I was thinking they might have used subtitles. – Doug T. Jan 20 '12 at 12:45
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    Picard was voiced by Alain Choquet in the French dub. You might also recognize him as the voice of Captain David Anderson from the Mass Effect series. – Compro01 Feb 5 '13 at 22:58
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So I am Francophone, and this is how I see it. All my relatives who speak English well and grew up in France (not Canada like I did being an expat and all) have somewhat of a British accent because that is the type of English they learn. So I was just fine with it because some of my family still living in France speak English with British accents, granted they aren't as pronounced, but still... I thought Stewart was great for the part and did a good job.

10

I don't think the Universal Translator is necessary as an explanation here: the Federation itself is explanation enough.

Remember, we're talking about someone raised in a future France, not modern France. To us, France and Britain are very different places, with totally different languages and cultures (and quite a bit of rivalry that keeps them from blending). But to Picard, they would just to two (very closely located) regions of Earth, which itself is just one planet within the Federation.

Imagine a Virginian from 1650 encountering someone from modern-day Richmond. They might reasonably ask, "where is your accent? You don't sound Virginian at all!" But no explanation is necessary, the man's premise is simply flawed: in modern times, people from the South don't necessarily have pronounced accents. I myself am from Texas, but no one could tell from speaking to me. I just sound "American."

There are, no doubt, native French speakers within the Federation, but it does seem that pretty much everyone on Earth speaks English as well. Indeed, English may even be most people's first language, with regional languages being learned more academically (similar to Jewish peoples outside of Israel studying Hebrew for cultural reasons, rather than for primary communication). Some regional accents certainly remain (such as the Russian accents of Worf's parents), but it isn't at all hard to imagine that many families might just have lost their regional accents in favor of a "Federation accent."

Especially given France's proximity to Britain and the ease of travel in Picard's era, it's entirely conceivable that he simply never picked up a French accent, just as millions of Americans fail to pick up the accents of their individual states or regions.

Picard is, effectively, a New Yorker who happens to sound like he's from Boston.

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    Sooooo clooooose... (2014 - 1650) + 2014 = 2378, but TNG begins in 2364. So with just a couple more years off: 2014 - (2364 - 2014) = 1664 – Izkata Nov 5 '14 at 0:35
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    Nooooooo! That unravels my entire argument! :P Hahaha – Nerrolken Nov 5 '14 at 0:36
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    Minor support for "learned more academically": Data calls French a dead language at one point. He corrects himself after a look from Picard – Izkata Nov 5 '14 at 0:40
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    @iMerchant would that be in Boston, Texas, or Iowa? – Organic Marble Aug 16 '16 at 18:50
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    @OrganicMarble iMerchant’s statement isn’t accurate as given, but it holds some truth. Branching points lead to not just unique changes, but also unique holdovers, and UK English has been no more static than English elsewhere. So for example Indian English has retained features of Victorian English that were lost elsewhere, and in some cases US English pronunciations are "older" than their contemporary UK counterparts. But this varies widely, and there’s no such thing as an "original" English accent. People from 1664 would likely agree that we all talk very strangely today. – Semicolon Sep 2 '17 at 19:49
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I'm not sure about official casting reasons, but Stewart is a Shakespearean actor and Trek shows (as discussed on SF&F.SE before) follow heavily the Shakespearean play model. I am not aware of any famous French-accented Shakespearean actors.

2

The UT converts languages so everyone hears them in their own, for example, in ST Voy The 37's, the Chinese military person heard everyone speaking in Chinese, but we heard him speak English. The individual accents really can't be accounted for because O'Brien, Troi, Picard, Chekov and Scotty all had accents but we hear them in English.

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    This might be a little late, but it's Japanese not Chinese. – k_g Jan 24 '15 at 6:31
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On a practical note: Proper functioning of a starship requires all crew members to clearly understand each other - especially when commands are given - particularly during emergency situations. So it is critical that the leadership on the bridge - particularly the captain - should speak in a voice most likely to be well-understood by the rest of the crew. [the same principle - with less at stake, of course - explains why newscasters on the national level usually retrain their voices to a non-regional accent].

Given that, it is only necessary to assume that the current prevalence of English as a common language of international relations simply continues and expands into the future. By Picard's era it would be common for the people of Earth to speak some (descendant of) English for public interaction, especially for direct participation in the politics etc. of the Federation, while still speaking regional languages (in some circumstances) as part of one's personal cultural heritage. So Picard probably grew up speaking French as a young boy, but also learned English well as part of his overall goal of joining Starfleet.

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In 80s/90s TV, things like that did not often make sense. It even became cultural to do things like this on purpose, in some cases.

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    Welcome to SFF:SE. We recommend having a look at the tour. This answer is quite general; can you elaborate? – Politank-Z Oct 6 '17 at 4:07

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