In this movie trailer "Paterson", a Japanese actor said

"A bus driver in Paterson?" and "This is very poetic" with subtitiles.

Is his accent too heavy?

What about the accent of a Indian or Pakistan man with no subtitles?

What is the difference?

  • 1
    Both utterances are extremely difficult to understand, I had to listen twice just to hear "driver", "Paterson" and "poetic", the letter "t" is practically elided. The studios probably showed a preview of this movie and some native speakers probably expressed their perplexity. The subtitles also lend a humorous tone, as if to say: "we thought you might appreciate the gesture".
    – Mari-Lou A
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:40
  • 1
    I can't answer your question myself because you told us what it says. Expectation influences perception. I was able to understand both utterances without a problem, but I can't say whether that would have been the case if I hadn't read them first.
    – user230
    Oct 7, 2016 at 19:59
  • Thank two of you, @Mari-Lou A and @snailplane♦. Too bad that I would have thought he spoke English very fluently and well without your comments. Sorry for my late answer and appreciation for you. Thank you again.
    – Go Tyosyu
    Oct 11, 2016 at 20:26

1 Answer 1


This is not entirely, perhaps not even primarily, a matter of how "thick" the actors' accents are.

Just like voice-recognition systems on a computer, human speakers of any language have to "learn" the unique vocal qualities of every other speaker they interact with. A non-native dialect increases the difficulty, sometimes substantially; but the difficulty is substantially lessened if early utterances are formulaic and predictable. If the first things you hear from your interlocutor is something expected like "Hello" or "good morning" or "How are you doing", it's much easier to get a handle on individual tone and pitch and intonation range; and the longer you interact with the person, creating a discourse context which significantly narrow the range of possible meanings, the easier conversation gets.

In this case, however, the only thing we hear is a decidedly unpredictable utterance—in almost seventy years of conversation I'm pretty sure I have never heard the words "A bus driver in Paterson" spoken! And it's very brief--we aren't given the chance to interpret these five words retrospectively from familiarity with a longer utterance. With the second line we don't even have physical cues like the movements of the speakers mouth to guide us. Consequently, there are almost no contextual cues that could help us understand this character's speech; and that's probably why the producers felt that subtitles were necessary at this point.

  • I apprieciate for your very helpful answer with the scholarly language cognition system. Up above I wrote I would have thought he spoke English very well because he is a famous actor in Japan, acting in many US movies, and this movie is the second movie of Jim Jarmusch. Now I think he went too far with flap-t, like "Pa'd'erson" and "poe'd'ic". Anyway thank you very much and sorry for late appreciation.
    – Go Tyosyu
    Oct 11, 2016 at 21:53

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