Accidental Accents

By Albert Kim
Updated October 07, 1994 at 04:00 AM EDT

All American Girl

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Why is it that NYPD Blue‘s Dennis Franz, playing one of Noo Yawk’s finest, emotes in a flat Chicago twang? And how come Janine Turner, who plays a native Michigander on Northern Exposure, tends to slip into a soft Southern drawl?

If you’re the type to be bothered by such dialect discrepancies (and aren’t mollified by the official explanations that Franz’s character is from Chicago and that Turner is, well, a Texan), consider the linguistic license taken by the All-American Girl cast. As members of the Korean-American Kim family, the actors use accents that are all over the map: Jodi Long, as the mother, speaks in broken English with a Chinese-ish accent, while grandma Amy Hill gabs in a stilted pidgin English and father Clyde Kusatsu chats in flawless, unaccented American.

Although the show retains a consultant on Korean culture, individual vocal characterizations have been left to the actors’ discretion. Says Elizabeth Wong, one of two Asian-American scribes on the show, ”The scripts are written in perfect English. We want people to laugh at what they’re saying, not at how they’re saying it.”

To prepare, Long recorded and studied the vocal patterns of a Korean neighbor (yet still sounds vaguely Chinese). Hill’s accent is a pastiche of those of her Chinese mother and a Korean friend. Kusatsu explains his lack of accent as ”my subtle way of making a statement. Not all Asian immigrants have an accent. That can be a stereotype.”

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In the end, aural authenticity is often in the ears of the listener. ”Once, on Kung Fu,” says Kusatsu, ”a director asked me to speak with a Chinese accent. I then spoke with a slow British stage diction. He said, ‘Perfect!’ ”

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