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SYRIANA

Breaking Language Barriers
Throughout the making of Syriana, it was of the utmost importance to everyone involved that the film achieve the greatest degree of realism and cultural and regional accuracy possible. Throughout the film, many of the characters speak fluently in their native languages, while others speak languages other than their own, but inflected with the appropriate accent for the character's place of origin. Great care was taken to ensure that not only the words but the accents and inflections were accurate.

"It was important to all of us that the Arabs in this movie be portrayed as realistically as possible,” explains producer Georgia Kacandes. "We were sensitive to the fact that people's language is a point of pride to them and we wanted to show that respect to the Arabic people who would be watching this movie. Otherwise, it would be like having someone who's supposed to be from Brooklyn speak with an accent from Mississippi. At the very least, it takes you out of the reality of the movie; at worst it makes it appear the filmmakers didn't care about the people they were representing.”

The production hired a team of translators and dialect coaches. Some of them took on the task of working with the English-speaking actors of Arabic decent – some of whom had never set foot in the countries of their parents' birth. While most of the Middle Eastern-bred actors were able to speak some Arabic or Urdu, there was one actor who would be required to speak Arabic and Farsi who had grown up in Kentucky and likely never heard the language anywhere except on television.

The job of teaching George Clooney how to speak fluent Arabic fell to Samia Adnan, a Sudanese linguistics professor from London who served as the film's main dialect coach. "It's interesting, you know, because there's no Latin derivative, nothing you can latch on to,” Clooney relates. "If you're speaking Italian, which I'm trying to learn, or any of the European languages, there are words, there are sounds that are sort of familiar. I had to learn some Farsi; I had to learn to say some things in Arabic which, at first, I just learned phonetically. But it can't just be this disconnected jumble of words. So, you have to find ways to connect them, to make them expressive. It was tricky. It was also interesting – and fun.”

For Samia Adnan, teaching the English-speaking actors to speak an Arabic dialect as if it was their second language was understandably easier than teaching those playing Arabic characters how to sound as natural as a native speaker. "Prince Nasir and Prince Meshal, for example, are two of the most important native Arabic roles in the movie,” she explains, "but neither of the actors knew Arabic before they began, and Alexander Siddig did not know the Arabic alphabet. Both were raised in England and first had to overcome their English accent. They both worked very hard, not only to speak with a standard accent, but also to sound like princes.”

"Being an English actor,” says Alexander Siddig, who plays Nasir, "my challenge when delivering lines in Arabic was that an Arabic audience will not only understand what those lines mean, they will understand all the nuances of this prince character that culturally is part of their mindset. So in a way, it necessitated employing two acting styles for different idioms at the same time.”

The young oil worker characters Wasim and Farooq are Urdu-speaking Pakistanis. Mazhar Munir, who plays Wasim, speaks several languages including Urdu, Hindi and Punjabi, but not Arabic. "Part of their story was that they speak broken Arabic,” says Samia Adnan. "Well, that wasn't hard: I taught them Gulf Arabic and just let them break it by their nature.”

While Matt Damon speaks English throughout the film, as expert oil analyst Bryan Woodman he was faced with so

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