Thursday, June 25, 2009

Question from Paula - Mary Queen of Scots' accent

Hi – any linguistics experts here?

I wonder what Mary Queen of Scots’ spoken English was actually like after she learned the language while in prison in England? I noticed that in ‘Elizabeth I’ (with Helen Mirren) Mary speaks with a French accent. In ‘Elizabeth – The Golden Age’, she speaks with a Scottish accent. Which do you think is more historically accurate?

Mary did spend her formative years in France, so her English was probably ‘very French’, but on the other hand, one of the English ambassadors who met Mary as an adult, said she had a ‘pretty Scots’ accent. (By the way, how close was the 16th century Scottish language to their neighbors in the south)?

Of course, we’ll never really know how Mary spoke, but I would be interested in others’ opinions nonetheless.


Kristian said...

I am not a linguist, but when I saw "Elizabeth - The Golden Age" one of the things that left me wondering was Mary's Scottish accent...

I had always assumed that since she spent most of her first 20 of her 45 years (the most formative) in France, that she had a French accent. I'm sure she acquired hints of the Scottish tongue but I can't imagine she would lose all of her French accent.

Accents and linguistic ability vary considerably according to the individual. I have a friends who moved to the US when they were 20 or so - one from England and one from Turkey - and both still have VERY "thick" accents; whereas another friend moved here more recently in her 30's from Argentina and has little or no accent at all.

As far as the movie/program comparison, I have no doubt that Elizabeth I with Helen Mirren is more historically accurate.

I have watched numerous interviews with Michael Hirst, the writer of Elizabeth - The Golden Age, and he has said that he simplifies history in his movies and TV shows for his American audience. He seems to feel that if it isn't obvious, most Americans won't get it. (As an American, I can't argue ;o)

So he makes "creative" changes to history in his writing that he believes will help clarify it: like making the Scots Queen speak with a Scottish accent.

Anonymous said...

A foreign visitor wrote home that Elizabeth was master of many languages and specified Latin, Greek, French, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, and Scotch. Well, that is how the translation reads. Was Scotch-- presumably the English-like "broad" Scotts, not Scotch Gaelic--really a seperate language? James I seems to have made himself understood-- or am I just assuming that? Might Mary have considered herself to have learned two languages, English and Scotch?

Lara said...

I came across a few sites on Scots (the relative of English, not the Gaelic language) while I was looking at some stuff related to Margaret Tudor.

There's some good info on the language's history here:

There is a discussion in the section "History of Scots to 1700" about whether is should be considered a dialect of English or a language of its own.

Anonymous said...

i would hope that she had a Scottish accent with a little french lilt. Her mother made sure that she had an entourage of Scottish noble women, one of which was Mary Flemming's mother who was her governess until she had a child by the king of France. she had playmates of around her own age the 4 Marys and her 3 half brothers John,James and Patrick how long these boys stayed with her i am unsure, also she had a monk for her religious education.

she would have, must of heard the Scottish accent everyday as during this time it was impolite if you were in company to have silence, so books were read aloud, music played and sing etc would have gone on everyday all day.

i do agree with Kristian about accents.i have been brought up and have lived in and around the same area all my life but know one when they first meet me know that i am from Yorkshire, but when i go down to London to visit people know i am from up north. that's because my mum didn't like our local accent as she was not from here so as my school pals would say i speak posh.i also have a habit of picking up other people's accents this can be embarrassing as some people can take offence thinking that i am taking the Mickey out of them.

from Lady Hobby

Luc said...

Mary Stuart could not speak English at all when she was captured and imprisoned in England, She started learning a little afterwards, but could never speak English properly and without major mistakes.
What may surprise you is that she could not even speak any Scotish dialect either. Although she was Queen of Scots in name, spent very little time in Scotland. From early age, she was raised at French court where she was taught Latin, Spanish and some ancient Greek. Her mother, Marie de Guise, was French too. I presume they communicated in French.

Art Daley said...

I have to disagree with a posting that said Mary could not speak Scottish Gaelic. It is a matter of record that when she arrived back in Scotland, on her procession to Holyrood Palace, she spoke to her assembled people, at length, in the Scottish language - which made them all the more welcoming. I'm Irish, so I have no dog in this hunt.

Unknown said...

Mary Queen of Scots accent. Apparently she spoke the old Scots language. Not Gaelic which was not spoken in the lowlands of Scotland. She continued to speak Scots In France though French would have become the most dominant,as well as other languages.She was not taught English. Although she was told absoloutly that she was the rightful Queen of England. She did have a Scottish Governess .And had Scots there at Court. But of course I imagine the Scottish accent may have been overwhelmed by the French Court. I have read that when, not long after she arrived in Edinburgh ,she had her first audience with John Knox . The Protestant preacher who practised Hellfire sermons at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh. Of course his rants were directed against her and the Catholic faith. And at one point when he was conducting one of his rants in Holyrood Palace, she burst into tears. She later told one of her inner circle that "thon man made me greet" a very Scottish way of saying 'that man made me cry!' So I imagine she spoke Scots and French. Though she may have spoken French the more fluently because this was the language she loved the most. So all in all I think she had a French accent...but who knows!

Unknown said...

Wilma, I was interested to read your comment on Scots words reportedly spoken by Mary Stewart. The quote you mention can be found in Antonia Fraser's "Mary, Queen of Scots", p 263 where, referring to John Knox, she said,"Yon man gart me greit and grat never tear himself. I will see if I can gar him greit". This is Scots language still to be heard in my native NE Scotland!

Unknown said...

She would have spoke our native tongue.
Broad Scots we all have when we talk to each other. We to be it down for people.Altho I do not as this is my mother tongue.
I do not regard myself as British.
I am Scottish and my queen is Mary queen of Scots.

Always and forever.
May you rest in peace Mary Stuart
Queen of all Scots!

Unknown said...

Mary spoken Scottish till day she died.

From a Scot.

Unknown said...

Gaelic was spoken lowlands of Scotland.
My great grandfather spoke it

Lynne Connolly said...

She spoke Old Scots, or Scotch, and used it when making speeches, but not in every day life. The language of the Scottish court at this time was French, her mother was French, and she spent her formative years in France.
There is no record of her having spoken anything but French in everyday life. Her letters and poems are in French.
She would have conversed with her Scottish maids in the French court in French. It is recorded that she knew French, Latin, Greek, Spanish and Old Scots (not Gaelic). But her native language was French.

izzy said...

Lynne Connolly Ur wrong at certain places. Mary spoke Scots
1)The language of the courts in 1500's from the 16 the century was not French.
Source :Check middle Scots.
2) Mary's Mother- Mary Guise passed away when she was around 18 yrs- Thats even before Mary ever held the Scottish court for 7-8 years
3)There is evidence of Mary Stuart speaking Scots like when an english agent visited Mary during her imprisonment (refer biography written by Antonia Fraser)
4)Mary Guise learnt to speak Scots and spoke it well eventually
5)Mary Guise did not even stay with her daughter in France. She lived mainly in Scotland facing the Scottish Protestants but she hopped between countries,France,England, Scotland- she did go to viist her daughter and French officials for getting support and treaty.
6)Mary Stuart wrote her poems in French, someof her letters in French like to France,to her mother when she was alive, her last letter to her Uncle, but she some of the letters to Elizabeth was written in Spoken Scots.
Her personal language was French but she interacted with the many Scottish people and her Mary friends in Scots. Even when she was in France she had the 4 Scottish Mary's a Scottish Governess

Anonymous said...

My conclusion:
1)Mary spoke French but she also spoke Scots, very little to none English,a decent level Latin and Spanish.
2)The Scots she spoke was not the Scots you know and hear today. She spoke Scots that was particular in the 16 century onwards till 18 century called Middle Scots/Old Scots.

Plz read the following info I took from the Scots language site.You can read it here:

izzy said...

1)French writer Pierre de Bourdeille seigneur de Brantộme (c.1540-1614), who wrote Les Vies des dames illustres (The Book of Illustrious Dames) included an account of Mary in which he said “...her native tongue, which in itself is very rustic, barbarous, ill-sounding, and uncouth, she spoke so gracefully, toning it in such a way, that she made it seem beautiful and agreeable in her...” Brantộme put it, ‘toning it in such a way’ that it sounded less ‘ill-sounding’ to French Latin ears
2)1549 Janet Stewart lady Fleming, an aunt of Mary, had been appointed her governessThis meant Mary continued to have a Scots language influence close to home while also learning French.In a letter by Giovanni Ferrari to the bishop of Orkney, Ferrari commented that “...Lady Fleming would not be able to explain in her own language except to a Scot what the little queen’s ailments were, should such occur...” which suggests Fleming knew little French.
3) In August 1560 the English envoy Throckmorton was granted audience with Mary as queen of France, and with her mother-in-law Catherine de Medici, and reported back to England. Throckmorton said that he first began to address Mary who then “...requested to him in Scottish first to talk to the Queen Mother...” and that Mary, in discussing the political situation in both England and Scotland did so “...all in Scottish...”
4)Once Mary was back in Scotland she received a papal envoy named Father Nicholas de Douga who wrote a report of his audience with the queen in September 1562. He began by speaking to her in Latin but she found some difficulty responding in the same tongue. Douga then called in two of his colleagues of whom one was John Rivat, a Frenchman, and another Master Edmund, a Scot. Douga asked if they could interpret her answers, and Mary agreed. Douga then states that “The queen turned at once to Master Edmund as to a subject of her own, whom she had met before, and began her response in the Scottish tongue.” The religious reformer John Knox, who wrote a history of the times, had audiences with Mary at Holyrood in the 1560’s and it clear they conversed easily.
5) In February 1569 an Irishman named Nicholas White, who worked as an agent of the English crown, met with Mary at Tutbury and reported back to the English minister William Cecil. In his report he observed of Mary that “...she hath...a pretty Scotch accent.”

Wilma Start said...

So that’s it then she spoke Old Scots. And she spoke French with a Scottish accent. She had difficulty understanding and speaking Latin . A language which was spoken in European Court circles.An educated Englishman would have been able to understand old Scots .So it’s likely that Mary would have understood some spoken and written English before she fled to England. And why would she not , she had been told by the French King , her father in law that she was the rightful heir to the English throne. And it’s tht It would appear that the descriptions given by différant men of the time who had met her, that she spoke with a Scots accent even when she spoke French.

izzy said...

Wilma Start
Oh no!! I hope I did not confuse you but French was her main language which she spoke Fluently,I was just stating that she spoke Scots and esp in her life Post-France (after the age of 18) where she had many Catholic and Protestant Scottish people in her court. but the accent is difficult to assume what it would have been as we have no audio visuals but only the above eyewitness accounts.

We can only assume things like maybe it would have been influenced by the majorly French and some Scots she was exposed to in the 13 years of life in France and by Scots when she ruled Scotland for 8 years and by English when she lived in imprisonment in England in the later 19 years.
I'll give you 2 examples: 1) I was born in US and up till age of 7-8 I spoke American English. After which I moved to an South East Asia where people rarely spoke English,so I spoke 90% of the time in the local language (to the point of fluency) and rest of time English uptill the age of 19. I came back to US but if you hear me speak now my accent isn't American accent anymore, nor does it sound like a person from my place in SEA - you know with the heavily accented English. Its somewhere in between. Maybe in a few years I will develop back my American Accent.
2)My father upto the age of 30 was brought up in South East Asia after which he moved to the US and has since been here. He developed the American accent well within the 5 years of staying here.

Accent is very much depended on exposure, how long exposed etc.. so it can change

Anonymous said...

Yes, she is queen of scots and had all the rights to be queen of England as well. What happened to her is not fair.

Kelgel said...

The Tudor takeover wasn't fair either. Yet here we are.

Unknown said...

I'm wondering if the previous poster meant Gaelic was not spoken in the lowlands in Mary's time. Given your reply is in 2018, I can imagine your grandfather lived the majority of his life in the 20th century.

Unknown said...

Life is not fair. No matter the time period. She did the best with what she had. I think that we can agree.

Unknown said...

Throw Italian in there, too.