Thursday, March 28, 2013

Question from J - English in the Tudor era

I've always been interested - how exactly did language work in the Tudor era? I know a few - "prithee" meant "pray thee", people used thou, spelled "queen" as "quene" and "king" as "kyng", but I don't know much more than that. Thanks for any help on old( English spellings!

I'd like to use this information for a story I'm writing, to have the language somewhat accurate as the characters speak.


PhD Historian said...

I am just going to offer one specific comment: There is a difference between changes in *language* and changes in *spelling*. Yes, spelling in the 16th century was not yet standardized. That is, there was no agreement or regulation on how words should be spelled. Writers tended instead to spell phonetically, just as young school children will often do today. It is not at all uncommon to see the same writer spell the same word two or three or more different ways within the same document from the Tudor period. Since there was no such thing yet as "correct" spelling, people just spelled things however they wanted to at that moment. We assume, however, that spoken language had fairly consistent pronounciations. That is, the two spellings you cited for queen/quene and king/kyng presumably did not reflect two different pronounciations of each of those words. The changes in *language* had more to do with the meanings of words and how those words were used or arranged in a sentence than with the spelling of the words.

Anonymous said...

I'm 'J' - thank you, PhD Historian! Yes, I understand the pronunciation would be the same, but I was looking for both: words that were used in the stead of other ones (such as thou for you, prithee for pray thee), as well as spelling (kyng for King), as some people would have spelled it, to give my story a certain "feel." Thank you, however, you were helpful!

shtove said...

I think contrary to PhD.

Spelling was fairly consistent - almost all the evidence we have is from people educated in the highly consistent Latin. There are variations, even within a single document, but consistency is strong.

Also, a lot of the Ye Olde stuff is just bluff transposition of old orthography.

Pronunciation was so varied that people from different parts of the country found it hard to understand each other's English. That is still the case - the Glaswegian and Newcastle accents can be impenetrable to southerners.

I guess the OP is looking for authenticity. Best way to find it is by creating believable speech. That shouldn't depend on twee linguistic effects.