1. Jared-Johannson

    Jared-Johannson New Member

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    I'm writing a book based in the 8th century, I have trouble with that old English. What should I do?

    Discussion in 'Research' started by Jared-Johannson, Mar 20, 2018.

    The year is 866 and the last remaining independent Anglo-Saxon kingdom, Wessex, whose forces are commanded by King Aethelred and his younger brother Alfred. Wilt is a bastard, son of a nobody who's father was executed along with his mother, Aelswith. He is taken in by a holy saint named Gytha who renames him Gytha.

    I have trouble talking like they would back in the 8th century, I don't know where to find anything to help me so does anyone know what I could do to improve my 8th-century book conversations?
     
  2. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    Who is going to read this, and by that I mean what is your prospective audience? English as spoken (and written) in the 8th century is not going to be intelligible to modern speakers. It's still an inflected language at that point. Grammatical cases to indicate parts of speech being the driving force of the syntax, rather than the isolating (analytic) syntax of Modern English where word order is what determines order of operation.

    Do you perhaps mean, if we converted their speech to something modern readers could understand, what would they be talking about, engaging, etc?

    For comparison, Chaucer's Canterbury Tales was written in late Middle English, much closer to what we engage today, and still...

    Whan that aprill with his shoures soote
    The droghte of march hath perced to the roote,
    And bathed every veyne in swich licour
    Of which vertu engendred is the flour;
    Whan zephirus eek with his sweete breeth
    Inspired hath in every holt and heeth
    Tendre croppes, and the yonge sonne
    Hath in the ram his halve cours yronne,
    And smale foweles maken melodye,
    That slepen al the nyght with open ye

    Modernizes to...

    When April with his showers sweet with fruit
    The drought of March has pierced unto the root
    And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
    To generate therein and sire the flower;
    When Zephyr also has, with his sweet breath,
    Quickened again, in every holt and heath,
    The tender shoots and buds, and the young sun
    Into the Ram one half his course has run,
    And many little birds make melody
    That sleep through all the night with open eye
     
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  3. ChickenFreak

    ChickenFreak Contributor Contributor

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    I think that it's unrealistic to actually use 8th century English. I think that you'll need to choose a compromise. Will you just use modern language, like the TV series Britannia? Will you push the language back a century or so so that it's not quite so modern as to be jarring? Will you do that plus research some characteristic phrases and sayings from the 8th century?

    But flat-out accurate 8th century will likely be both unwritable and unreadable.
     
  4. Steerpike

    Steerpike Felis amatus Contributor

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    Don’t use 8th century English. It isn’t necessary.
     
  5. Jared-Johannson

    Jared-Johannson New Member

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    I wanted to do something like "The Last Kingdom" just for a fun time, but ya it would me like Britannia but having aspects of the 8th century sayings and phrases
     
  6. jannert

    jannert Member Supporter Contributor

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    Just don't use ANY modern slangy stuff, if you can avoid it, and certainly avoid any anachronisms. Some writers believe that using modern slang in a historical piece means the people are speaking in whatever slang they would have used back then. But that can be jarring to read and doesn't always work. I assume you don't want your conversations to jar.

    Also avoid concepts that are modern. Don't have your characters thanking each other for 'sharing that,' for example.

    I'd strongly advise that you look at a few books of fiction set in the time period you're writing about (which sounds fantastic, by the way. I'm a sucker for historical novels!) and see how other authors handle it. Rosemary Sutcliff is good. So is Margaret Elphinstone's The Sea Road. There are umpteen others. See what you can piece together from as many authors as you can. Pick the ones who took you 'back' to the period, but made it seem natural.
     
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  7. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Add another vote for modern English. Like, if you were writing a book set in Germany, you wouldn't write it in German, presumably? Not unless you were writing for a German audience. And Old English may as well be German, in terms of modern English speakers getting any meaning from it!
     
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  8. Mink

    Mink Senior Member

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    I also vote for Modern English excluding slangs and obviously modern words (like "phone").

    I read historical fiction in occasion and nothing makes me roll my eyes more than botched attempts at older English. Plus, it can be hard for some people to read unless that person has a background in that era.
     
  9. Lew

    Lew Member Supporter Contributor

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    Concur with all, I write historical fiction, but in my era it would be Latin or Han Chinese, and that would really restrict my set of available readers. Besides, I don't write Latin, and my Han Chinese is non-existent. Use some period phrases, names, and maybe some unique titles like jarl, tools or devices in the language of the era. My convention is to italicize all foreign words, and immediately translate them "the weiwei minister of guards," thereafter using them without translation, if they occur often and close enough together with first use. I used the words kwai-ji in dialogue, which the translator admitted had no Latin equivalent, but that it literally meant 'quick bamboo.' The description clearly identified that she was eating with chopsticks, but I never used that word.

    Pick voices for your characters... you can introduce some slurring of speech, grammatical incorrectness, to indicate an uneducated speaker, "Beggin' yer pardon, sir, I needs ter speak with yer." (Others on this site will castigate me for suggesting that, but voices are voices.) A peasant will speak differently than a jarl, don't have him speak like a college professor. Just don't get carried away with dialect, because that can get tedious. One person speaking like that example, the reader can identify with, but everyone speaking like that, no.
     
  10. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    If you read some similar fiction books, you'll start to notice some period talk you can use, too. Or, you can ask the experts for help. I don't know where you are, but where I am we get a few people who write history books and can be seen giving a popular lecture to entertain the grannies at the library or at some hobby club. They are very accessible and would be pleased to have a chat and offer their expertise on the subject they are expert in. An expert in Old English will be able to tell you some popular expressions ("shiver me timbers!" or whatever is appropriate). Or, you can go chat up some of the online communities who are interested in that sort of stuff.
     
  11. BayView

    BayView Contributor Contributor

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    Old English is essentially another language. We're talking about the 8th century, here.

    From 1066, three hundred years AFTER the 8th century:

    An. M.LXVI. On þyssum geare man halgode þet mynster æt Westmynstre on Cyldamæsse dæg 7 se cyng Eadward forðferde on Twelfts mæsse æfen 7 hine mann bebyrgede on Twelftan mæssedæg innan þære niwa halgodre circean on Westmyntre 7 Harold eorl feng to Englalandes cynerice swa swa se cyng hit him geuðe 7 eac men hine þærto gecuron 7 wæs gebletsod to cynge on Twelftan mæssedæg 7 þa ylcan geare þe he cyng wæs he for ut mid sciphere togeanes Willelme ... 7 þa hwile com Willelm eorl upp æt Hestingan on Sce Michaeles mæssedæg 7 Harold com norðan 7 him wið gefeaht ear þan þe his here com eall 7 þær he feoll 7 his twægen gebroðra Gyrð 7 Leofwine and Willelm þis land geeode 7 com to Westmynstre 7 Ealdred arceb hine to cynge gehalgode 7 menn guldon him gyld 7 gislas sealdon 7 syððan heora land bohtan.​

    It's a bit beyond pirate talk. And anyone who DID go to the trouble of writing in this foreign language would have a hell of a time finding an audience that's able to read it.
     
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  12. Wreybies

    Wreybies The Ops Pops Operations Manager Staff Supporter Contributor

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    And though no one has asked or even made mention, something that came up in a long-ago crit, which may seem obvious to many, but it would seem not to all: If you lived in the 8th Century, you would not refer to your language, either in utterance or thought of the fact, as "Old English". It would be anachronism based in a future engagement (us) that is still more than a millenia off.

    Modern approximations would be Ænglisc, Anglisc, Englisc.
     
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  13. DeeDee

    DeeDee Senior Member

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    I don't think OP wants to actually write anything in Old English language. Phrases, though, can be specific for the period and translated into today's English.
     
  14. Jared-Johannson

    Jared-Johannson New Member

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    Thanks! This is really helpful.
     
  15. Jared-Johannson

    Jared-Johannson New Member

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    I've been reading "The Last Kingdom" and that's what inspired me to write a little project. Il make sure to study the book so I can learn the phrases that would have been used then, thanks!
     
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  16. John Calligan

    John Calligan Contributor Contributor

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    Yeah, I’ve been struggling with the slang stuff. I’ve used modern slang in fantasy. What I’ve found is that some people don’t notice it, while others hate it, but no one likes it.
     
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  17. Thundair

    Thundair Senior Member

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    I wrote a novel in English and struggled making sure each word was spoken at that time.
    In retrospect I don't think anybody gives a tinkers damn.
    What I did to make it sound old world, was stay away from modern slang, and keep the contractions to a minimum

    Like "I'm sick and I feel like hell."
    or "I am sick and do not feel well."
     
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  18. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter

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    I agree with the above. The only suggestion I'd make is if you wanted your characters to sound more like they're from that time period would be to somewhat limit dialog to words with more Germanic and Anglo-Saxon roots. Like cleave instead of separate, etc. Considering the 8th century is a few hundred years after the Romans left England and a couple of hundred years before the Norman Invasion, it would make sense for their vocabulary to have less Latin and French derivatives in it, as long as clarity isn't sacrificed.
     
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  19. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Oh, golly. I can't even pronounce that, let alone translate it. It ends with Harold shot in the 'ye,' doesn't it?
     
  20. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter

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    My O.E. is pretty rusty, but I think it's a recounting of the Battle of Hastings. But I only got that from the date and the mentions of Willelme/Willelm/William the Conqueror.

    ETA, so yeah, I guess that would end with Harold shot in the ye.
     
  21. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Yeah, I got the bits about the year 1066 and Cyng (King) Edward and something happening at Westminster, and later at Hastings, and something about Michaelmas Day (29 September), and maybe the real ending is Duke (Eorl) William being crowned king at Westminster by . . . Ealdred? Was he the archbishop of Canterbury at the time? and maybe doing something thereafter. But the flow of it is a right muck.

    To me, anyway.

    EDIT: Sorry, Ealdred was archbishop of York. Stigand of Canterbury apparently held out for the Saxon cause and refused to do the job.
     
  22. The Dapper Hooligan

    The Dapper Hooligan Member Supporter

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    7 menn guldon him gyld
    and men paying him gold..

    something something...

    heora land
    pleasant land.
     
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  23. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    But to be more directly helpful to the OP, it might be useful to read some modern translations of literature from the period and keep his ear open for figures of speech and turns of phrase that his characters might use. (Keeping in mind, of course, that nobody but a bard is going to sound like a bard.)

    Keep the language close to the soil. Avoid terminology derived from industrialism, modern warfare, etc. Research what life would have been like at the time, and understand that for those who lived it, it was all they knew. So have your characters talk about it accordingly.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2018
  24. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    And all those 7s are ampersands-- &.

    (See, I've learned something tonight.)

    Cyldamæsse dæg = Childermas Day = Holy Innocents' Day, December 28th.
    Twelfts mæsse æfen = Twelfthmas Eve = the night before Twelfth (Night), 5 January
    Twelftan mæssedæg = Twelfthmas = the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January

    But all this could be useful for the OP. Note that the calendar references, for religious and laity alike, would be heavily weighted towards Christian feast days (and the saints days had better all be for those canonized in the 8th century [Edit: 9th century] or before). But as in the excerpt from the Peterborough Chronicle that @BayView quoted, the years would be "the year of our Lord [Christ]." and therefore the same as ours . . . keeping in mind that New Year's Day was in March or April, I believe . . . and a speaker very well might append " . . . and the fifth year of our good king Aethelred."

    Now that I'm thinking of it, the OP would do well to find a translation of the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle (of which the Peterborough Chronicle is a continuation) and see what the phraseology is like in it.
     
    Last edited: Mar 22, 2018
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  25. Catrin Lewis

    Catrin Lewis Contributor Contributor Community Volunteer

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    Oh, and one other thing. Since Aethelred I reigned from AD 865 to AD 871, this story would take place in the 9th century.

    (You're welcome.) :superagree:
     

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