tempestsarekind: (ten is a bookworm)
Kory Stamper, lexicographer for Merriam-Webster and the writer of the Harmless Drudgery blog, has finished her book, and it'll be for sale in May:

I am very excited by this.
tempestsarekind: (don't get clever in latin! [donna])
Pieces like this make me sad(der) that The Toast is going away:

Two Linguists Explain Pseudo Old English in The Wake

I particularly liked the end of the piece, which makes me feel better about the rather arbitrary way in which this book has been raising my hackles ever since I first heard about it, and then again when I picked it up in the bookstore and tried reading a bit before putting it down again:

Kate [Wiles]: Well said. The reduced vocabulary, simplified syntax, and avoided punctuation/capitalization also take readers in a particular direction, making the Anglo-Saxons seem less capable of complex thought. As an artistic decision, I’ll defend to the end of the world an author’s right to muck about with language however they like; but as a decision that’s explicitly meant to put readers into the Anglo-Saxon “worldview”, I need to point out that the world we’re viewing is through glass that’s more cracked and warped than it needed to be.

Gretchen [McCullough]: Yeah, and instead, he’s actively choosing to perpetuate a certain mindset associated with Anglo-Saxons, that they had the same taboos as a modern reader, which is just so many kinds of false. But it’s the type of false that most people aren’t going to catch, and therefore highly misleading. Throwing around Ren Faire thees and thous might not be completely accurate either, but adding an extra letter to a pronoun isn’t wholesale cultural revisionism the way altering their entire taboo system is.

Kate: Exactly. All of this feels like cherry-picking the best olde bits that most match his preconceptions of Anglo-Saxon England, rather than building the world from the roots up. Which is fine, but by using the language in this way it gives such a message of ‘authenticity’ that everything that’s expressed in his shadow tongue is represented as ‘historical truth’.

And this is one of the dilemmas of creating historical fiction; what do you sacrifice because it would be misunderstood by modern audiences? What do you alter because it’s important to the story? Are these little extras like bonus Easter Eggs, or are they just a shortcut to history?
tempestsarekind: (rory died and turned into a roman)
An Oxford study into "everyday life and fatal hazard" during the Tudor period, using coroners' reports:



At 3 o’clock in the afternoon of 11 March 1550, John Rusey, a labourer, was walking down the road at Chieveley in Berkshire. He stumbled on a ‘carte rote’ [cart rut] and fell over, and the knife hanging at his belt stabbed him in the stomach to a depth of 2 inches. He was found, dead on the road, by a neighbour on the way home from market.

And here's the study's website as well:

I find the composition of the "discovery of the month" from September 2015 to be rather charming:

September 2015. Inquest reports give fascinating glimpses of sixteenth-century language because the clerks often noted down English expressions the jurors had used in the middle of their Latin reports. It is reassuring to know that they were as casual as we are about hanging prepositions: Isada Deller, drowned fetching water from the Thames near Kingston-upon-Thames in February 1564, had ‘twoo payles to carye water w[ith]’. Sometimes the reports show technical terms in use long before their first recorded appearance. John ap Owen was running through a cornfield at Church Stretton in Shropshire in July 1561. He stumbled on ‘a clod of yerth’ and fell on an ‘evyll’, a two-pronged wooden fork, which gave him a six-inch wound in the thigh from which he died three hours later. Evell or evil is first recorded in the Oxford English Dictionary from 1642, but the first known mention of a springle, a thin rod of wood used in thatching, dates to 1836. John Houson, labourer, was up a ladder roofing his house in Newcastle-under-Lyme in November 1563. He fell off and landed on a ‘spryngle’ which went five inches into his left side and killed him on the spot.

And here's a new word, in an unsavory context:

June 2014. Sixteenth-century sanitary arrangements could be not only unpleasant but deadly. George Dunkyn was a Cambridge baker who lived in St Mary’s parish outside the town’s Trumpington Gate. Between eight and nine on the evening of Tuesday 2 June 1523 he went into the back garden of his house to relieve himself into the cess pit in the corner. Unfortunately he was very drunk at the time and fell backwards off the wooden seat into the pit, where he was ‘qweasomed’, or suffocated, by the stench.
tempestsarekind: (cheveril glove)
And an Atlantic piece on Shakespeare's puns and the forthcoming Oxford Dictionary of Original Shakespearean Pronunciation:

Such Ado: The Fight for Shakespeare's Puns

I always find these sorts of articles mildly bemusing, first because one man's pun is sometimes another man's single meaning; but secondly because they often declare, as this one does, that an exchange is "jibberish" (sic) unless one knows about Elizabethan pronunciation. For example, the exchange between Sir Toby and Sir Andrew given here:

OP also helps to explain this otherwise baffling exchange in Twelfth Night:

Sir Andrew Aguecheek: What is “pourquoi”? Do, or not do? I would I had bestowed that time in the tongues that I have in fencing, dancing, and bear-baiting. O, had I but followed the arts!

Sir Toby Belch: Then hadst thou had an excellent head of hair.

Sir Andrew: Why, would that have mended my hair?

Sir Toby: Past question, for thou seest it will not curl by nature.

It’s jibberish, essentially, unless you realize two things: 1) “tongue” was pronounced, in OP, as “tong,” and 2) a “tong” in Elizabethan England was a rudimentary flat iron, a tool people used to straighten their hair. Aha. Sick burn, Toby.

Okay, but…the tongue/tong thing might add an additional layer of meaning to the line, but Toby's primary joke is on the art vs. nature contrast that serves as the springboard for several Shakespeare discussions. Same with reasons being as plentiful as blackberries: knowing that "reason" was pronounced "raisin" gives you an extra bit of amusement and an additional connection, but the line makes sense even if we don't know that, because puns only work if they work in two or more places at once: Falstaff's point is that even if reasons were as plentiful as a really plentiful thing - in this case blackberries - he still wouldn't give one. Declaring that the line makes no sense without OP - as opposed to saying that it regains another layer of meaning - always feels to me like another inadvertent way to say to people that Shakespeare is indecipherable to modern people (so why not just translate the whole lot, right?).
tempestsarekind: (all the world's a stage)
As part of the whole #shakespeare400 thing, the Guardian is posting videos of various actors (among them Adrian Lester, Roger Allam, and Eileen Atkins) performing Shakespeare speeches, starting on February 1:


There's a trailer up now, if you're interested in that sort of thing.

And while I'm here, an opinion piece about Shakespeare's language, and Emma Rice's suggestion that it's better to change "chimney-sweepers" to "dandelions":

In defence of Shakespeare's difficult bits

And some letters in response to that piece:

I admit that I've been kind of worrying about this ever since I read that article in which the author mentioned that Emma Rice changed the name "Fidele" to "Ian." I don't know anything about her, really, so I guess we'll wait and see, but...
tempestsarekind: (peddlers of bombast)
…you are excited by the fact that the opening voiceover in this trailer (which is set in 17th-century New England) forms its first question - "What came we to this wilderness to find?" - without the use of auxiliary 'do'.

The Witch Trailer and Poster: 1630s New England Was a Scary Place

This is because, as stated above, I am a ridiculous human. But that kind of thing is so rare in movies!

(Auxiliary 'do' involves the use of the verb "to do" as an auxiliary rather than a main verb: he did go, where go is the main verb, as opposed to he did the dishes. In Present Day English, we have to use auxiliary 'do' to form most questions and negative statements: Did he go to the store?; he did not go to the store. In Early Modern English, auxiliary 'do' is in use but not required: you could also say Went he to the fields this day? or he went not to the fields.)
tempestsarekind: (don't get clever in latin! [donna])
I'm going to go ahead and post the last couple of things I've written about trying to read Wolf Hall recently (I figure I should try to read it before I see the miniseries? I have until April - which is when PBS is airing it), even though I am kind of embarrassed by them (why can I not appreciate this book that everyone else in the world loves? What is wrong with me?), but for the sake of honesty, here we go.

18 January 2015

Somewhat perversely, I would like to read some criticism of Wolf Hall by someone smart and thoughtful who didn't like it; maybe it would help me like it better, knowing that someone out there hadn't praised this book to the skies when I am not enjoying it. Admittedly I have only managed to struggle through the first three chapters - this is only partly the book's fault; I haven't been reading it consistently - so maybe I haven't adjusted to the prose yet and I will enjoy it more as I get used to it, but right now the book's very syntax is grating on my inward ear. Stop cramming all the paragraphs with so much syntactically unconnected detail, Hilary Mantel! Stop changing point of view in the middle of paragraphs! (You can't just throw "We hope he'll grow up tall" in the middle of a paragraph about Cromwell's son when the whole rest of the paragraph is being narrated in the third person, what are you even doing!) Also, I know this book is all dudes*, but if you could be a little bit clearer who you're talking about - so that every sentence isn't "He said to him that he was a great scholar" or whatever, although this would be less difficult to figure out if every paragraph weren't crammed with so much detail, because each one of those three pronouns could refer to a different man mentioned in the last two sentences, for all I know - that would be nice. (Yes, yes, I'm sure this is on purpose. That doesn't mean it doesn't grate.)

Also, the dialogue is also irking me, but this is more personal; it just sounds so terse and modern that it actually feels at odds with the way that Tudor people seem to me to think. Even their personal letters are more playful and elaborate with language than we are today - they like playing with words and coining new ones; they weren't like, "ah yes, in the halls of power we get right to the point, none of this fancy-dancy speechifying." And their speech could still be muscular and vivid - but they were not exactly a terse people. I know historical fiction doesn't have to represent the speech patterns of its historical period exactly, even in stories about speakers of whatever language one is writing in (a book set in ancient Rome but written in English is never going to sound like Latin), but still.

*This bit actually sounds more sarcastic about Mantel than I meant it to; it's not her fault that every important person in this period is a guy named Thomas!

21 January 2015

Still trying to read a chapter or so of Wolf Hall before bed; right now I am only managing three or four pages every couple of nights, but hey ho. I hit one of those bits last night where Mantel apparently uses what reviewers actually called "ye olde speech," because why not, in order to make a humorous contrast or whatever:
Above all, Mantel avoids ye olde-style diction, preferring more contemporary phrasing. Small rises in the level of language are frequently used for comic effect, as in: "Well, I tell you, Lady Shelton, if she had had an axe to hand, she would have essayed to cut off my head." The effortless-seeming management of contrasting registers plays a big part in the novel's success, as does Mantel's decision to let Cromwell have a sense of humour."

And this is even more grating than the lack of clarity regarding third-person singular masculine pronouns, because it's indicative of a thing that feels to me like a failure in the world being imagined. It's the same problem I had with Desperate Romantics, a not particularly good miniseries about the PRB, in which all the painters spoke in relatively modern speech, except for Millais (played by an adorably hapless Samuel Barnett), who was supposed to sound so quaint and prim and prudish...except that all he really sounded was Victorian. You know, like all of the other characters in the miniseries are as well. Or "The Shakespeare Code," which is supposedly set in 1599, but has an exchange between two of "Shakespeare's" actors in which they complain that they never know what old Will is going on about (yeah, Early Modern English must be really hard for you sixteenth-century guys to understand), and the only characters in the episode who ever sound remotely Elizabethan are the Carrionite "witches," who are supposed to be from the dawn of time. I mean, I get it: modern readers and viewers hear that language as old-fashioned and ridiculous, but that doesn't stop me from wanting to yell "do better!" at people when they pull this nonsense. It never stops bothering me when historical fiction or historical drama takes the language that people actually spoke and turns it into nothing more than a ridiculous joke. Surely historical fiction is supposed to be about imagining what the past was like, to the degree that we ever can, and trying to conjure up an actually different world, in which people thought - and yes, spoke - very differently from the way we do? And wouldn't it make more sense for critics to - let's get crazy here - respect that endeavor, instead of demeaning the so-called trappings of historical fiction as nothing more than "ye olde-style diction," and only praising those books of historical fiction that "make the past seem just like today" or "make the sixteenth-century court seem just like the modern halls of power," as though the erasure of difference and such easy parallelism between then and now are things to strive for?

I know I have ranted this rant before, about RTD-era Doctor Who historical episodes (oddly enough, Moffat managed to ameliorate this not by having a companion from the past - which I still want, and I'm still wistful about Victorian Clara - but by changing the Doctor so that he no longer says things like "This lot have still got one foot in the Dark Ages," but instead remarks offhandedly that he's on Virginia Woolf's bowling team, and has longstanding relationships with figures like Churchill, and takes Vincent van Gogh seriously and befriends him instead of making jokes about him like Ten does to Shakespeare), but still. This attitude is like nails on a chalkboard to me; I can't help it. And it's such a waste. (As much as I find myself yelling "what are you even doing right now" at Sleepy Hollow on a regular basis this season, one thing that they got right is that Ichabod's old-fashioned language doesn't mean that he's a joke - even though he is often funny, and Abbie rightly laughs at him when he takes refuge in an even greater level of formality because he doesn't want to deal with something. He speaks the way he speaks not because he's some kind of prudish fussbudget, but because he's, you know, from 1781. They spoke like that then. And he can still be curious and tender and exasperated and everything else in that language, because it is an actual language to him, not just an affectation a writer has him put on when he wants to make fun of someone else. I can't wrap my head around Mantel's decision, after reading what must have been tons of Tudor documents and history, to look at the way they spoke and then decide to use it only in mockery. Why not just choose not to use it at all?)
tempestsarekind: (elizabeth bennet is amused)
A laughing etymologist in a humorless crowd

(A post from the Oxford University Press blog on the etymology of words related to laughter and mockery.)
tempestsarekind: (bored history boys)
In case someone else would enjoy this as much as I did, here are a bunch of phrases from an English-to-Latin textbook from the sixteenth century:


Some of the phrases, in isolation, make me rather sad - or wildly intrigued. So many little stories...
tempestsarekind: (manuscript [little women])
I only discovered this website because I happened to check out a book written by someone who has contributed to the site, so in case you didn't know that Bess of Hardwick's letters were online, either:


There's also a lot of supplementary material on her life, and on early modern language and letter-writing, so I plan to spend a lot of time with it once my end-of-year grading is done...
tempestsarekind: (hamlet/horatio OTP)
I'm having an enjoyable time poking around in a book I...sort of accidentally bought while finishing up my Christmas shopping, Wordsmiths and Warriors: The English-Language Tourist's Guide to Britain, by the prolific David Crystal, this time in conjunction with Hilary Crystal (Oxford UP, 2013). And being me, of course I was greatly entertained by this bit of biography on Robert Cawdrey, compiler of English's first dictionary, A Table Alphabeticall (1604). Cawdrey was a rector in the 1570s, but relieved of his post for being a nonconformist:
Complaints were made. In 1576 he was charged with not reading the homilies and injunctions in church. A year later, the churchwardens complained to the Bishop of Peterborough that Cawdrey 'dothe not his service in due time as he ought to doo'. In 1578 he conducted the wedding of a fellow clergyman without the Bishop's permission, refused to submit himself for correction, and was suspended from his duties for three months. He promised to behave, but in 1586 was summoned before the Court of High Commission in London, charged with a range of offences, such as not wearing a surplice, using 'you' when he should have used 'thou', and saying in a lecture that the Book of Common Prayer was 'a vile book, fie on it'. The commissioners several times asked him to change his mind, but he repeatedly refused. Suspension from his ministry followed. (220-1, my emphasis)

It's a shame I didn't know this when we discussed Cawdrey during the History of English class I taught for last year! Pronouns are serious business, kids.

oh dear.

Oct. 15th, 2013 08:43 am
tempestsarekind: (facepalm)
Oh, Sleepy Hollow, we were getting to be friends...until you made a plot point out of having the people from the lost colony of Roanoke - people from the late sixteenth century - speaking Middle English. What the heck, guys, really.

...It wouldn't have been *so* bad if it had just been an offhand mention; I mean, if you're doing a show with a lot of historical facts, you ought to make heavy use of a(n) historical advisor, or at least, you know, Google and basic history books, but a lot of people seem to be under the impression that Shakespeare wrote in Old English, I guess because it is English and it is old, so whatever. But when you go through all the trouble of making Ichabod the only person who can communicate with these people because he can speak Middle English (don't even ask; that is my motto for this show), and therefore including dialogue supposedly in Middle English, then shouldn't you, I don't know, check to make sure you actually know what Middle English is and when it was spoken, before going ahead on that path? I'm trying to imagine the situation where they asked some expert how to say these particular lines of dialogue in Middle English, and didn't ask for any other info from the expert, and I *can* imagine that (although it is a *terrible* idea), but I can't imagine just not looking it up in the first place. I mean, at a certain point during the writing of this episode, when you look up Roanoke on Google, and the *first* sentence in the Wikipedia article that I didn't even have to click on because I could read it from the Google page says that it was a late 16th-century colony founded in the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, someone should be able to go, "...you know, I don't think they were speaking like this in Queen Elizabeth's time? On account of how I can totally understand the words in stuff like Shakespeare and the King James Bible?" And the extras were wearing relatively appropriate period clothing (I...may have started yelling "Why is that child speaking Middle English and wearing slops, this is ridiculous" at my screen at one point), so, just, you know, WHAT. Why get that research right and then just bail on the linguistic stuff, when it totally wasn't necessary in the first place? How did you write a line where Abbie says "This kid looks like he just stepped off the Mayflower," and not go "...you know, I also do not think that the Pilgrims spoke like this? On account of all the US History classes ever?" What even, Sleepy Hollow. What even.
tempestsarekind: (london flower of cities all)

A post about the "Virtual Paul’s Cross Project, which uses visual and acoustic modeling technology to recreate the experience of listening to John Donne’s sermon at St Paul's Cross outside St Paul’s Cathedral on 5 November 1622."

I haven't had a chance to explore the project yet (link in post), but it certainly sounds exciting!
tempestsarekind: (cheveril glove)
Let it be known that I am in love with this post:


ETA: Oh, dear. I have lost far too much time to reading back entries of this blog. I am glad that there are lexicographers, and I know that I would never have the patience to be one. (This is actually the story of my life in miniature, I think: I am deeply envious of experts, and desirous of being one, but I am actually a scatty sort of dilettante. I get a lot of enjoyment out of nitpicky details, but am not really a systematic enough person or thinker to deal with those details in the proper, cataloguing way they require.)
tempestsarekind: (peddlers of bombast)
1. I should have noticed this before, because it's obvious--and maybe I did notice it on some subconscious level--but: Horatio's "Good night, sweet prince, / And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest" is both the first time Horatio permits himself to use a proper endearment toward Hamlet (or one of very few times, at the least), and the first time he permits himself the use of "thee"--and it's only, of course, when Hamlet is dead that he allows himself either of these things, after being so watchful and circumspect throughout the rest of the play. I was watching little bits of the RSC/Gregory Doran/David Tennant Hamlet (oh yes, party all the time, that's me!), and suddenly that fact just hit me, and broke my heart all over again. Oh, Horatio.

(I wish I could remember what talk I went to or article I read about the fact that adjectives of sweetness had a much bigger impact then than they do now.)

2. Thinking about words like "doubt" and "nice," which no longer mean (or only mean, since "doubt" goes both ways, doesn't it: Hamlet can say "I doubt some foul play," but he can also write "Doubt that the stars are fire," in much the same way we would) what they would have meant for a sixteenth-century audience. I don't know much about linguistics, more's the pity, but I love words like that: for all their ability to cause confusion, I love the way they surface suddenly in a sea of easy comprehension, and force one to turn aside a bit, think about difference, about the link between word and thought, and how it's easy to think that the way we think about things is the natural way to do so.

3. I'm also reading The Verneys by Adrian Tinniswood, in very small increments--a few pages a day, maybe. Here's a review of the book written by Diane Purkiss (whose book on the English Civil War has been in the queue since I bought it in a London Blackwell's years ago, since apparently the way to get me not to read a book is to let me buy it):

So far my sole complaint is that I wish the book included even more of the Verneys' letters to each other, because they're so enjoyable to read. Here are my favorites so far:

who does not love a letter? )


tempestsarekind: (Default)

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