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Learning more English

What ways can you recommend learning older versions of English?  Learning about Old English and Middle English could be interesting, but I'm more interested in learning about older versions of Modern English.  How did people talk in the late 19th or 16th centuries?  What are some good ways to learn about this?  I doubt there's any one good way, and I certainly wouldn't want to stick to a single source.  Old novels might be nice, but novels are rarely written as people speak.  Old treatises could be nice, but that's limiting language patterns largely to the wealthy and educated.  Newspapers could be another good source, maybe.

What sort of things would everyone out there recommend?


( 19 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 1st, 2009 05:46 pm (UTC)
They make pronunciation and vocabulary guides for actors. I used one in highschool. I guess you can also read novels written in dialect from whatever time period you're interested in. Novels weren't always written in dialect, I can't recall who pioneered that or when, but those are my two suggestions. Oh, and time travel, so, make that three.
May. 1st, 2009 06:23 pm (UTC)
Right. Clearly I need to don my time sombrero.

Edited at 2009-05-01 06:23 pm (UTC)
May. 1st, 2009 10:36 pm (UTC)

Well, I know for things like Old English, or even Anglo-Saxon there are university/college courses out there. I don't know if you want to go quite that route, though. Middle English shouldn't be that difficult. The biggest hurdle will be that spelling wasn't standardised till the Victorians decided it would be a good idea for everyone to spell words the same way. There should be pronounciation guides out there, I would think.

Might I ask why the interest?
May. 1st, 2009 11:04 pm (UTC)
I want to try doing some writing, and one of the story ideas I have will involve at least one chapter that takes place in the past. It will technically take place in Russia, but I don't intend to learn Russian to be able to write for an English audience. I just thought getting some authentic 1800s English familiarity would help with writing those parts.
May. 4th, 2009 02:49 pm (UTC)
I know this is late, but I have been incomunicado for the past few days. Golf course... No access... Even now I'm using my Mom's laptop because the software for the wireless modem can't be installed on my computer.

That said. Try reading some period lit from the 1800's. That should give you a good starting place for the diction, especially dialog.
May. 4th, 2009 07:02 pm (UTC)
I guess it's a starting point, at least. I do have some old history books, at least some of which are from that era, as well. It's hard to get through them because they're so hilariously bad in comparison to modern history books, but they could be good sources of period diction.
May. 4th, 2009 08:53 pm (UTC)
I was thinking more H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, Dickens, the Sherlock Holmes stories rather than bad history books.

Speaking of which, they would be good inspiration for steampunk...
May. 4th, 2009 09:12 pm (UTC)
That is true, but the story I had in mind is actually a future sci-fi story that has its origins in the past. The history books are just something I happen to have on hand. They're bad in the sense that they're old, and some of them start with things to the effect of, "As we all know, Britain is the greatest society there has ever been or will ever be, and we can move onto our studies from there."
May. 5th, 2009 03:50 am (UTC)
Heh... The ethnocenric nationalistic attitude that spurred things like racism, and not limited to Britian, either, never mind imperial Rome. Still, since you mentioned how people would have talked in that era (speaking of which, Bronte and Dickenson, especially for Regancy period), I thought I'd mention books that might have dialog in them...

So, what in the 1800's pretains to the story?
May. 5th, 2009 03:56 am (UTC)
Alexander Nikolayevich Scriabin.
May. 5th, 2009 04:31 am (UTC)
(Should I know who he is?) Signifigance, please?
May. 5th, 2009 04:12 pm (UTC)
He was a famous Russian composer, known for his use of the "mystic chord." He was a theosophist who spent at least the last 12 years of his life working on a composition called the Mysterium, an eschatological performance that would engage all senses and involve all as participants rather than spectators, which would herald the end of an era and replace humanity with a far nobler species.

Edited at 2009-05-05 04:12 pm (UTC)
May. 5th, 2009 04:28 pm (UTC)
Ahhh... ok. Once I get back to Halifax (if I remember to) I'll hunt up his stuff.
May. 2nd, 2009 07:18 am (UTC)
Shakespeare = early modern English
Chaucer = middle English
Beowulf = old English

All three have editions that have notes and, in the case of Beowulf, a side by side translation.
May. 2nd, 2009 02:31 pm (UTC)
That's a good point. Would you be able to recommend specific editions? Those are the sorts of writings that have maaany editions.
May. 2nd, 2009 08:00 pm (UTC)
The Riverside editions of Shakespeare and Chaucer are excellent--they're pricey, but they're stuffed full of footnotes and so forth. They're the best I've found and well worth the money. As for Beowulf, the Seamus Heaney translation is excellent and has a page to page comparison between the old and modern English.
May. 2nd, 2009 09:42 pm (UTC)
May. 2nd, 2009 03:47 pm (UTC)
Try reading the King James Bible.
May. 2nd, 2009 03:55 pm (UTC)
Been there, done that, don't want the T-shirt. I'd prefer reading original English writings.
( 19 comments — Leave a comment )


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