The English we hear when watching a Shakespeare play is not how Shakespeare spoke. Watch this video and be amazed how familiar he would have sounded.
One of the fascinating things linguists do is trace accents back through history to try to find the “root” accent. I’ve long known that people in Appalachia, Australia, and New Zealand probably speak an English closer to 16th-18th century English than any other English speakers in the world. That’s because they left England during those eras and, being sparsely populated and without a lot of population movement, preserved the English that they brought with them from the “Mother Country.”
Knowing that, though, and actually hearing it are two different things. Here is a short, delightful disquisition about Shakespeare’s English versus the modern “received” version. Incidentally, if you’re anything like me, you’ll find the Shakespearean version easier to understand. Perhaps that’s because I have an American ear for language:
Oh, one more thing — about that semi-literate post title: That’s my own little joke when it comes to the English language. One of the funniest books ever published was an 18th century Portuguese guide to the English language. Its author was Pedro Carolino, who reputedly spoke no English. Instead, he put the guide together using a Portuguese-French dictionary and a French-English dictionary. Google Translate he was not.
The book’s English title ended up being English As She Is Spoke. Given the wild idioms Carolino offers, Mark Twain summed the book up thusly: “Nobody can add to the absurdity of this book, nobody can imitate it successfully, nobody can hope to produce its fellow; it is perfect.” And perfect it was.
For starters, there’s the title, which I mangled in my own post title. But there are also the following idiomatic gems:
We shall have a fine weather to day.
There is some foggy.
I fear of the thunderbolt.
The sun rise on.
The sun lie down.
It is light moon’s.
With a hair dresser.
Your razors, are them well?
Comb-me quickly; don’t put me so much pomatum. What news tell me?
all hairs dresser are newsmonger.
Sir, I have no heared any thing.
For to ask some news.
It is true what is told of master M***?
Then what is told of him?
I have heard that he is hurt mortally.
I shall be sowow of it, because he is a honestman.
Which have wounden him?
Do know it why?
The noise run that is by to have given a box on the ear
to a of them.
If the above kind of nonsense amuses you, you can read the whole thing here. Once having done that, you can sprinkle your English with such phrases as “Apply you at the study during that you are young,” “Dress your hairs,” and “He burns one’s self the brains,” delighting all who hear you.