Choice – is using modern language right?

Just thought that I’d write a quick post about a choice that I’ve made in writing the novel.

The story is set in 1141, but I’ve deliberately chosen to use modern English for the dialogue. I don’t see the point of writing in a fake olde-worlde style just to try to give a flavour of the middle ages. I want to get across how the characters interact with each other and what they are feeling. It seems that the best way to do that is to use language that will be instantly understood by readers – that way the only decoding that needs to be done is of the ideas and emotions – not the language itself.

Also, using ‘archaic’ language is silly anyway – in 1141, most of the common people would have still spoken Old English – or Anglo Saxon – while the nobility would have all spoken a form of Old French or Anglo Norman.

In case you’re not familiar with how different Anglo Saxon is to modern English, here is an example:
Fæder ure þu þe eart on heofonum si þin nama gehalgod tobecume þin rice gewurþe þin willa on eorðan swa swa on heofonum…

No, I don’t know what it means either… I found it here though.

So to litter my dialogue with lots of ‘Prithees’ and ‘Hark thee heres’ etc makes as little sense as just sticking to plain everyday English. So, yes, they might say ‘OK’ – which is anachronistic, but carries more meaning to most modern readers than ‘yea, verrily’. And after all, my early medieval characters wouldn’t have said ‘yea, verrily’ any more than they would have said ‘OK’ or ‘How’s it going?’

Using modern English helps to define characters more easily than archaisms. For example, ‘How’s it going?’ is a different kind of greeting to ‘How do you do?’ and says more about the character than an archaic greeting as it would always tend to sound formal.



Filed under Language, Middle ages, Writing

2 responses to “Choice – is using modern language right?

  1. That makes sense….although when I read Shakespeare something of that old world comes into my mind….

  2. Sarah

    Of course – but then Shakespeare was using modern (for him) English. And, interestingly, he used this language whether he was writing about contemporary life or historical events.

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