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Pronunciation | Grammar | Words, Words, Words | For Further Study

Pronunciation

Elizabethan English did not sound like modern English as it is spoken in England – no Cockney, no Uppah Clahss refinement. It was an earthy, vigorous speech. Here are some of the characteristic sounds:

SHORT A: As in the words want or father. Always pronounced with the flat-sounding A we use in words like WAX or CAT or FLAT, never with an ah-sound.

LONG A: As in the words make or take. Sounded as a short E, so they come out mek and tek. Think of the way the name of the River Thames is pronounced.

LONG I: As in the words die or ice, also where Y occurs sounded as long I as in my or try. Sounded as uh-ee, a long drawn-out sound. This is the quintessential Peasant noise. Die becomes duh-ee, my becomes muh-ee. But the short I sound (as in sir, girl, pin) is unchanged, exactly like what we use today.

SHORT O: As in the words love or dove. Sounded like a long U or double O, the way we pronounce book or cook. All you need is luv, as a wise man once said.

SHORT U: As in the words cup or run. Sounded like a long U or double O also, so they come out coop and roon.

EA: As in the words head, bread, or dead. These are given a long A pronunciation, which makes them sound very American Country: haid, braid, daid.

OU AND OW: As in the words house, about, down. Do like the Canadians! Pronounce them with an uh-oo dipthong. Huh-oose, abuh-oot, duh-oon.

AI AND AY: As in the words maid and day. It’s a flat A followed by that peasanty long I, so it’s sounded maa-eed and daa-ee.

H AND R: These consonants are always pronounced. Never drop the H, as modern Cockneys do. It’s Head, not ‘ed, Here, not ‘ere. The letter R is pronounced with all the glory of a pirate on the high seas: fatherrrr and ratherrrr and herrre, not fathah or rathah or heah. Avoid the Scots burred R, though, unless you’re playing a Scot.

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Grammar

THEE AND THOU: These are the informal pronouns. They are used to anyone who is your equal and intimate, such as a spouse or good friend, and also to anyone below you in station, such as a servant or child. They are also used when delivering an insult; or in prayer, because the Almighty is presumed to be your intimate. Thee and thou are not the same word, by the way. One is the subject, the other the object of the sentence, as in: I say to thee, I gave it unto thee as opposed to Thou hast a fair face, Thou wilt run away, What hast thou done?

THY AND THINE are the informal equivalents of you and yours.

YOU is the formal pronoun, used to address strangers and anyone above you in rank. It is also used as a sign of respect to one’s parents or elders.

THE WORD YE: Ye is a pronoun, the plural of you or thou, used to address several people at once: as in O come, all ye faithful. It is not ye olde-fashioned way of saying the. We tend to assume it is, because we misread old signs that have an old symbol for TH that looks like a crooked letter Y, but it isn’t. There’s no ye olde anything.

SHALL WE CONJUGATE?

  • I rejoice, You rejoice, Thou rejoicest, We rejoice, He/She/It rejoiceth (or rejoices.)
  • I am, You are, Thou art, We are, He/She/It is. (Or you could use be for is, am & are)
  • I go, You go, Thou goest, We go, He/She/It goeth.
  • I return, You return, Thou returnest, We return, He/She/It returneth.

Notice that those old-fashioned –eth and –est endings only go on the ends of verbs, and are only correct with the informal and plural pronouns.

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Words, Words, Words

HELLO OR GOODBYE: To greet someone, say Good Morrow or Good Day or Well met! Or the very old-fashioned God ye good den. How now is used for "How are you doing?" To bid them goodbye, say Fare thee well or God keep thee. If you’re going to be right back, say anon, which means "in a minute" or "See you soon."

TO A MAN: Use Sir, or Master, or My Lord. Master is used where we would use Mister. Goodman can be used to a peasant, Father or Gaffer to an older man. A little boy might be addressed as Young Master, or by Little Lad, or by Sirrah; but Sirrah means rascal, rogue or knave, too.

TO A WOMAN: Use Madam, or Mistress, or My Lady. Mistress is used exactly as we use Ms now, courteous address to a married or unmarried woman. Goodwife can be used to a peasant, Mother or Gammer to an older lady. A little girl can be addressed as Little Maid or Little Lady.

YES AND NO: Try Aye and Nay, or Yea and Nay.

PLEASE, THANK YOU AND MORE: For Please try Prithee, Pray, I pray you, or An it please thee. For Thank You try I thank you, I thank thee, or Many Thanks. The response would be simply You are most welcome, or Thou art welcome. To say Excuse me, try I cry you mercy, or I crave your pardon.

EXCITEMENT: Where you’d say, "Wow!" try Marry! or Faith! or even S’wounds! This last is short for God’s Wounds and refers to the five wounds of Christ. Where you’d say, "No kidding?" try Forsooth! or Is it even so? To express disbelief slightly more forcefully, try Go to! or Thou liest! And to express dismay, mild anger, or disappointment, try Fie! or Alack! or Alackaday! or Alas! Or Out upon it/him/her /them!

METAPHORS AND SIMILES: Everyone drew on the Bible: Strong as Samson, Wicked as Herod. Also widely known were the Robin Hood and King Arthur stories. Upper-middle-class persons and nobles might sprinkle their speech with references to the Greek and Roman classics: Beauteous as Venus, Bright as Phoebus Apollo.

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For Further Study

Years of experience have proven that the very best sources for language and grammar are the King James Version of the Bible and the plays of William Shakespeare, which are available everywhere. Other writers from the period, such as Christopher Marlowe, are also excellent to read if you want a sense of how the language is used. Very few Shakespeare plays are produced using the sounds of Elizabethan; most of them use a modern stage English accent. However, believe it or not, a basic Pirate accent is close to correct and works very well for our purposes. And it’s fun!

 

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