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Jonathan Taylor
Posted on Thursday, February 15, 2007 - 05:48 pm:   

Even if words like "thee" and "thou" are used about as much as common-day words like "you", does it turn you off and keep you from reading? This question is mainly directed at fantasy readers. Thanks!
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James A. Ritchie
Posted on Friday, February 16, 2007 - 12:57 pm:   

For me, it depends on how well the writer handles it. Most writers do not handle it well, and I seldom see a need for it.
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Daniel Ausema
Posted on Saturday, February 17, 2007 - 01:39 pm:   

I'll second that recommendation...in fact, LeGuin's entire collection, _Language of the Night_, which includes that essay, should be high on the required list for any aspiring fantasy writer (her other collections of essays are also good...I'm probably just partial to _Language_ because I discovered it at the right age for it to be especially revelatory and challenging and new).

And to piggyback on the first point, even if you replace all occurences of 'you' with the appropriate form of thee and thou (and if you can't get those right, you have no right to be attempting this), it will still fall flat if you can't give a convincing imitation including things like 'wilt' and 'shalt' and verbs ending in -est.

Which is why, I'd say that unless you have an awfully good reason for using that kind of language, then best to stick with contemporary language.
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James A. Ritchie
Posted on Sunday, February 18, 2007 - 02:19 pm:   

Daniel, that's a very good point, thee and thou alone are not authentic. Either you get everything right, or it all falls apart.
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Jess Patrick
Posted on Thursday, February 22, 2007 - 08:26 pm:   

Those forms of address in Old English (or is it Middle English?) have the formal and familiar forms of address that is really not present in modern English, but is apparent in other languages.

I'd say if you can properly use those pronouns in true King James Bible fashion and do it in a way that makes me believe, then go for it.
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Jonathan Taylor
Posted on Saturday, February 24, 2007 - 09:31 pm:   

Thinking more like 18th century english.
Old english is pre-1066 AD...that's another language too, not just another dialect.

Middle English is 1066 and several hundred years past, say 1400. I'd never write anything in Middle English.

Shakespearean (Elizebethan English) is 1400-1650-ish.

Restoration English (the one I intended) would be 1650-ish to 1800-ish, and it sounds a lot closer to our English than any of the others, it just has thees and thous and a couple archaisms.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Sunday, February 25, 2007 - 09:38 am:   

If your story is set in the Restoration English time frame, the then current language would be most appropriate !

Thanks for the info on English language development.
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Kimberly Bedell Casey
Posted on Sunday, April 08, 2007 - 03:10 pm:   

Okay, I know this thread was months ago, but I just got here. This advice probably isn't useful to Jonathan at this point, but maybe others will have similar concerns.

Let me begin by saying that, as a writer, I lament the loss of the familiar address to our language. For languages that retain it, it is a powerful and subtle tool. A lot of information about characters and their relationships to each other can be communicated just by who's using which pronouns for whom.

Just to be clear: "thou" was the familiar address--the one for intimates and inferiors. "You" was the formal address, for strangers and superiors (and groups). (I don't want to step on anyone's toes, but the formal "you" form was clearly already around when the familiar "thou" form was used, and it would not be improper for them to both appear in the same story.)

To get an idea of what I think we've lost, consider the biblical passage that is sometimes called "The Lord's Prayer." As it is addressed to God, one might expect it to employ the formal address, but it does not: "Our Father, which art in Heaven, Hallowed be thy Name," and so on, is addressed to God in the familiar. Since the speaker is inferior to God, this can only indicate profound intimacy with Him.

But this sense is mostly lost on modern readers. If anything, there is a tendency to view the "thou" form as formal and distancing--exactly the opposite of what was intended.

(I don't belong to any religion that uses that text, and I apologize for borrowing it--but I felt it was especially terrible that a religious text should lose an aspect of meaning that speaks so directly to the relationship between humanity and the Divine.)

So, do I think it's a good idea to use this set of obsolete pronouns in fiction?

Well, you might make it work in a long piece. But when you do something strange to language, people need enough time to get used to it. In this particular case, you need to keep in mind that the “thou” form is familiar, but is perceived by modern readers as formal—you would have to write carefully so that the real meaning would become clear without someone having to explain, perhaps even more carefully than if it were something you’d just completely made up.

In short fiction, I’d say use it only if its supposed to be funny.

As a general rule:

You Monkey With Pronouns At Your Own Peril!

Pronouns are a structural part of language, and they reflect our underlying concepts about the way things are categorized. It is difficult for people to accept new pronouns, or changes to existing pronouns. If this were not so, we would be spared all the “he or she” constructions, and similar abominations. Keep in mind, too, that pronouns are really supposed to be invisible, and anything that draws attention to them undermines their basic purpose.

Really, I think this kind of thing should be attempted only by authors that have established enough credibility that readers keep reading through the weirdness long enough to get used to it.

(Sorry this is so long and lecturing. I took out a lot of the "in my opinion" type softeners to make it shorter.)

--Kimberly
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Monday, April 09, 2007 - 08:32 pm:   

Most interesting, I didn't know that.
From the 300 years of French rule in England, English developed a familiar form, like the tu in French. I'd never thought of thou in this way before, but it sure makes sense. (and thou did seem like a formal form to me, not a familiar form) Thanks Kimberly.
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Jonathan Taylor
Posted on Monday, April 09, 2007 - 10:12 pm:   

Lars, when you said "the current language", did you mean the language of today, or the language that was current during the period I was talking about?

Thanks...btw sorrow for bumping an old thread >.<
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GSH
Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 02:16 am:   

Guess I'll put mine own two cents worth in late in the discussion. Archaic language can be daunting if an author offers too heavy a dose. I've had a couple of goes at E. R. Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros, but never made it beyond the first couple of chapters owing to his deliberately archaic lingo. With the dialogue especially, the archaic modality almost seems like an affliction. (You can find the entire text here, if you'd like to sample the effect.

As several have already pointed out, there's also the danger of not quite pulling the thing off convincingly. Anyone who's attended a few Renaissance Faires has likely witnessed the unintentionally comic effect of poorly done period-speak.

I'm of the opinion that Modern English generally works best, even for tales set in earlier periods. Modern English can always be subtly colored by the addition of slang and syntax relevant to the period, without making readers feel as if they're having to fight their way through a linguistic briar patch.
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Lars Thorsen
Posted on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 - 08:43 pm:   

Ale for Sale !!!

Why walk , when you can stagger . . .

Why stagger , when you can crawl . . .

Why crawl , when you can happily lay in the gutter . . .

Ale for Sale !!!

The Renaissance Faire,
how it remembers me well . . .

(I worked in an ale stand for several of the years employed therein, as well as Service & Supply that old classic green/black-fendered '39 International 20'flatbed delivery truck with the non-synchro trans)

- -

Jonathan

" If your story is set in the Restoration English time frame, the then current language would be most appropriate "

providing the writer knows what was truly being spoken then, and the reader does as well, and maybe these two required parameters are so difficult to simultaneously achieve, that the failure to pull it off is the most often result.

There are a few paragraphs and pages where Raymond Chandler is totally in the groove of his hipness, but for many pages the writing style is not the equivalent and the plot feels forced.

Like the film Jamaica Inn w/Charles Laughton, one scene he is so 'alive' and powerful in character it totally makes the film a standout.

Another film with exceptional language nuance is Blunt: The Fourth Man, with Anthony Hopkins who does a super job of using period language, tho it is British and to my American ear it sounded spot on, but maybe not quite so much to a Brit. I had to watch it 3 times to finally get what was going on the plot is so fast and the language so 'foreign'; blessedly they do not overly explain for the audience, but force the audience to keep up. (found it at the $1 store !, a DVD) But worth every penny for the language.
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Sheila Finch
Posted on Thursday, April 26, 2007 - 05:56 pm:   

Coming to this even later than Kimberly {g}, I'll add that during Shakespeare's time usage was beginning to slip. That means you might find both "thee" and "you" used for singular, familiar subjects. Sometimes it matters what part of the country the speech comes from -- England still to this day has some almost mutually incomprehensible dialects packed into one small island.

And I'm uncertain whether English gained "thee/thou/thy/thine" from association with French. I'd have to dig out my old Anglo-Saxon grammar books. German, from which English evolved, certainly has both "Du" and "Zie."

Maybe I should go back to sleep now? :-)
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Gregory Bernard Banks
Posted on Friday, May 04, 2007 - 03:59 pm:   

I'm not a language expert or anything, but different languages, dialects, etc., usually have their own rhythm or cadence, and it seems to me that sometimes you can circumvent the need to use the actual language, except maybe a word here or there, if you can capture that rhythm of the language in the words you choose and how you arrange them.

Just listen to the difference between a hip-hop drama, a Shakespearian drama, and Western. Pay attention to the flow and rhythm of the speech, the arrangement of the words. With sparing use of just the right words of the desired period, I think you can capture the spirit of the times very well.
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Jeff Herring
Posted on Saturday, May 05, 2007 - 06:14 am:   

I agree with Gregory. You also can make things interesting by varying your characters' speaking mannerisms according to who/what they are in the way of stature, background, etc. In most of the old Hollywood films set in ancient Rome (Ben Hur, Quo Vadis), the Roman elite (senators, etc.) always seem to speak in haughty British -- to project a certain formality, nobilty, or authority. The masses and the other subordinates may display a bit of lingual formality here and there, but not to the same degree. On Star Trek The Next Generation, Data's, Worf's, Picard's, and Ryker's distinct styles of speech really play well against each other, and -- because of the contrasts -- make for more striking, natural interchanges. In Geoffrey Verdegast's novel, Of Staves and Sigmas, he likewise has his respected religious warrior speak in eloquent and old-fashioned manner (o'er, 'tis, etc.), while his everyday folks use some of the common formalities of the (medievalish) time --although not to the same extent. His hero, a transplant from our contemporary earth, uses a slangish form of their language (because his fluency is affected by his own modern American quirks). Together, as with the Star Trek example, the variances ring really wonderfully across the ear. So, my advice is to use the old time language when it suits, but don't overuse it or it may become tedious -- and thus detract from the story.
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Marguerite Reed
Posted on Sunday, June 03, 2007 - 08:14 pm:   

Dude, people these days can't even figure out 'whom,' and where to use an apostrophe. I myself have no problem with archaic language as long as the writer has no problem.

Daniel, spot on with that mention of _Language of the Night_. I got it when I was 13-14, and I've never been the same.
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Kaza Kingsley
Posted on Thursday, October 11, 2007 - 12:33 pm:   

To me, something like this works great in dialogue to distinguish a unique (or strange) character. In the naration, however, it would be distracting and feel hyped and forced.
Hope this helps Jonathan!

Kaza Kingsley
Author of the Erec Rex series
http://www.erecrex.com

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