Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

"Spayk the Speech Oy Prithee": Dialects of Shakespeare's England and the American South

Academic journal article The Upstart Crow

"Spayk the Speech Oy Prithee": Dialects of Shakespeare's England and the American South

Article excerpt

In their 1986 television series, The Story of English, Robert MacNeil, Robert McCrum, and William Cran make reference to the belief that a dialect of Elizabethan England survives in the Appalachian Mountains. While they refute this notion (countering that the Appalachian dialect is Scots-Irish in origin), they contend that dialects in Eastern seaboard communities from Chesapeake Bay to the Carolinas have evolved relatively slowly since the time of the English settlers of the Stuart era. Longtime director and teacher with the Royal Shakespeare Company, John Barton, who is interviewed in The Story of English, says in his 1985 television series Playing Shakespeare that the American accent is closer to the Elizabethan accent than current British Received Pronunciation. These two claims and Assistant Professor Alexander Harrington's work with Southern students on speeches from Shakespeare's plays prompted the formation of a research group consisting of Professor Harrington and a number of students. The group conducted research on early modern English and dialects of the Southeastern United States.

In the Playing Shakespeare program and his book based on it, Barton points out that the "i" in "time" is a diphthong and that Elizabethans pronounced it so that the two constituents were perceptible to the ear. (1) Later in the book, he spells Shakespeare's pronunciation of the word as "Tay-eme."

The contemporary English long "i" in "time" is a diphthong--rendered by linguist Helge Kokeritz as [ai]. In his book, Shakespeare's Pronunciation, Kokeritz holds that the diphthong was subtly different in early modern English. According to Kokeritz, in early modern English (from approximately the late fifteenth century to the seventeenth century), the first constituent of the diphthong was either the [^] of "cut" or the [e] of the second syllable of "better." He renders the diphthong as [ei]. (2) This sound is somewhere between the contemporary English long "i" and the [ai] in "boy" and "coin." As evidence of this, Kokeritz points to the rhymes die: joy: annoy, exploit: right (1 Henry VI, 2.3.4), groin: swine (Hamlet, 3.3.24); the puns bile: boil (Twelfth Night, 2.5.2-4), fine: foin (Comedy of Errors, 2.2.73), vice: voice (Cymbeline, 2.3.33); the spelling of "smile" as "smoile" in the Folio version and "smoyle" in the Quarto version of King Lear, "voyage" as "viage" (Hamlet, 3.3.24), "employ" spelled "imply" in the quarto of 2 Henry IV, 4.2.24; and "imply" and "employ" listed as homonyms by orthographers Hodges (1643) and Cooper (1685). (3)

Barton focuses on the "i" in the word "time" because of the importance of the concept of time in Shakespeare's plays. While he does not spend as much time (or Tay-eme) on other sounds, he does recite seven lines of the Act 4 chorus from Henry V and reproduces five lines in the book. In the book, Barton phonetically spells "now.... ne-ow." The contemporary English diphthong in "now" and "house" is pronounced [au]. Helge Kokeritz renders the early modern English pronunciation of the same diphthong as [eu], a sound between "ow" in "house" and the "oo" in "loo"--essentially, the sound in the much-maligned Canadian "about." (4) In listening to Barton on his TV program, the authors perceive his pronunciation of the diphthong in "now" as the sound Kokeritz represents as [[??]u]. In the transcription of Romeo and Juliet he did for Shakespeare's Globe, found in his Pronouncing Shakespeare, David Crystal uses the same representation for the "ou" in "household." (5)

In his transcription, David Crystal only uses phonetic symbols in the spelling of words whose pronunciation was different in early modern English from what it is in contemporary British Received Pronunciation (RP). He renders "both" and "Verona" as "bo[??]th" and "Vero[??]na." Since in contemporary British RP, the "o" in these words is pronounced [o[??]] and not [ai] or [e], it is reasonable to assume that Crystal is indicating a longer sound than is currently used. …

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