Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Pseudo-Archaic English: The Modern Perception and Interpretation of the Linguistic Past

Academic journal article Studia Anglica Posnaniensia: international review of English Studies

Pseudo-Archaic English: The Modern Perception and Interpretation of the Linguistic Past

Article excerpt

ABSTRACT

This paper introduces a new project currently in its planning stages. (1) It is dedicated to pseudoarchaic English, an area in linguistic studies which has so far hardly received any academic attention. After providing some historical examples a brief selection of some present-day occurrences as well as inspirational sources for these is given. Sample cases of pseudo-archaic English from various linguistic categories are presented in order to illustrate the wide range of its usage. Some remarks on modern perceptions of the linguistic past and their role in creating pseudo-archaic forms are provided and followed by suggestions on what still needs to be done in this field.

1. Introduction

When asking the general public about what the English language might have looked like in former times explanations like the following one are usually given:

   Be the tale set in 1300s Scotland or 1840s Cardiff, appropriately
   "old-fashioned" English in the mind of a TV writer is based on the
   archaic King James Bible. The formula is simple: addeth "-eth" and
   "-est" to random verbs, scattereth silent Es like the leaves of
   autumne, bandyeth about the words "thee", "thou", "thine", "doth",
   "hast", and "forsooth", reverseth every other occasion thine
   noun-verb order, and strewth, thou doth be the next Billy
   Shakespeare!

   (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/YeOldeButcheredeEnglishe)

Some striking observations can be discerned from such commentaries. First, it is assumed that there is no distinction between different language stages, but that there is merely one past language. Secondly, this one past language resembles two main sources, both of which are from the Renaissance period, namely the King James Bible (1611) and the works of William Shakespeare (Evans-Tobin 1997). Thirdly, some simple rules regarding inflection, orthography, vocabulary and syntax seem to suffice in order to produce texts that look archaic. The website containing the preceding quotation lists dozens of examples occurring in popular culture, such as television, film, music and video games. But where do such ideas of the linguistic past come from and why are these encountered so frequently?

Although there are innumerable pseudo-archaic English texts found both in print and on the world wide web it is surprising that this subject has been largely neglected by current research. One rare exception is Minugh (1999). This frequent ignorance may be ascribed to the view that the language found in such texts is merely evidence of incorrect English not considered to be of any importance. But they underestimate its potential since the amount of primary material shows an exceptional degree of linguistic creativity deserving of an academic study. Moreover, it may tell us a great deal about modern popular attitudes not only towards the linguistic past but also language in general. For these reasons a larger project is planned to be conducted, some aspects of which are briefly addressed in this paper. Some light is shed on the questions which features of Present-Day English may be changed in order to create an archaic impression, why exactly these features are chosen for alteration, and in what way these are modified. Some commonly consulted older texts are identified and the general understanding and misunderstanding of some linguistic features within these sources and the ensuing emergence of pseudo-archaic forms are examined. Finally, a concise outlook on further aspects of the upcoming project is given.

2. Definition

Archaisms may be defined as linguistic forms that used to be common but then went out of fashion. They frequently refer to vocabulary, but may also comprise other linguistic categories, such as orthography, phonology, morphology or syntax. Some archaic forms may have had a wider distribution before being confined to dialectal usage. In contrast to obsolete forms, archaisms may still be recognised as once being part of the language. …

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