How far back in time could a modern English speaker go and still communicate?

 

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The transition from Old English to Modern English was a process, not an event

Changes in language don’t occur overnight, though slang terms come in and out of use relatively quickly and new words are invented while others fall into disuse. The rules of grammar you learned in school are the same ones your parents were taught and what your own kids will (or do) use. A few new words are tossed in the mix every few years to keep things interesting (remember the uproar when “ain’t” was added to the dictionary?).

The transition from Old English to Middle English to Modern English was a process rather than an event — the rules didn’t all suddenly change on May 24, 1503. Before the Normans invaded England in 1066, the people living in Britain spoke Old English or Anglo-Saxon. Some of the words from that time are still with us — the ones of the vulgar four-letter variety. Old English was so unlike Modern English it’s fair to view it as a foreign language. For example, here are the opening lines of the poem Beowulf:

Hwæt! Wé Gárdena in géardagum

þéodcyninga þrym gefrúnon

hú ðá æþelingas ellen fremedon.

I’m completely lost. Something about a garden, maybe?

Modern English translation as follows:

Listen! We — of the Spear-Danes in the days of yore,

of those clan-kings — heard of their glory,

how those nobles performed courageous deeds.

Yeah, not even close.

Continue reading… “How far back in time could a modern English speaker go and still communicate?”

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The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company

[youtube]http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nYQvyZCuCzU&feature=player_embedded[/youtube]

 

In a community hall in Hoxton, London, a small piece of alchemy is taking place. A group of teenagers who only minutes before were fidgeting with their mobile phones, are up on stage reciting one of Shakespeare’s best known sonnets in rap. It’s on a damp spring morning that they’re comparing thee to a summer’s day, but how did they get here?

Well, it seems they’re a part of the burgeoning hip-hop theatre scene…

Continue reading… “The Hip-Hop Shakespeare Company”

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All Shook Up Over Shakespeare Day

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Today is the 445th anniversary of the birth of William Shakespeare. In honor of this occasion, today is Talk Like Shakespeare Day. Here are some semantic shifts to make your day happen in a Shakespeare way!


1. Instead of you, say thou. Instead of y’all, say thee.
2. Rhymed couplets are all the rage.
3. Men are Sirrah, ladies are Mistress, and your friends are all called Cousin….

Continue reading… “All Shook Up Over Shakespeare Day”

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Mirrors Don’t Lie, But Do They Mislead

Mirrors Don’t Lie, But Do They Mislead

For the bubbleheaded young Narcissus of myth, the mirror spun a fatal fantasy, and the beautiful boy chose to die by the side of a reflecting pond rather than leave his “beloved” behind. For the aging narcissist of Shakespeare’s 62nd sonnet, the mirror delivered a much-needed whack to his vanity, the sight of a face “beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity” underscoring the limits of self-love.

Continue reading… “Mirrors Don’t Lie, But Do They Mislead”

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