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Talking the talk, language of the period.

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Bob McBride

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Pay attention to the misspellings in the old letters/journals. People tend to spell words the way that they sound (remember the old "sound it out"?). It's a great insight into what people of the time sounded like.
It wasn't misspelling so much as standardized spelling wasn't considered. However, the juxt of what youre saying is a super important point. If you've done any geneology you know folks such as court clerks and census takers never asked "how do you spell that?". It just wasn't a thing. They wrote phonetically which is, as you say, a great window. My last name was spelled McBride, McBryde, MacBryde, and earlier MacGilBryde (obviously there was a gutteral something or other in the middle there at one time), and the best spelling I've seen in my research is MacBraid, which is how it was pronounced with our Scottish accent of the 18th century and probably written by someone unfamiliar with Scottish accents.
 

tenngun

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Many years ago I wondered how to say capote. Then I came across a written source that referred to a French man wearing a ‘silver tasseled cappo’
I don’t speak French but thought it would rhyme with depot.
I have been told by French speakers the e at the end makes the t pronounced so we should say ca-pot.
So why cappo?
We have a tendency to drop some sounds. The e we find after some words in Elizabethan English came from a time we said winde or the k in knife was said -k-nife or k-night.
Did a local area just drop the t sound? Was the writer unfamiliar with the word? And sounded out a word he misheard?
I think old writings give us a good view of old speech, but still have to wonder how it changed.
The above I have to wonder how even names changed.
My last name is Robinson, and that’s related to Robertson,Robison, Roberson, and the Rob in Robert-Robin-Roba shares its origins with robber. The name met I had an ancestor that was a raider or pirate.
Ten generations back I have to wonder how it was said.
 

Bob McBride

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I’ve wondered that myself. According to the google language pronouncer it’s pronounced ‘caa-put’ by French speakers. I trust google as far as I can throw them so take it for what it’s worth.
 
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smoothshooter

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Harriette Arnow, in her excellent book "Flowering on the Cumberland," addresses this in a chapter, where she points out that the reverse is also true. Many words that I cannot type here because they are considered obscene were actually normal speech back then, even acceptable for children, especially children living on the frontier, versus city dwellers.
Did you mean “ Seedtime On The Cumberland “ ?
 

smoothshooter

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okay without looking at the definition I'm going to take a wild guess at what this means and then I'm going to look up the definition.

My best guess is this means someone giving you the evil eye kind of looking out the side of their eyes at you. Okay about to find out how far off I was.

Ok ok I was wrong but not entirely that badly off. Lol sigogglin describes the style of furniture my uncle used to build I however took four years of shop. Lol.
With my grandparents and parents it was “ si-goddlin’ “ , and it meant some thing that did not look right, or was going at an unusual or incorrect angle.
Example: “ The axle on that wagon must not be mounted square with the box because when they pull it it keeps si-goddlin’ off to the right.”
Example: “Hold up there, boy. you’re goin’ at it si-goddlin’. Get your load lined up better with the trailer and then shove it on forward.”

That’s how it has been/ is used in the Ozarks anyway.
 

Grumpa

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When I first started going to the Outer Banks of NC, about 1957, the Bankers' speech (especially among the older folks) was rich with Elizabethan accent. Some were descendants of shipwreck survivors. They referred to the mainland as the U.S.
As with other areas, radio, TV, and the movies all worked to tone down the regional accents.

My own Pittsburgh speech is influenced by Scottish and Ulster Scotch, courtesy of the early Scotch Irish who settled here by way of Virginia, 'though we don't burr our Rs.

Richard/Grumpa
 

tenngun

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Did you ever see the English comedy movie Hot Fuzz? It has a British survivalist talking some sort of obscure British accent that only one old officer can understand
 

1950DAVE

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though we don't burr our Rs.
But do you "ooh" your " ou's"?
Dave
 

Mongo

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There are many journals, diaries, letters etc., available which will give you an idea on how folks communicated or spoke to each other, many available free on Google Books. Of course, one could imagine that the leaders of fur brigades, military expeditions, etc., were more learned (except in the case of William Clark), but an entertaining read is "Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail" by Lewis Hector Garrad (1850) which is full of entertaining trapper speak.
 

Half-Cocked

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One thing I have learned from studying this briefly I would say there are more varieties of the English spoken then. Variations in language exist today as well of course.

Dialect, the region, original race, geographic location and class all play a part. The variance is wide but for the most part understandable and not far from modern spoken English. Fascinating subject indeed.

Btw hot fuzz is an excellent comedy!
 

Tanglefoot

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You might look at some of the original Journals, which are generally written in the language of the period. There are several from the Fur Trade Era, and earlier ..... not the least of which is the Journals Of Lewis & Clark.
 

oldwood

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One glimpse of how folks thought and conversed in the era around 1750 , can be seen if you can find one of the journals written by James Smith. He was a 14 yr. old boy working with the State Militia of Virginia cutting the road between Fort Cumberland , (Cumberland , Md.) , and Fort Duquesne , now in Pittsburgh , Pa. Smith and another fellow were riding west on the road and ambushed by three Conewega Indians from the area around Sandusky , Ohio. He lived w/ those indians for perhaps 4 to 6 years , and kept a journal of his times w/them until he was able to escape. All I can say is , those Colonial people , right from the get-go , as children ,were a tough breed. Not only did Smith learn the Conewaga language , but could converse in two other Indian tongues, perhaps Wyandot , and a Seneca dialect. good stuff. His story is in about eight other reprinted books from the mid 1840's.......oldwood
 

Loyalist Dave

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Which leads me to the question are there any resources for learning language of the period?
I just found this. Some of these accents are probably unchanged by very much for the past couple centuries, other than additions of modern words. 17 Different "accents" in the United Kingdom, and what may not be realized as that different word choice accompanies these accents as well.

She glances over Cornwall, and the true Cornish accent is very very thick, and takes my ears about five minutes of listening before I can pick out words, and another five minutes and I'm understandin' 'em. There are a lot of unwritten "R's" in Cornish English, so Louisa = Lew-EEs-eR, and T's are cut-off, so Doctor = Dok-er) You can hear it sometimes on the TV show "Doc Martin"...that's "Mar-in" with a stop where the - is. ;)

One Woman, 17 British Accents

LD
 

tenngun

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There are many journals, diaries, letters etc., available which will give you an idea on how folks communicated or spoke to each other, many available free on Google Books. Of course, one could imagine that the leaders of fur brigades, military expeditions, etc., were more learned (except in the case of William Clark), but an entertaining read is "Wah-to-yah and the Taos Trail" by Lewis Hector Garrad (1850) which is full of entertaining trapper speak.
Many journals were not made to be published and are good resources. When I read something like Osborn Russel or Garrad and speech comes up I am forced to wonder.
By the time of these books the American frontiersman already had a mythic quality.
I’ll digress in to clothing. Miller paints all buckskin. Kurz and Brigham working just after paints mostly cloth. The fur trade ledgers send a lot of cloth and premade cloth clothing west.
Did miller paint for an audience that would demand ‘wild frontiersman in their raw skin dress’
I am forced to wonder if editors, um er, exaggerated, the language a bit. Just like wild dress frontiersman had to have an ‘unlettered’ language.
Chicken and the egg.
 

Dale Lilly

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This kind of language-divide is not uncommon in Europe. If you are a native of the Rheinland Pfalz, and speak the regional german dialect, you will not be understood in Bavaria. North to South, East to West the spoken languages date from feudal times. Only High German is taught in the schools, but many "regionally proud," and historically aware germans refuse to give in to the official govt. "High German." In the USA our language primarily evolved from the westward movement of a common language. There was, of course, the French, and Dutch influence. From the West came the spanish language. English speakers ended up dominating the continent. I suppose it is because of this that we kind of understand one another, usually, sometimes. Creole: now that's another matter, as is now Spanish dominated California.
Yes, is it Kartoffle [sp] salat or ????
 

Artificer

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Hmm how much did they actually swear.. which brings up something else. The law of the period. At one point, someone correct me if I'm wrong, being a liar was punishable by death. Can you imagine if it was a simple misunderstanding.

This is one of the reasons history should never be forgotten it's far too fascinating.
Many of our common modern swear words were liberally in use during the 18th century, though not in polite company, of course. Since I have preferred to do Militia or Military personae over the years of FIW through the UnCivil War, this has been an area of real interest to me.

However, some words or phrases that were considered most shocking to downright "unutterable" in the 18th century, would not mean nearly as much to us today. Two such were "God's Blood" and "God's Bones." I learned to utter these at living histories and events instead of modern swear words and informed visitors these were considered worse than many of our very worst swear words today. (Trust me, with 26 years in the Marine Corps, my repertoire of swear words and vulgarity would have been shocking to the general public, so I looked for acceptable replacements. Grin.)

HOWEVER, by the UnCivil War, most people today would probably be surprised to mildly shocked just how "earthy" to downright "raunchy" the speech was of the common folk during that period AND how often it was written in personal letters.

I first learned that in the early 1980's when I visited the NPS Guinea Station Site where Stonewall Jackson died. This was one NPS site where they actually had a good number of period letters, BUT didn't show most of them to the public, because of the "Earthy Nature" and "Objectionable Language" they so often contained. There were not a lot of visitors there the first day I visited and I brought up the portions of the letters they did have on display to the Head Ranger/Curator. He informed me of this and showed me a couple of original letters when he learned of my interest.

He also informed me that unlike earlier Wars, there were TONS of such letters written, but most didn't survive the next generation or two. Their Victorian Descendants burnt or discarded many/most of them, so as not to bring embarrassment to their families.

One forum member who is not around much anymore, sent me the text of an original letter sent home by a young lady in his family who visited the troops to show gratitude to the troops early in the War. (Sort of like a period USO group and certainly not a woman of ill repute.) I got a HUGE kick out of what she wrote back home to her brother about the difference she found in a couple early war Army Camps vs the Confederate Marine Camp, the latter she obviously respected for "their cleanliness and attention to duty."

Gus
 

tenngun

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By the later Victorian age sex became a no no to talk about. And sexual words were beyond the pale.
Those people before that were a little more ‘earthie’ in there language.
Today I have to chuckle at some proper words related to sex and anatomy come from Latin. And those words sometimes come from the nastiest words in Latin for that body part or activity.
I think reading old dime novels is pretty cute. The writer wanted to capture the swear word but not print it.
 

Loyalist Dave

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Many journals were not made to be published and are good resources. When I read something like Osborn Russel or Garrad and speech comes up I am forced to wonder.
By the time of these books the American frontiersman already had a mythic quality.
I’ll digress in to clothing. Miller paints all buckskin. Kurz and Brigham working just after paints mostly cloth. The fur trade ledgers send a lot of cloth and premade cloth clothing west.
Yes the other "problem" is it's fine when a person spells a word in a phonetic manner as they record their thoughts or what they remember saying..., as one can come pretty close, BUT....,

When a person records what another said, are they spelling the word as THEY understand it or how it was said?

For example,

Did the Sergeant yell, "Right, shoot straight, you bloody bastards! If you can the nature of your musket" or was that how the writer understood it, and in fact he said it with an accent, something like, "Rye! Shoot stray- ya blah-dee bastarrts! If(in) ya ken [you understand] the na'ure [the use] of yur muhs-kit" And the person recording the statement didn't know how to represent the actual pronunciation that was used, and misunderstood at least one word (can for ken)

We got a call at my workplace and the woman kept saying "add-oh-lee-sents" because her accent was so thick and spoke each syllable so slow the call-taker thought she was saying four words. (Adolescents) So she not only had a thick accent BUT chose an uncommon word, when it would've been more familiar to say "teen-agers".

LD
 

Loyalist Dave

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Two such were "God's Blood" and "God's Bones."
The Caribbean has the phrase "Blood Clot", which for them is very impolite to utter

In small towns in WV..., well this was 30 years ago..., calling a local a "Rogue" or a "Rascal" would get you punched in the face by the fellow to whom the word was addressed.

LD
 

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