From The Week:
Let’s hop into a time machine and go back to the England of yore!
If this were a movie, no matter when we got out of the machine, we could walk up to people and start talking. It could be medieval times or the age of King Arthur’s round table, and they’d just say, “Who art thou, varlet?” and we’d reply with something like, “We, uh, would-eth like-eth some beer-eth,” and we’d all party. Yeah, no.
I mean, of course they have to do that in movies, because we need to understand them. But this is reality. We’re going to hear what they reallytalked like. Ready? Buckle up!
. . . .
First stop: the early 1600s. The time of Shakespeare! Of course the English of Shakespeare and the King James Bible may seem flowery, but it’s basically just an older version of what we speak now. In fact, it’s what linguists call Early Modern English. But the way they spoke it was not quite what we probably expect — or what you hear in the movies. Do you imagine some Queen’s English accent? Or perhaps Cockney for the lower classes? Guess what: the way they spoke it would sound to us more like a mix of Irish and pirate. Here, listen to Ben Crystal (son of linguist David Crystal) perform a sonnet in the pronunciation of Shakespeare’s time:
. . . .
Old English is a bit of a misleading name. It’s not understandable at all to modern English speakers; you’d have an easier time learning Dutch or Danish. Some people prefer to call it Anglo-Saxon, since it’s the language that was brought over by the Angles and Saxons, invaders from northern Germany who took over Britain in the 600s.
The most famous bit of literature from the Old English period is Beowulf. I’m sure we all know the beginning of Beowulf, right? No? Well, if you don’t, here it is:
Hwæt! We Gardena in geardagum,
þeodcyninga, þrym gefrunon,
hu ða æþelingas ellen fremedon.
We’re not with Bill and Ted anymore! Come on, step out of the time machine and let’s listen to the words recited by Benjamin Bagby, who sounds like he grew up then:
Link to the rest at The Week and thanks to Matthew for the tip.