aelfgifu (aelfgifu) wrote in little_details,

Peasant class dialect (Medieval British)

This is more an opinion/subjective question than an objective question, but I am desperate for ideas on how to tackle this issue!

As I wrap up the first draft of my novel, I found I now need to create a lower-class speech pattern for a character in contrast with those characters of noble blood. I assume that even if my peasant was educated at a monastery, some rural aspects of his speech would stick. The language in the book’s setting would technically be a 10th century Anglo-Saxon English, so I have some leeway – no one still speaks it as a living language! I need not make it conform to any current speech pattern, but it will need to be (1) simple, (2) convincing, and (3) consistent.

I am American, and I’m not likely to master a rural British dialect, past or present any time soon. I DO NOT want to give my peasant a pseudo-cockney (that would be a disaster). I read Old English, but there is surprisingly little extant ‘conversational’ snippets of the peasant classes to guide me. I have looked at Middle English cycle plays, such as the Second Shepherds’ Play and I have looked at Tolkien, who wrote Sam in a way that is obviously peasant stock, BUT does not stand out like a sore thumb. Shakespeare is another source. I have used all of these, but with some trepidation. Done wrong, and the whole thing falls apart.

I was considering other simple shorthand ways of marking my character’s speech as peasant class without making it distracting. Has anyone on this board dealt successfully with this issue, or seen it done well? What realistic options have you seen out there? Do you know of any books set in pre-modern English past that managed the class dialects in a subtle but convincing way? Would it work if I gave the character more of a propensity to use contractions, or had specific patterns that re-occur (such as double negatives, or some form of ain’t, en’t, as long as they are not obvious Americanisms)? Ideas/opinions very welcome!
Tags: ~middle ages

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