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"Buenos dias", "buenas noches" -- this was the first words in a foreign language I heard in my life, as a three-year old boy growing up in developing post-war Western Germany, where the first gastarbeiters had arrived from Spain. Fascinated by the strange sounds, I tried to get to know some more languages, the only opportunity being TV courses of English and French -- there was no foreign language education for pre-teen school children in Germany yet in those days. Read more



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Ask-A-Linguist Message Details

Subject: Native American speech
Question: Dear Ask A Linguist Panel,

I work for a production company called Nutopia, and we’re making
a television drama series about the Pilgrim Fathers’ voyage to the
New World in 1620.

Some of our Algonquian native American characters were able to
speak a limited amount of English, and indeed one we think would
have had a good grasp of the language having spent several years
previous living and working in England. Our screenwriter is keen to
find out how these people would have spoken, in terms of
formulating expressions, word order, degree of fluency and so on.
From what I’ve read, a lot of the communication that took place in
these early years was through gestures and signs, but we know
some of the Wampanoag did make an attempt to learn English.

I wonder if you might happen have any advice on this? It may be
something that very little is known or can be known about, since
records for that time are so scarce, but perhaps an expert on a
later period might be able to make suggestions at least about what
to avoid.

If you had any thoughts, I would be really grateful for your help.

Kind regards,

James Allnutt

james.allnutt@nutopia.com

Reply: We have had a number of questions about the reconstruction of historic speech -- you might like to search the archive. Are you also attempting a reconstruction of the English characters' speech?

I think there is a difference between historical reconstruction (on which you would have to do considerable research) and drama. In drama you need to think what you want to convey to your modern audience about these characters. Do you want to convey their willingness and ability to learn English? Or suggest a cluelessness? Do you want to show that the attitudes of different individuals varied and was associated with their political stance? Do you want to say anything about the (un)willingness of the Pilgrim Fathers to learn other languages? What do you want to convey about your stance (through that of your characters) towards this first contact relationship?

Anthea
Reply From: Anthea Fraser Gupta      click here to access email
 
Date: 06-Feb-2013
 
Other Replies:
  1. Re: Native American speech    Herbert Frederic Stahlke     (06-Feb-2013)
  2. Re: Native American speech    Norvin Richards     (06-Feb-2013)

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