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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
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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