Friday, March 8, 2013

Casual Friday: Watching Our Historical Language

Friday, March 8, 2013
Loretta reports:

We spend some time here passing on to you news from the past and occasionally debunking myths.  We are, after all, Nerdy History Girls.  And so the question of historically accurate language makes our hearts go pitty-pat.  Certainly this broadcast on NPR’s Fresh Air got my attention.  Please give it a read or a listen (it’s not very long)—and feel free to comment.


juli said...

I so agree. It gives me twitch every time when I read or hear anything that's not in it's right historical context. And it happens a lot!
I call it the Angelica effect.

Anyone familiar with Angelica? The wildly popular historical romance that surfaced about 1960's. She was this "historical" person, but in reality a modern woman's mindset inhabited her historical body.

sibyl said...

I was unable to watch Downton Abbey for more than half of the first episode because of the density of anachrostic speech and thought. Is it utter carelessness by the scriptwriter or dumbing down for a modern TV audience? It is not period drama, it is modern soap opera with period costuming and setting. Such a waste of that painstakingly accurate costuming and setting.

Jackie C. Horne said...

Thanks so much for sharing this link, Loretta Chase. The speaker's point that what writers do in presenting the past is "translation" not "transcription" is a helpful concept. Even if a writer gets the words of the period right, h/she may not convey an accurate sense of how people of the time understood them. Giving a reader an accurate sense of the period is the goal that good historical writers strive for, even while recognizing that the assumptions of the historical period in which they currently live make the task impossible to achieve with absolute perfection.

carolyntbj said...

This is such a timely post for me! I watched North and South for the first time yesterday. LOVED it right up the the last scene. Riding the train in his shirtsleeves? He'd been so well dressed till then. Not real sure about kissing on the platform... and WHY did she go home with him? HE should have gone to London with her to get the money!!! So many jar-me-out-of-the-story bits right there at the end... sigh... :-) Still I went straight home and priced it on Amazong! :-)

Historical Ken said...

To me, accuracy means everything when it comes to history, and I feel that one should be as accurate as they can when writing (or making a film) that takes place in the past. That should be of utmost importance.
What upsets me every bit as much as speech inaccuracies is when a writer or a film maker places our modern 21st century morals and values upon their historical characters. I won't waste my time with that kind of garbage.

Anonymous said...

Anachronisms in historical writing are one of my biggest pet peeves. You can't call a modern erotic novel a historical just because you stick them in long dresses for the brief time they are dressed. I read for the details and feel of the period as much as for the interaction between characters and when the heroine repeatedly and unconcernedly flouts the social mores and codes without even a drop of remorse or uncertainty I am ready to pitch it. Likewise the genius writers who use modern slang or references to events that happened long after that period, not to mention those too lazy to even research what clothes their heroines should be ripping off. And then there are a few who have literally stolen names and plots from older novels and rewrite them as lame sex romps. I want to file a plagiarism lawsuit every time I see one.
Give me a Georgette Heyer novel with its eloquent, witty period dialogue and extremely accurate portrayal of the fashions and customs in vogue at that time or any of her worthy successors. The soap opera fans are welcome to the garbage they are currently flooding the market with. The ease of publishing e-books has opened the doors to a lot of poor writing that would never have made it to the presses in earlier days with authors relying on 50 shades of sex to carry a book without much of a plot. I would much rather reread quality writing than suffer through many of the books published today.

QNPoohBear said...

I don't mind a few anachronisms like heroines with modern attitudes towards marriage and equality (Georgette Heyer's heroines are very much products of the 20th century) but if there's a glaring and obvious mistake, it bothers me. I liked Lincoln. It was hard enough for my parents to follow as it was. I also like Downton Abbey. They use modern language to make the show accessible. It's a hybrid bonnet drama and modern drama on purpose to attract an audience that wouldn't otherwise watch a period piece. Guess what? It works! My dad, who falls asleep at slow moving period pieces, loves Downton Abbey. He can't pick out any of the historical inaccuracies but he enjoys the plot and it's something my parents and I can watch on TV together without me cringing or them feeling embarrassed. So, I'll give Julian Fellows a break on that one. Try Godford Park if you want a more accurate period piece by Julian Fellows.

nightsmusic said...

I think what happens to many is the fact that they either forget or choose not to acknowledge that there were in fact many women in Regency England and Europe who maintained what we would consider 20th century mindsets. Women weren't all tiny little no backbone, no personality, no adventuresome creatures who only did what they were told. They rand households, estates, spied for heads of state, chose their own husbands or not, if they so frustrates me no end that readers actually expect innacuracies in the name of keeping things 'relevant to the times." Look at Flora MacDonald for one. That's the mid 1700's. And there are countless other women ahead of their time.

As to the language itself, OMG is recorded as being used in 1917. Not Regency, but certainly not 2013 either. So yes, I can overlook a lot of anachronisms in speech for the sake of the overall historical content, mores and values of the times.

If I want complete accuracy, I'll read handwritten missives of the time itself.

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